How To Interpret Your Ancestry DNA Test Results

By | March 16, 2017

DNA testing has become the latest tool for genealogists to research their family history. But have you asked yourself how to interpret your Ancestry DNA test results? This technology claims to give the family historian a link to the past. Another benefit is that it can connect you with distant cousins. The results you get back though can be quite confusing. So how do you actually interpret these test results?

Ancestry DNA Test Results

You’ve taken the next step with your research and now your results are finally ready to be viewed online. You’ve waited for what has seemed to have been an eternity for the results of your DNA testing.

But what does all the data really mean and how can it help you to progress with your family history?




This post will look at the top questions you may have asked yourself about your AncestryDNA test results. But even if you have not taken the next step with your family history research and purchased the Ancestry DNA kit I suggest you to still keep reading.

I want to answer these questions in order to help you with your results, but also to inform you of what you can expect from DNA research.

Questions answered in this post:


How Do I Interpret My Ethnicity Results?

One of the key results that you get back from AncestryDNA is an estimate of your ethnicity. The keyword here is obviously “estimate“, where your DNA is compared to genetic profiles that have been gathered from a reference panel.

Ancestry DNA Ethnicity ResultsCredit:   AncestryDNA

The people that make up the reference panel have been chosen as they have deep-rooted ancestry within a particular region. In all, Ancestry DNA covers 26 regions all around the world. Your DNA is compared to each of these different regions and so the results, given as percentages, that you get back from the testing can tell you where your ancestors likely came from.

How do you interpret your ethnicity results?

Now that you understand about how your ethnicity is calculated I will explain how you can interpret the results of this testing.

The results of your ethnicity testing is displayed to you in the form of a color coded pie chart. Here the chart is divided into wedges which are given percentages as to the likelihood of where your ancestors originated.

So it may show you that you have a score of 99% ethnicity originating from Europe. This can be broken down even further to include areas such as Great Britain, Ireland, or even Scandinavia.

Credit:   AncestryDNA

To help you interpret these results there is also a map showing you these locations which are color coordinated based on the results of the pie chart. This map is also interactive!

So you can click around the map, zoom in and gather even more details. Zooming in will then show you areas of varying degrees of shading. The darker the shading then the higher the chance that your ancestor originated from that area.

This is a great tool to help you show you where next that you can look for further information.


How Do I Interpret the Map and Locations?

The second advantage of AncestryDNA is the possibility of matching you with other Ancestry members that have taken the test. If both you and your match have created an online family tree then you have access to a ‘Map and Locations‘ map.

This is another great tool that will help you join the dots within your family history research. This map may display to you different colored pins of where your ancestors were born, the same for your DNA match and also any overlapping birth locations in both family trees.

These pins may contain more than one person for each location. There is also a legend at the bottom of the map to help you decipher what all the different color coding means.


Ancestry DNA will compare your DNA test results with other Ancestry members. To further improve your matches Ancestry will compare the people contained within your family tree and the people in your match’s tree. With that in mind then it is a good idea for you to link your DNA test results to your family tree.

What Is DNA Markers?

You can do this by accessing your personal status page and going to Settings. Then scroll down and select the ‘Family Tree Linking‘ option. Here you will be able to link to your DNA results to your tree.

Please note: At present you can only link your DNA results to one family tree that you have created on Ancestry.com.

–> Check out my Ancestry review to discover why it is #1 <–


What Are Trace Regions?

The regions that your ancestors are likely to have come from are given as percentages as I have explained in the first question. If any of the regions return a value between 0 and 15% then these are known as ‘trace regions‘.

As these percentages are quite low and these are estimates it may be that you actually do not have ancestors from these regions at all. However, in time as more genetic signatures are concerned these percentages for your trace regions may improve to give you more accurate results.

So it is well worth checking these values occasionally for updates.


Why Don’t My DNA Results Match To What I Expected?

This is a very common question asked by many people who have taken the AncestryDNA test. It can also be the most frustrating aspect of the test, when your results are totally different to what you thought your tests should have shown.

Why

DNA testing technology has come along way since it began about twenty years ago. But it still has a long way to go before it can be claimed as perfect. As Ancestry’s ethnicity algorithm and prediction models take time to improve there are three reasons why there will be unexpected results.

The 3 reasons why you will get unexpected results with your DNA results:

  1. Your genetic ethnicity results goes back further how far you have traced your family tree.
  2. If your ancestors came from a certain area they may still have genetic influences from other places.
  3. Your DNA doesn’t match closely with your ancestors.

Are My Results Specific To My Maternal and Paternal Lines?

Ancestry offers you Autosomal DNA testing that looks at over 700,000 markers that you have inherited from both your parents. However, this type of testing does not isolate the heritage of your maternal or paternal line. So you cannot find out as such where your maternal ancestors originated came from, only where ‘your‘ ancestors came from.


How Accurate Are The Results That I Get Back From This Test?

Ancestry DNA tests your DNA using advanced scientific techniques and looks at over 700,000 markers in your sample. These markers look at differences between your DNA and that within Ancestry’s sample.

How Accurate Are The Results?

However, if your DNA is not of high quality then you will need to supply a new sample. With that said it is a good idea to be careful when providing your saliva sample.

The database of DNA samples that Ancestry contains continues to grow. And over time you will get more accurate results. You will get updates from Ancestry as new information is collected.


What Does Confidence Percentage Mean?

The confidence that you are matched with you is given as a percentage. This value will help you to concentrate on the matches that matter.  So with a higher value the more chance that another Ancestry member who has taken the test is related to you.

There are over 700,00 markers in your DNA that are tested and compared to other Ancestry members. The number of matching strands will determine how closely you are related to another Ancestry member.

As Ancestry tests different populations the higher their confidence level will become.


What About The Indigenous Ethnicity That’s Returned In My Results?

If you live within the United States then AncestryDNA may provide you with feedback as to whether you have Native American heritage. The testing may also show that you have indigenous ancestry within maybe Canada or Mexico. However, there is no way to determine which tribe that your ancestors belonged to.

Native American Day


Final Thoughts

DNA testing is a great tool for any genealogist who wants to further their family history research. But the results that you get back can be somewhat confusing. I therefore hope that I have answered any questions that have bothered you with this type of testing.

If not then please feel free to contact me or comment below!

A DNA test can help you to further your research. So if you have hit a brick wall and want to move on then a test can help you to move on.

Your results can show you where your ancestors originated from and so where you can look next for documents, records and any other type of material. So if you discover that your ancestors came from a certain country then you can explore Ancestry’s database of records for that respected country.

Also, with this type of testing you may connect with other Ancestry members as I have discussed in this post. A great advantage of this is the sharing of information that your match possesses.

You can share with your match information regarding your side of the family and vice versa. Information that can be shared could be photos, documents, letters and whatever else and whatever else you can think of to share.

So you can further your family tree in this regard. If you have not tried AncestryDNA testing yet then I do recommend that you take the next step to help further your genealogy research.

Other Ancestry DNA posts that can help you:


Thank You and Please Leave A Comment

I hope you enjoyed this post discussing how to interpret your Ancestry DNA test results. If you think that this post will be helpful to others then please share it with friends and family using the social media buttons below.

If you have any questions or comments then please leave a comment below. I would love to hear from you.

Author: Owain

Hello, Owain here. After researching my family history for a number of years I wanted to give back to the genealogy world. So here you will find guides, tips and product reviews that will help you on your genealogy journey.

28 thoughts on “How To Interpret Your Ancestry DNA Test Results

  1. Furkan

    I am excited to know where my origins are and I may actually travel to these places. Even though it is an estimate it will be fun to travel there and see people who are living there and the places as well. I think I just can gain so much from this.

    And it seems really thorough I think only small percentage gets unexpected results.

    Reply
    1. Owain Post author

      As this science improves and Ancestry continues to grow its database then the results will become more accurate. You are right though when you say about estimates. It’s still pretty much spot on but it is interesting to visit these places to see where your ancestors came from.

      Reply
  2. MarieAnne Linda Cooke

    My daughter sent out for her DNA test through Maternal Ancestry DNA She paid an incredible amount of money. It ended up that she has Jewish roots from some tribe called Haplogroup K. Kinda interesting.

    Reply
    1. Owain Post author

      Hi MarieAnne,

      That’s great that your daughter has taken the DNA test. It’s very interesting what can be found out like you said. I wonder if you had any idea about this ancestry?

      Reply
    2. Maureen Dennis

      I am thinking that it might be helpful for your daughter to upload her results to Gedmatch.com (Gedmatch.com is a FREE service), as they do break down even further where your daughter’s Jewish roots come from and Gedmatch utilizes her Ancestry raw data file to show different pie charts that will give better explanation as to where these ancient tribes originated from.

      Do you know Ancestry.com has a new feature called Genetic Communities that actually will break down to what town or tribe your daughter’s ancestors came from. The pie chart they currently use only show a guesstimate of where she came from (thousands of years ago), while the Genetic Communities are moving forward in time, (from decades ago, back to hundreds of years ago. For everyone who takes this DNA test this information is already added to your report.

      DNA Circles in Ancestry.com DNA report is also another way in which your daughter can find out more about her Jewish heritage. Ancestry automatically places you in a DNA circle with those who closely match with your own DNA and whom you both share a common ancestor ( a grandfather perhaps). There can be a few in this circle, on up to as many as 12 in your circle.

      Ancestry added me to 8 circles of DNA related relatives, both on my mom’s side of the family and on my dad’s side of the family. Both reports only include those people who test closest to your daughter’s DNA. I like that idea, instead of the 100s of 5th -8th cousins who could be related, or NOT.

      Reply
      1. Owain Post author

        Thank you for sharing. I have seen this latest feature that Ancestry has. Genetic Communities is a great addition. Also, the DNA circles sounds a great way to get even closer relations. It’s excited me when I find a relation but when Ancestry says it may not be then it is a bit of a let down.

        Reply
  3. Jen

    This is the coolest. I have been wanting to do something like this for a long time but haven’t really known where to start. Your website and this review has really given me what I need to get started. Thank you so much for sharing!

    Reply
    1. Owain Post author

      You’re very welcome Jen, and I am glad that I have inspired you. Many people have heard of Ancestry, but maybe not too sure as to whether to go them a go. That is why I have put up several posts about Ancestry and Ancestry in order to inform my readers.

      All the best for your genealogy research.

      Reply
  4. Kamil

    Hi Owain

    In our family they have set up a family tree going back as far as 7 generations, some of the photos are really old, some of them are photos of portraits I think because they look like paintings. Its very interesting to see where you come from.

    How much would you expect for a DNA test to cost?

    Regards,
    Kamil

    Reply
    1. Owain Post author

      That’s great that you’re family can be traced back to about 7 generations. I have roughly gone back that far as well. Although some lines do need more research.

      I would expect to pay between $100 and $150 for a DNA test. When they are on sale you can get them as low as $79. That’s pretty good value for what you get back in return. Not only can you get ethnicity results but there is a chance that you can connect with distant cousins as well.

      Reply
  5. Kevin Bulmer

    Hi Owain,
    I’m really intrigued with this, and found myself particularly interested in the idea of people being frustrated over their results, and what that might mean. I can imagine someone doing research on their own over the last many years and only having gone back so far in their lineage, and perhaps that’s not even been 100% accurate (you never know). So if the DNA results reveal something different, or even take you much further back into a connection of something you’d never previously imagined, I can see how that might be somewhat jarring.
    Either way, I think it would be very illuminating to discover. I really appreciate the effort you’re putting into your site and encourage you to keep it up. It’s very, very well done!
    Best wishes
    Kevin

    Reply
    1. Owain Post author

      Thank you Kevin for your comment and your compliments. It’s nice to know that I my work is being appreciated. There is still plenty more topics to cover. I still want to cover other genealogy search websites and also DNA testing companies, (besides offering guides and tips).

      As for DNA testing it can offer you so much in return. The results can seem confusing to some at first so I hope I have helped in this way.

      I will be covering more about Ancestry DNA results in a future post. So please stay tuned for that.

      Reply
    1. Owain Post author

      That’s great Pam. I hope your results prove useful, and that you do make some connections as we’ll, wouldn’t that be great? Please let me know how you get on with this in a couple of months.

      All the best with your family history research.
      Owain

      Reply
  6. Jana Lucas

    I took the Ancestry DNA test and showed a higher connection to a stranger than my paternal sister. I contacted this person to see who he was. He said he was adopted. My mother lost a child to adoption before I was born, have I found my biological maternal brother? As soon as my results came in my mother’s sister, aunt, and my maternal cousins link with this person as relatives too. Could it be!

    Reply
    1. Owain Post author

      Well that is very interesting. It is a very strong coincidence that your relatives are showing a connection to this person. Does your aunt know any details about this adoption that could help verify that this person your brother.

      I have found this page which will help you. I am assuming you are from the United States.

      Reply
  7. Craig | UK TV Services Abroad

    Thanks Owain, for explaining how we can interpret our DNA results. It’s pretty exciting to get this level of information and it sounds like you’ve listed everything we need to know. I think to be able to pinpoint our ancestors on maps with AncestryDNA is a wonderful tool. I always like a promotion but it looks like I may have missed out on the 10% discount. Do they run regular promotions like this and if so do you know when the next one might be?

    Reply
    1. Owain Post author

      Hi Craig, researching your family history using DNA testing is an exciting tool to use. I have said countless times in the post and in the comments as well that not only can you find out where your relatives came from but also Mayberry connect with distant cousins. DNA testing has so much potential, and with advancements in this area I think that it can only get better.

      There are regular promotions like this, usually around the holidays or special occasions such as this, (St Patrick’s Day). Keep checking back when there is a date such as this.

      Reply
  8. Carol Shippee

    I sent my DNA several weeks ago and never got a reply. Just wondering why I have not heard anything back?

    Reply
    1. Owain Post author

      It usually take a while, between 6-8 weeks. If it has been that long then I suggest you to contact Ancestry DNA and find out what the delay is.

      Reply
  9. Jessica Hilliard

    Your write-up is helpful but I’m still left wondering – how can my DNA results work directly with the genealogy work I’ve already completed? I received my results from Ancestry.com today and promptly loaded them to GEDMatch.com and three or four other genealogy sites (am waiting for them all to process).

    I guess what I was hoping for from my DNA test was for my DNA results to be accompanied with some solid confirmation of ancestors – or at least something that confirms “a + b = This dude is definitely your gramps,” which I (maybe?) didn’t get – I cannot figure out how the ancestry DNA match system works and I have ZERO DNA circles. I feel overwhelmed but lost all at the same time.

    I don’t find the ancestry DNA page to be very straightforward, save for the cool ethnicity profiles – perhaps you can explain?

    Reply
    1. Owain Post author

      Hi Jessica,

      Thank you for contacting me. DNA test results can be quite confusing. It’s a shame that there is no one in your DNA circle. But to reassure you there are thousands of people joining Ancestry every month so hopefully in time you will get a match. Also, the science behind DNA testing is getting better, so you may get updates in the future.

      It is exciting I know to get results and hoping you can progress with your research. Sometimes though you have to site and wait while the matches come to you. It’s good to hear that you have joined GEDMatch and a few others. Hopefully you will find connections there.

      The ethnicity results are cool like you say. They can show you where you can look. But with this and the matches they are probabilities. They can though show you where to look next.

      Here’s the AncestryDNA 101 to help you.

      Genealogist Lisa Louise Cooke has written a blog post entitled Confused by your AncestryDNA Matches? which may help clarify things for you.

      I hope that I have helped you with your query. Just remember it takes time with DNA results to get what you are after.

      All the best.

      Reply
  10. David

    Thank you for emailing my dna results. Having 56% GB on the pie chart, I’m a bit surprised that it hasn’t been broken down into Anglo-saxon, celtic and other indigenous races and also wondered how typical this percentage is. Also, I have been told I have 23% dna from Asia, including 18% from the Indian subcontinent and wondered if this is typical of most British. Otherwise, does it tie up with having an Anglo-Indian Mother and/or possibly Romany connections on my Father’s side?

    Reply
    1. Owain Post author

      Hi David,

      Thank you for contacting me regarding your Ancestry DNA test results. Unfortunately I am not associated with Ancestry.

      As this area of science will be improved on in the future I feel that you will get more detail as to the different regions of the UK where more than half of your ancestry comes from.

      Looks like having an Anglo-Indian mother does seem to be the link to having 18% Indian ancestry. Your heritage seems quite differs.

      I wish you all the best with your genealogy research particularly your DNA test results.

      Reply
  11. danny

    Hi,

    I commenting because I am looking for answers for my fiancé. She got her Ancestry.com test back and it had a little European, about 20percent Cameroon but about 57 other origin….what does that mean??? She always thought her dad was 100 percent Blackfoot Indian, her mom supposedly 50percent Native American. She is totally confused? Ironically it did match her with one of her dad’s son, who has a different mother.

    Reply
    1. Owain Post author

      Hi Danny, thank you for contacting me. Quite often with these tests the results will sometimes not be what is expected. With regards to these test results I have often seen people with Native American blood to have other ancestry. It maybe that there were other influences in her family tree.

      One thing that I recommend is to wait until the science improves. With more regions added to the database it will mean that she will get updates and better results.

      I hope this answers your query.

      Reply
  12. danny

    she now says it actually said 1 percent Native American about 39 percent European. either a bad test or someone has not been telling the total truth. thanks.

    Reply
    1. Owain Post author

      It’s good to see that there is some Native American in the results. I think it’s best to wait until the science does catch up and cangive you far better results. All the best and thank you again for contacting me.

      Reply

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