Sunday, September 13, 2020

Who do you Think you are This Time? has updated their ethnicity estimates once again. Those estimates and the tools with which they are developed are, as Ancestry likes to put it, "constantly evolving." While many of my students seem genuinely amazed—or dismayed, as the case may be—at what their DNA results reveal about who they should think they are, some of them seem to have a hard time grasping one key detail: those results are simply estimates. Scientifically calculated, yes, but still estimates.

Still, I was curious to see what the updated results would yield for my own account. I wasn't really impressed with the last version. While I still have much to learn, for instance, about my mystery paternal grandfather's origins, I have been able to come to the conclusion that if he wasn't, after all, Polish like his wife, his was still a heritage from somewhere east of Germany. Yet, the last AncestryDNA version slighted his percentage, no matter where it should have been placed.

With this latest update, it is encouraging to see the increase in number of reference populations. When AncestryDNA first launched, their offering included populations representing a meager twenty two regions. Now, they compare customers' DNA with samples from more than one thousand regions worldwide. Their reference panel includes nearly forty five thousand DNA samples which "divide the world" into seventy overlapping groups, as demonstrated in this chart provided in Ancestry's explanation of reference panels.

Unlike other bloggers who were keen to compare before-and-after snapshots—I'm thinking of you, Randy Seaver, as well as my Canadian go-to resource at Canada's Anglo-Celtic Connections, John D. Reid—I was not quick to snatch a screen cap of the results that were replaced. As far as I'm concerned, good riddance to the former estimate—out with the old, in with the new! 

In case you don't share my sour grapes attitude, you can always recapture your former stats by following this advice from Ancestry

  • Go to your AncestryDNA home page
  • On the "DNA Story" box on the left of the screen, click on "Discover Your DNA Story"
  • On the top right of the next "Ethnicity Estimates" screen, click "Learn More About This Update"
  • On the next screen, click "View previous estimate"

You can download the previous numbers in a .pdf version, if you wish, by clicking on that option on the last screen of the series listed above. Don't delay, though; the previous numbers will be available to you for ninety days following rollout of your updated estimates. Hopefully, though, you'll find the newer estimates far more agreeable to your own research.



  1. Jacqi,

    What an interesting post! I had not given the matter much thought, so I took a look at the new Ancestry results. You are right – these fit much better with things I had stored away in my mind.

    My old results gave me only a small amount of Scottish heritage. That was puzzling because I had been brought up to believe it was a heavy amount. The old charts and all the McSo+So names in our tree added to the picture. The old Ancestry DNA results said otherwise. And this was Science, so I thought, “What do I know?”

    But life experiences tugged at my memory. I’m snow-capped now, but I used to have an unusual shade of light red hair. Forty years ago I was in a grocery store in Florida, with three babies in the buggy. An old fellow came up to me and said, “Excuse me for staring. My wife is from Scotland and her hair was EXACTLY the same shade of red as yours and all your children. You could have walked out of her village.”

    The new DNA results put the world back in its right place: 55% Scotland. And Ancestry even emphasized a dotted subsection for the Scottish Islands and Highlands. Which brought up another memory. My mother-in-law was touring Scotland, and while shopping in a big-city gift shop, she asked the lady if she had a tartan for the McIvers. “Nuuu,” said the clerk, shaking her head sadly, “Those are the wild ones from the islands out west.”

    It’s nice when Science gives some credence to my loosy-goosy self-mage.

    1. Great story about your beautiful red hair, Lisa! There is often something of substance that can be gleaned from those personal experiences and recollections, as well as the family traditions.

      I did feel quite as vindicated as you did when I saw my new and improved Scottish numbers--and all because of those family stories passed down by "mere" oral tradition. Those Scottish ancestors were quite emphatic about their Scottish origins, no matter how long ago they arrived in this country!

  2. Thanks for the tutorial. Mine went the other way. I lost a huge percentage (12%) of my German roots to England. My DNA cousins are 50/50 German (dad's side) and England (mom's side). All the little side 2% are the same.

    1. Interesting how this change has impacted different customers, Miss Merry. I always like to keep in mind that these ethnicity reports are estimates--and they are likely to be updated again.

      I appreciate reading all the reports issued by Ancestry along the way--especially their white papers, which explain the methodology changes. Still, the very regions you mentioned are ones which are quite challenging to get "right." England has such a long history of migrations back and forth with the continent. For that matter, the same conditions prevent a definitive estimate for Germany versus France, as well. Though not quite the jet set of our modern day travels, people have always moved about for various reasons, making the pinpointing of ethnic heritage a challenge.


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