Comparing Ethnicity Estimates at Four DNA Testing Companies

Have you had your DNA tested by one of the major DNA testing companies?  Have you seen your ethnicity results?  Do you believe them?

Last year, after testing most of my family’s oldest generation, I finally decided to take DNA tests myself.  (See My DNA Results are Back; Break Out the Chocolate! and I Took A Second DNA Test, 23andMe.)  I tested at Ancestry and 23andMe, and transferred the results to FamilyTreeDNA and MyHeritage.  (If you haven’t transferred your results to FamilyTreeDNA, MyHeritage, and also GedMatch yet, I strongly you suggest that you do.)  Did the results match?  Let’s take a look:

Ancestry:

  1.   Europe West                           40%
  2.   Great Britain                          31%
  3.   Ireland/Scotland/Wales       16%
  4.   Scandinavia                             3%
  5.   Iberian Peninsula                   3%
  6.   Finland/Northwest Russia    2%
  7.   European Jewish                    2%
  8.   Europe East                             1%
  9.   Europe South                          1%
  10.   Africa North                          <1%

I like that the last seven ethnicities are labeled “Low Confidence Regions,” giving the user a sense that these could be inaccurate.  However, any of the results could be inaccurate.

23andMe:

  1.   British & Irish                                   35.8%
  2.   French & German                            33.5%
  3.   Scandinavian                                      2.2%
  4.   Broadly Northwetern European  23.2%
  5.   Iberian                                                 0.4%
  6.   Eastern European                              0.2%
  7.   Broadly European                             4.3%
  8.   West African                                       0.2%
  9.   Yakut (East Asian)                          < 0.1%
  10.   Unassigned                                      < 0.1%

I like that some of the regions are broader, like “Broadly Northwestern European” when the company’s algorithm couldn’t nail down the location more precisely.  I do not like that the results give one decimal point precision, giving a sense that the estimates are more accurate than they really are.

FamilyTreeDNA:

  1.   West and Central Europe  45%
  2.   British Isles                          28%
  3.   East Europe                          25%
  4.   Finland                                 < 2%
  5.   South America                    < 1%

I like that the last two ethnicies are labeled “Trace Results.”  FamilyTreeDNA has a note by these that they could be attributed to background noise, a very honest description of the results.  The East Europe component does seem high relative to the other test results.

MyHeritage:

  1.   English                                   57.0%
  2.   Irish, Scottish, and Welsh  19.5%
  3.   Finnish                                    2.1%
  4.   Greek                                     21.4%

I like that the MyHeritage website has an entertaining video to accompany the results, showing each of these locations on the globe with music of that region.  I do not like the false sense of precision in the results, like 23andMe.  Also, this set of results does not align with the others as well.  Particularly the Greek result seems inaccurate.  None of the other results show Greek.  Also, my father’s results on MyHeritage show no Greek and my mother’s show 3.3% Greek, so by genetics I could theoretically be at most 3.3% Greek based on their numbers.  It is internally inconsistent.

So, should a DNA tester take one company’s ethnicity estimates as truth?  Please don’t.  Generally the results are accurate at the continent level, though small results could be noise.  All these tests agree that I am almost 100% European.  There may be some truth to my Yakut, South America, West African, and Africa North results, but because all are less than 1% and none appear in another testing company’s results, maybe not.

I particularly like The Legal Genealogist Judy Russell’s discussion of this topic; her latest post: Still not soup: Ethnicity results are only estimates.

Also, a number of my readers have enjoyed my post DNA Testing, What Do My Origin Percentages Mean?.

Does this mean you shouldn’t take a DNA test?  Please do test!  But realize that the greatest benefit of DNA testing is connecting to our DNA cousins, not a guess of our ethnicity.

 

 

Posted in DNA

1 thought on “Comparing Ethnicity Estimates at Four DNA Testing Companies”

  1. Those ethnicity estimates are good for an overview. My experience with ftDNA and MyHeritage was the opposite of yours. ftDNA, where I tested, put me at 98% Eastern European, which isn’t possible since only my father’s side of the family was Slovak. I uploaded the results to MyHeritage and those percentages pretty closely matched my Slovak roots with mostly British and one branch of Scandinavia thrown in. I think they all need to be taken with a grain of salt.

    Like

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