A Look at the New 23andMe Ancestry Composition Reports, and Comparison of the Four Major DNA Testing Companies

23andMe is one of the biggest DNA testing companies.  Just this week, they updated their ethnicity reports with new detail.  Some reports can define a country within a region or even a sub-region within a country where a tester’s DNA is likely to originate.  These are just estimates, of course, but as time passes and research advances, the estimates are improving.  Below is an example of a set of the latest Ancestry Composition reports included with 23andMe results.

Overall Results

Here are my latest Ancestry Composition results to the region level, as of the end of 2018:

liane_23andme_overall_23jan2019

This estimates my DNA to be about 40% French and German, about 30% British and Irish, about 4% Eastern European, about 4% Scandinavian, some more general groups like Broadly Northwestern European, plus smaller percentages of regions like 0.6% Italian.  These smaller amounts could just be noise, like possibly the tiny 0.2% West African.  Overall it’s mostly European as my paper trail shows, and the results should be pretty accurate at the continent level.

Under some of the regions, there are some sub-regions listed.  These are Germany, Switzerland, United Kingdom, Ireland, and Denmark.  Previously, 23andMe said that I likely had ancestors from each of these regions in the last 200 years.  Now each of these areas has its own report.

Germany

Here is my report for Germany:

liane_23andme_germany_23jan2019

The two sub-regions are North Rhine-Westphalia and Lower Saxony.  I have several different German branches in my family, but none are known to come from these regions.  Perhaps one of my pre-Revolutionary Pennsylvania German branches come from each of these regions.  Overall, this map is not a good indication of my German origins within 200 years.

Switzerland

Next is my report for Switzerland:

liane_23andme_switzerland_23jan2019

This is more vague.  It points out Switzerland as a likely match, but defines no sub-regions.  I do indeed have ancestors there within 200 years.

United Kingdom

My report for the UK:

liane_23andme_unitedkingdom_23jan2019

The strongest result is from Greater England, which indeed has been identified as one of my ancestral locations within 200 years.  Glasgow is next.  I know of one branch from Scotland within 200 years, but not the exact origin.  That family married into an Ulster Scots family in Northern Ireland.  Northern Ireland was probably defined as the Catholic population there before the Ulster Scots, why that sub-region wasn’t indicated for me.  Their previous origin could be one of the Scottish (or less likely English) areas shown, though they generally came from the Scottish Lowlands.

The other sub-regions may be from some of my several colonial England origins.  For example, Nottinghamshire is the origin of my Mayflower ancestor William Brewster.  But with so many origins so far back in time, it is difficult to tell how accurate the map is beyond London.

Ireland

Next is my report for Ireland:

liane_23andme_ireland_23jan2019

These results indicate County Kilkenny.  I do not have Irish ancestry within 200 years, beyond the Northern Irish described above.  Some of my early colonial branches were Irish.  Again, it is hard to evaluate how accurate this is.

Denmark

Finally, my report for Denmark:

liane_23andme_denmark_23jan2019

Like the report for Switzerland, this is just general country-wide match.  This is only a Possible Match instead of a Likely Match.  I do indeed have paper-trail Danish family within 200 years.  It is nice that this notes Norway and Sweden (and two other sub-regions) do not match me well; this is correct.

Ancestry Comparison

For comparison, here are my results at Ancestry:

liane_ancestry_overall_23jan2019

The regions are similar to those at 23andMe.   Not all regions are the same, but they can be generally compared.  23andMe group vs. Ancestry group:

  • French & German – 39.7% vs. Germanic Europe – 44% and France – 2%
  • British & Irish – 31.1% vs. England, Wales & Northwestern Europe – 36% and Ireland and Scotland – 13%   
  • Eastern Europe – 4.1% vs. Baltic States – 3%
  • Scandinavian – 3.9% vs. Norway – 1%
  • Spanish & Portuguese – 0.7% vs. no result in Ancestry
  • Italian – 0.6% vs. Sardinia – 1%
  • Broadly Northwestern European – 18.1% vs. no similar region in Ancestry
  • Broadly Southwestern European – 0.7% vs. no similar region in Ancestry
  • Broadly European – 0.7% vs. no similar region in Ancestry
  • Broadly West African – 0.2% vs. no result in Ancestry

Overall, the results are similar.  Ancestry defines two groups within each of 23andMe’s “French & German” and “British & Irish,” giving more detail.  There is a disparity between the 31.1% 23andMe “British & Irish” and the combined 49% in similar groups at Ancestry, but 23andMe has the blanket group “Broadly Northwestern European” to make up the difference.

Both companies have their own ways to deal with the difficulty of drawing stark lines between these groups.  Ancestry shows that the regions overlap on the map, while 23andMe defines more general groups like “Broadly Southwestern European.”

One bonus feature at Ancestry is the set of migration groups, like my New York Settlers.  The migration groups were defined in part from the many trees at Ancestry.  23andMe doesn’t have this resource, and will not likely be able to show migration groups in the near future.  I have found these migrations groups to be quite accurate.

Family Tree DNA Comparison

My results at Family Tree DNA:

liane_ftdna_overall_23jan2019

I have to say these results feel less satisfying that the results at Ancestry or 23andMe.  This breakdown gives me three regions: West and Central Europe (45%), British Isles (28%), and East Europe (25%).  The Eastern Europe result at 25% seems particularly high considering that the other two companies showed Eastern Europe results at 4% and 3%. Also, only one line traces to that area in my paper trail, and it was a German-speaking family in eastern Prussia several generations back.  Then there are a couple of trace regions, in Finland and North America, but these are likely noise because they do not appear in the other reports.

According to my paper trail, all of my family originated in the three non-trace regions.  But compared to the other reports, this feels lackluster.

MyHeritage Comparison

My results at MyHeritage:

liane_myheritage_overall_23jan2019

Unfortunately, worse than lackluster, these results just seem wrong.  The report is English (57.0%); Irish, Scottish, and Welsh (19.5%); Finnish (2.1%); Greek (21.5%).  There is no German or anything close to West and Central Europe here.  I have DNA matches on several of my German branches, so I must be carrying some German or close-to-German DNA.  The area that includes Germany is my highest result at all of the other testing companies; it should be in the neighborhood of 40%.  It is perplexing that this shows none.  Then English is quite high.  The Finnish is a bit odd but could be in the noise at 2.1%.

Another error in this result is the 21.4% Greek.  At the other testing companies there was no Greek at all except for possibly 0.7% “Broadly Southern European” at 23andMe.  None of my paper trail leads to Greece, and 21.4% is a big number, the equivalent of about a grandparent being fully Greek.  This and the Germany non-result are two major errors on their part.

Company Comparison

The one good feature about MyHeritage DNA is the cool musical tour of your DNA they create, but don’t trust it.  Since I know my origin results are certainly wrong, I wouldn’t recommended it as the only testing company someone uses, if they are at all interested in origins.  That one’s out.  Test elsewhere and transfer in to get the matches.

Family Tree DNA is better than MyHeritage, but since my report gave only three regions, with one region having an estimate that was significantly too high, I wouldn’t suggest taking an autosomal test there either.  Test elsewhere and transfer in to get the matches.

In an ideal world, I would test at both Ancestry and 23andMe to get a good understanding of my origins.  It is difficult to judge which is better.  Ancestry’s migrations can be quite useful.  Ancestry significantly improved their results with an upgrade last October.  23andMe’s new sub-region reports described above are really promising.  I am just wary to trust their new sub-region reports since my German paper trail leads to so many German areas that aren’t in my results.  The best results overall for me are the 23andMe results taken down to the country level, with country sub-regions taken with a grain of salt.

If finding matches and connecting with cousins are your interest, then by all means take the Ancestry test, with the biggest pool of testers, instead.  If the heath report from 23andMe interests you, then of course take that test (after considering whether the Promethease analysis would be sufficient).  Judging from origin report alone, 23andMe (at the country level and above) is the best for my results.

Posted in DNA

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