When your DNA ethnicity estimates are revised

DNA_iconIt gives you pause. When you’ve completed an Ancestry DNA test, received your results, already gone through the mental gymnastics of understanding your ethnic breakdown and it finally makes perfect sense to you, even though it still kind of doesn’t, and then Ancestry updates its estimates and revises your results … I’m just saying it gives you pause.

I don’t mean that in a bad way. It’s just that it makes all of those times that you said you took the results “with a grain of salt,” even though you’d actually gotten attached to them, actually mean something. Take them with a grain of salt. And be ready for them to be updated.

Ancestry already went through one update, and my results came out unaltered that time. So it was a slight surprise to see them revised recently, even though the changes weren’t that dramatic.


The “Sweden” category includes a broad swath of Scandinavia.

My biggest portion is still Scandinavian, but Ancestry now identifies this more specifically as primarily Norwegian. But then I knew that. All of my paternal grandfather’s ancestors came from Norway, going back many generations. However, my Scandinavian now also includes a small percentage of Swedish, even though I have no known Swedish ancestors. I have two working theories for this:  Either it comes from waaay back in my mother’s Dutch line or, more likely, it comes from a known Danish line, the Clausen family, on my dad’s side. Ancestry’s results have no distinct “Danish” DNA category, and the Swedish category overlaps with Denmark (see image above).

Ancestry also increased my West European percentage, which is sensible because I always thought it was low, given Mom’s Dutch heritage. Now, however, they’ve identified it with a new label, “Germanic European,” which refers to Germany-Netherlands-Luxembourg-Belgium, a test group they placed me in with my initial results. But then I knew that, too. All of my mother’s known ancestors came from the Netherlands.

So what’s up with Ireland? When I first got my results back, I marveled at the unexpectedly high percentage of Irish. I could not make sense of it. “Come on, Ancestry,” I said. “I have no known ancestors from Ireland,” I said. In the intervening months I’ve unearthed one Irish line. Given my results, I had expected to find more.

Then came the revision. Apparently a lot of folks had their Irish percentage reduced. My Irish ancestry shrunk to 3 percent, while something called England-Wales-Northwest Europe, zoomed to 30 percent. This seems closer to my documented history. The new English percentage at first seemed a bit high to me … at least until I looked at the map again and realized that this category still includes all of the Netherlands, about half of France and a quarter of Germany, among other smaller countries. It’s a bit of a catch-all.

It all seems more like a re-working of labels than an actual revision of results.

Alas, the changes are not, overall, that dramatic. It’s true that I’d finally resolved to find Irish ancestors … but it seems I may have found the lot of them … or perhaps not.

I also lost my “low-confidence” Iberian Peninsula results, which were always less than 1 percent. It appears a lot of people lost Iberian Peninsula.

I fully expect these results to continue being revised as Ancestry processes more samples and collects more data. It’s mostly a process of refinement as finer distinctions between historic categories are identified. It just means “taking the results with a grain of salt” now really means something.

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3 Responses to When your DNA ethnicity estimates are revised

  1. Amy says:

    I take all these ethnicity estimates with a grain of salt. They’re based on statistics, not science, so it all depends who is in the pool of test takers and how they identify their ethnicity.

    • Laura says:

      Totally agree. Depends who is in the data base and those they have identified as their ancestors. The broad categories are surprisingly accurate to me, but the specifics are ever-shifting and subject to constant revision.

  2. Pingback: Uff da: Ancestry updates Norwegian DNA results | Branch and Leaf … a family history blog

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