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 interpret these test results?
What do the results mean?!
You have 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 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.
If you have used a different DNA test then please keep reading as all test results are pretty much similar. And so your question may be answered here.
If you have not taken the next step with your family history research and purchased a DNA testing kit then continue reading as this post will discuss what you can expect from such testing.
Your questions answered:
- Are my results specific to my maternal and paternal lines?
- How accurate are the results?
- How can I link my DNA results to my family tree?
- How do I interpret my ethnicity results?
- How do I interpret the map and locations?
- What are trace regions?
- What about the indigenous ethnicity that’s returned in my results?
- What does confidence percentage mean?
- What is a low confidence region?
- Why are my DNA results different from each testing kit?
- Why are my DNA results different from my family?
- Why don’t my DNA results match what I expected?
Express Your Thoughts Below!
I would love to hear from you.
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?
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.
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.
How Can I Link My DNA Results To My Family Tree?
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.
You can do this by accessing your status page and going to Settings.
Then scroll down and select the ‘Family Tree Linking‘ option. Here you will be able to link 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.
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.Credit: 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 150 regions all around the world, (updated from 26 regions).
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.
Interpret your ethnicity results?
Now that you understand how your ethnicity is calculated I will explain how you can interpret the results of this testing.
The results of your ethnicity testing are 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.
An interactive map showing results!
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.
As your results are presented in a simple layout there will be some information that is omitted. The reason for this is just to make the presentation of your results as clear as possible.
To gain further insights into your ancestry you just need to click onto each of the separate regions that you have a result for to see further information.
See all 150+ regions!
If you click on the See all 150+ regions link you will then see all of the ethnicity regions. And you will also see them marked on the map.
The numbers that appear to the right of each of these regions refer to Genetic Communities. These numbers will be the same for everybody and are NOT specific to you.
They are merely a link to groups that can help you further with your research.
From this section, you will see the same color-coded dots for the regions that you have been identified with. Any region that you are not identified with will be colored with a grey dot.
For further information please check out Genealogical Musings – AncestryDNA’s New Arrangement of Ethnicity and Genetic Communities.
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.
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 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.
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.
What Does Confidence Percentage Mean?
The confidence that you are matched with someone 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 Is A Low Confidence Region?
Below your major ethnicity results, you may see some regions that are highlighted as having low confidence. Typically these are regions with less than 4.5%, but they can go as high as 6%.
It is difficult to say whether these particular regions, (or the other regions that you have been matched with), are truly accurate.
They are after all an indication of the confidence that you have some connection to a particular region.
Do not disregard low confidence regions!
These results show that you do have a little bit of DNA from these regions and so these low confidence regions should not be disregarded.
If you do have low confidence regions in your results then you should ask yourself the following questions:
- Do these low confidence regions match what information that you already know?
- Are these low confidence regions a surprise to you?
- Are these low confidence regions in an area nearby where you know that your ancestors originated from?
Finding out more about these regions may help you build out further branches of your family tree.
And also it may help you discover ancestors that you never knew existed.
What about different confidence regions between testing kits?
You may have gotten varying results for different confidence regions if you have used more than one testing kit.
So, in this circumstance which one do you believe?
To get more of a clue as to why this may be the case just click on each of these regions. Here you will get a description of the region and the surrounding area for that region.
Each testing company breaks up the world into different regions so it’s worth checking how these companies class these regions.
Also, as the sample population and algorithms used to test your DNA will be different between companies then this can certainly throw up different results.
What you can do next:
- Get your relatives tested – To help get more information about your ancestors you could ask your relatives to purchase an AncestryDNA. This will provide you with more results that you can use for your research.
- Upload your DNA results to GEDmatch – The GEDmatch website is a free service that you can use. Just upload your raw DNA data to the site and you will get more results for you to work with.
- Contact your DNA matches – Why not contact the people that you have been matched up with on Ancestry. Ask them if they have similar results concerning low confidence regions.
Why Are My DNA Results Different From Each Testing Kit?
Following on from the previous question you have taken more than one DNA test from separate companies.
And you probably have had different results from each of them.
So which one do you believe?
To answer that question you have to look at how the different companies test your DNA. And that comes down to 3 different factors.
- Testing algorithms – Each company has different algorithms used to test your DNA sample.
- Sample population – Your DNA is compared to a sample population of people that originated from regions of the world. Different companies will have their sample to work with.
- Possible regions – Each company has broken down the world into various regions, some more so than others. And the classification of these regions differs with each one. So look a bit closer at the fine details of the region that you have a result for.
For further help and answers to this question please check out Melanie Mayo’s helpful Why You May Be Reading Your DNA Results All Wrong post.
Why Are My DNA Results Different From My Family?
If you, your siblings, and your parents have taken DNA tests then you are probably wondering why they give different results.
You’re probably asking yourself shouldn’t they be the same as you are family after all?
Well, to answer that question it all comes down to the DNA you inherit from your ancestors. As no two people are alike, (twins excluded), then you obviously will have variances in your DNA between your family.
So, this can answer the question as to why your results may vary.
But also the sample population used to test each family member may have been different. This also can give differing results.
Any variances though between you, your siblings, and your parents should be treated as more clues for your ancestry research.
Therefore, do not dismiss these extra pieces of information.
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 different from what you thought your tests should have shown.
DNA testing technology has come a long 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.
3 reasons why you get unexpected results:
- Your genetic ethnicity results go back further than how far you have traced your family tree.
- If your ancestors came from a certain area they may have genetic influences from other places.
- Your DNA doesn’t match closely with your ancestors.
So, if you have received results that you were not expecting then please look a little closer at the results.
With each region that you have a result for you can click on that to gain further information.
From those regions, you can see the surrounding areas where you may have possible ancestry from.
All DNA testing companies will classify the regions of the world separately so it’s worth looking deeper into this.
You don’t get 50% of DNA from your parents?
One common query that I get from people regarding inheriting DNA from their parents is why don’t they get 50% of their DNA from their respective parents.
For example, if your father is 100% Italian then you would naturally think that you would be 50% Italian.
Well, that’s not exactly the case.
The reason for this is that we inherit 50% of our genes from each of our parents. And it’s those genes that contain just a sequence of your parent’s DNA.
Please check out the Unexpected Ethnicity Results post from Ancestry which goes further into detail about this.
My 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 or 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. 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.
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.
How to get more from DNA testing!
Melanie Mayo from Family History Daily has come up with 5 ways that you can get more information from your DNA.
In my opinion, it is worth looking more closely at your results as they can tell a lot about your ancestry.
- Educate yourself – Check out the descriptions for each of the regions that you have a match for.
- Take different DNA tests – Consider taking tests from different companies to see how each of them compares. My The Best DNA Test For Your Ancestry Research post will help you decide which test to purchase.
- Get the family involved – Why not get other family members to take the test. Doing so will give you more information that you can work with.
- Contact your matches – Make contact with the matches that show up. Collaboration between distant cousins will also give you more clues to your family’s past.
- Compare your results with research – Look at your results and see how they compare to what you already know about your genealogy. It can help you solidify what you already know but also throw you in a new direction.
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 have any questions or comments then please leave a comment below.
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137 thoughts on “How To Interpret Your Ancestry DNA Test Results”
Hi. My husband and his sister did a DNA test. Their results have significant differences. They do have the same parents. For example – hers shows 33% Scotland my husband 9%, hers England & NW Europe 29% his 53% , hers Portugal 16% his 6%. He had his done 4 years ago and she did hers earlier this year. Why would there be such a huge difference?
Hi Candace, thanks for the query.
As you’ve pointed out that these two DNA tests were conducted at different times this would mean Ancestry would have used different samples to test against your family’s DNA.
Ancestry use a sample of the population to compare against people’s DNA, and so a difference in sampling would probably be the case for the discrepancy in results that you have received.
Also, another factor is that the science behind the testing is improving and so your sister-in-law may have received ‘improved’ results compared to your husband.
You can always check out a free DNA upload service to compare both your husband and sister-in-law. Please check out the following link:
Hope this helps answer your question.
Thank you for your reply. Found a site that broke down the percentages into parents, grandparents etc. and it helped alot as well.
You’re welcome. Glad to help.
Please share the site with other Genealogy Guide readers so that others can benefit.
Have you tried other free tools like DNA Land for ethnicity estimates?
Thanks. Will check it out.
Hello! I just want clarity. I’m unsure if this is what you were referring to above. Do the percentages mean the amount of blood, say 50% means I’m half of something, or is it simply the likelihood that I have ancestors from that nation? For example: If it says 50% Italian & 5% Chinese, does that mean that I’m half Italian or simply that there’s a higher likelihood that I have ancestors from Italy than from China?
It’s the likelihood given the reference sample that was compared to with your DNA. As DNA research gets better then these results will get fine-tuned, and so you will get better results.
I have done my DNA with Ancestry but I am struggling to understand some of the results. Ancestry shows about 6 third cousin matches that all seem to have approx. 177cgm across 6-8 strands. I presumed they were would all be 3rd cousins. However, when I add them to my tree Ancestry tells me they are things like grand nephew of the wife of my second great Uncle . Surely if we are 3rd cousin we must all share a grandparent (however many removed?) All my other 3rd cousin links I can add to my tree successfully and find a common ancestor! Help! I don’t understand
I wish I could tell you that whatever person that Ancestry finds that they will indeed be a relation. Unfortunately that is not the case and you will get matches that are however not a relation at all.
The further back in time the less accurate the results will be. As the science does improve then they will be more accurate, but until that time you will need to prove or disprove a connection.
I’m sorry I can’t be more positive with my reply. All the best with your DNA research. Please let me know how you go.
My brother is a little upset because when my DNA results were activated it shown him (my brother) as being my half brother…sharing the same father but not sharing the same mother. This came to light after his daughter while doing her genealogy got the DNA test done. Are we to believe the results of this DNA?? This has altered our family in a fundamental way!!
I appreciate any input you may have!!!
Thank You Gary
Thank you for reaching out to me. Like with any tests DNA tests can be wrong.
Has your brother done the test? Maybe he could do the test and check what happens.
You may also try out the numerous online and check what they say with the results.
Hope this helps.
So, I was thinking of getting a DNA test done. Thank you for explaining how to interpret your Ancestry results. Still, I might want to get something a bit more complex, like a full DNA sequencing service.
I am yet to get a DNA test kit but when I do I would be leaning towards 23andMe.
If someone has shared DNA with me at 1,515 cM across 66 segments
And my known half brother has 1,577 cM across 62 seg does this mean the person with 1,515 cM across 66 segments is my half sibling also?
Apologies in the delay in replying. I have been away.
Half siblings generally share about 1,700 centiMorgans, so with the values that you have given then it is entirely possible that this other person is another half-sibling.
Please check out this interesting article about Full vs. Half Siblings.
Incidentally you may want to head on over to GEDmatch Where you can get more results on your DNA. You will though need to register with thesite before you can use it.
I understand how percentage of ethnicity are determined, but how do the test determine how far back along the DNA family tree they are measuring?
Thanks for the query.
It all depends on the arrears in your DNA compared to a sample that is used for the test. This will then give you your ethnicity and matches.
Based on your matches this can determine how far back the test can go. Obviously though the further back it goes the more chances that errors will creep in.
This Reddit conversation will give you more of an insight into how far back you can research.
All the best,
Hi , my Cuz has done the DNA test , now how can we get linked with the BAHAMAS DNA TEST . This is where we think our family came from. We think is with the POMPEY ADDERLEY LINK . We was told how they left NIGERIA 2 BERMUDA & ONTO BAHAMAS . That is how the black ADDERLEY came about , IN BERMUDA .
Hi Nathalie, thank you for your query.
I did find the Bahamas DNA Project which can be of help.
It is conducted by Family Tree DNA but you can email the group administrator for the project and get the help you need.
Had my test done through Ancestry, but what do cMs and Segments mean?
Thanks for dropping by with your query. Basically this is scientific information that you get about your matches.
Here’s an article from Ancestry explaining this shared DNA feature.
Behind The New AncestryDNA Feature: Amount of Shared DNA
Hope this helps.
I guess I was misunderstood. I wasn’t referring to people who I have shared matches with, like first, second, or third cousins. One can go to the world map and scroll from 1700 up to the 1900s. On each date upward it shows a number in the map and clicking on the number opens up a list of ancestors on my tree. How were those people identified? By having them identified, does that help verify that they are indeed ancestors? Can we cite the DNA match as additional proof?
I’m yet to take this particular DNA test, and can’t seem to find an answer to your query. For that reason I would like to hand you over to Mercedes at Who Are You Made Of?
She has a dedicated DNA blog where she explains everything about DNA and all the various tests that are available.
You can find her contact details at the bottom of the About Me.
Please let me know how you get on. I will have to add this query to this page.
How do I use the “People in my tree” list? Can I say that these people are definitely linked to me or not? What additional proof do I need?
Thanks for the query. I hope that this discussion on the Ancestry Support board will help clarify this for you.
I wish you all the best,