How could my estimate change over time?

Your ethnicity estimate is based on the data we have and the methods we use to compare your results to that data. Because we're always collecting more data and our methods are constantly improving, your estimate may change over time.

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What might change?

Your percentages for a region could change. Some new regions could appear. Some old regions, especially low-percentage regions, could disappear. Or you might not see much change at all.

You could see new regions.

When AncestryDNA launched in 2012, we compared your DNA against 22 possible regions. We now have more than 1,100.

You could see old regions become new ones.

For example, in the United Kingdom and Ireland we split 2 regions into 4 regions; and China, Japan, and the Philippines now each have two regions as well.

You could see new percentages—higher or lower.

Updates to our reference panel and algorithm enable AncestryDNA to both identify new regions and also improve our ability to determine how likely it is that your DNA is associated with a region. These improvements mean that your percentages for a region could go up or down.

You could see regions drop off your estimate.

Because what AncestryDNA knows about the relationships between regions and DNA has improved, some regions may disappear from your estimate. This may be particularly true of regions with a low percentage on your earlier estimate.

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What's behind the changes?

To calculate the portion of your ethnicity estimate that includes percentages, we compare your DNA to a reference panel. The reference panel is made up of DNA samples from people with long family histories in a single region or group. We assign each segment of your DNA that we look at to the population in the reference panel it looks most similar to. For example, if a section of your DNA looks most similar to DNA in the reference panel from people from Sweden, we assign that segment to Sweden, and so on.

Our reference panel now has more than 44,000 samples, and we can divide the world into 70 regions.

More samples let us do two things: we can divide the world into more regions than ever, and we can get a more precise picture of what the DNA “fingerprint” from each of those regions looks like.

More samples provide a clearer “fingerprint.”

The DNA of people from closely related regions can be very similar, making it harder to tell them apart. Our reference panel provides the genetic “fingerprint” we use to identify an ethnicity region and assign it a percentage. As we get more samples, those fingerprints come into clearer focus and we’re better able to tell them apart. That can mean more precision and changes to your ethnicity estimate. Keep in mind, though, that some regions and populations have been so mixed for so long, there may never be a single fingerprint for them.

Reading those “fingerprints.”

An “algorithm” is what we call the steps and science we use to compare your DNA to the 70 different populations in our reference panel and calculate your estimate. We’ve updated these steps a number of times since we launched AncestryDNA. This is another process that can lead to updates and more precision in your results.

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How can my DNA change?

Don't worry, your DNA hasn't changed. What has changed is how much we know about DNA, the amount of data we have available, and the ways we can look at it for clues to your past. You're still you.

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How does AncestryDNA predict the regions in my DNA Story?

Your DNA Story includes regions based on two different scientific processes: the AncestryDNA reference panel and Genetic Communities™ technology.

The AncestryDNA reference panel is made up primarily of people whose family have long-standing, documented roots in a specific area. We compare your DNA to this reference panel to determine your possible ancestry from hundreds up to a thousand years ago. Regions with a solid circle icon are based on the reference panel.

Our Genetic Communities technology identifies groups of AncestryDNA members who are most likely connected because they share fairly recent ancestors who came from the same region or culture. These communities show areas where your ancestors may have lived more recently. Regions with a dotted circle are based on these communities.

DNA analysis is cutting-edge science. Our Genetic Communities technology is an example of that. We didn't include communities in earlier versions of ethnicity estimates because that data didn't exist yet! They were actually discovered by AncestryDNA scientists only after hundreds of thousands of people had taken the AncestryDNA test. As scientific methods continue to advance and we get more data, your estimate could change further.

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Why are there regions in my ethnicity estimate that a family member doesn't have?

Because DNA inheritance is random, your results won't match a family member's exactly. (Read more about inheritance patterns.)

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Why did some of my percentages change so drastically?

It’s one thing to see your results for a region change by a few percentage points, but if you’re reading this, you probably saw a change of 10-20% or even more. That can be a little unsettling. Here are a few of the reasons behind these big changes.

“Closely related” ethnicities have been better resolved.

The DNA of people from closely related regions can be very similar, making it more challenging to tell them apart. Since we can look at DNA in longer segments than we did in the past and have more samples in our reference panel, we are better able to identify differences in DNA in closely related regions. For example, we now assign DNA to Germanic Europe and France rather than the larger umbrella of Western Europe. Or your new estimate may include new regions or percentages that have been assigned to another region.

An ethnicity you had has been split into smaller regions.

In this case you will have lost one ethnicity and gained others. For example, in this update the Americas were split into 11 different regions. People who once had Native America—North, Central & South saw it replaced with one or more other regions, from Indigenous Arctic to Indigenous Eastern South America. And people with Japanese ancestors may see Southern Japanese Islands reflected in their results now as well.

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Why am I missing a region I'm pretty sure I should have?

Here are some reasons why a region you think you should have might be missing from your estimate:

It could be the genetic influence of neighboring populations.

Some populations look very similar to others. For example, the genetic profiles of many European countries that share borders can look very similar because people from those countries have intermingled so much over time. West Africa is another area where we find lots of different ethnic groups with lots of overlap between countries.

It could be that the estimate is on the edges of our predicted range.

You may not share enough DNA with the members of our reference panel for us to see this ethnicity in your DNA.

It could just be the way genetic inheritance works.

Each person gets 50% of their DNA from Mom and 50% from Dad. But that means 50% of each parent’s DNA also gets left behind. Also, what gets passed down and what gets left behind is completely random. So you may not have inherited enough of the genetic markers that are more common to a particular region—though that doesn't mean that region isn't part of your past.

It could be because ethnicity estimation is still a work in progress.

Estimating regions in your past using your DNA is based on data that is still being collected and cutting-edge science that is still evolving. You can expect changes and improvements as our scientists gather more data and develop new ways of analyzing your DNA.

It could be because regions do not follow modern political boundaries.

Changes in country boundaries and historical movements of people often mean that regions do not always reflect modern countries. For example, people from Austria may have more Eastern Europe & Russia in their report than Germanic Europe because of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. And some of our regions, such as Southern Bantu Peoples, don’t follow country boundaries at all.

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Why don’t my ethnicity results match what I know about my family tree?

This is a question that comes up sometimes when people are talking about their ethnicity estimate: But where’s my [insert your missing ethnicity region here]? Here are a couple of things to consider if your ethnicity results don’t seem to match what you know about your family tree.

You may not have inherited the DNA that we associate with an ethnicity region.

Parents pass half of their DNA down to their children, but which DNA gets passed down and which doesn’t is completely random. That’s why even siblings can have different ethnicity estimates. So even if you have a Swedish ancestor somewhere back in your family tree, whether or not you get “Swedish” DNA passed down to you is partly a matter of chance.

Your family tree includes lots of people your genetic tree doesn’t.

With each generation, your odds of inheriting DNA from any one individual in your family tree decrease. So, your family tree is actually full of people who might not show up in your DNA test results—but they’re still family. This is especially true the farther back you go in the tree!

Neighbors can look a lot alike.

We create part of your ethnicity estimate by comparing your DNA sample to DNA samples in a reference panel that divides the world into 70 overlapping regions. Those comparisons are based on statistical probabilities—there’s no single perfect representative of French or Korean or Middle Eastern DNA. Because these are probabilities, and because regions overlap, sometimes your DNA might look like a closer match to a nearby region in our reference panel than the one where your direct ancestors lived.

Genes don’t follow modern political boundaries.

The map of Europe looked very different prior to World War I—and even more different 200 hundred years ago. So even though relatives may be from a given country, their genes may be more similar to people from neighboring regions. For example, the Frisians live in the Netherlands and northern Germany, but they have ties to the Anglo-Saxons in England. And it shouldn’t be a surprise if someone from northern Italy had DNA that looked like it came from France.

Grandma may have been less French than you realized.

We often think of our ancestors as having come from one place. However, just like many people today, many of our ancestors had mixed backgrounds. So, if a great-grandparent who was born and raised in France was actually only 50 percent French, they have much less “French” DNA to pass down.

Some places are complicated.

Some places, like Nigeria, are home to many different peoples and populations. Others, like parts of Europe, have had fairly porous borders, and people have married with people from surrounding regions. Both situations can make identifying populations or telling one group apart from another difficult. That’s why ethnicity estimation is an ongoing challenge—a challenge AncestryDNA scientists are meeting by gathering more data and spending more hours in the lab.

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What if you don't have data for a region my ancestors come from?

AncestryDNA ethnicity estimates are based on available data. So what happens when we don't have much data about a region? Here's a current example. We don't have enough data right now to support separate regions for Laos, Cambodia, or Thailand. Until we get more data, people from those countries will typically see a mix of Southeast Asia, Dai, Vietnam, and Southern China in their results.

Two more things to keep in mind. First, some populations do not differ enough at a genetic level to emerge as separate groups. Second, countries change over time, and boundaries on a map today do not necessarily represent genetic boundaries, so there may be population groups or countries that never fall into a single region.

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What’s happening in West Africa?

We know some of our customers with ethnicity regions in West Africa have seen some back and forth in their results from these ethnicity updates. Here are a couple of reasons why and where you might see them in the future.

With updates to our reference panel, our ability to identify our Nigeria ethnicity region has gotten much, much better. This means that some people might see increases or decreases in their percentage for Nigeria. That also means that the part of your estimate that might now be assigned to Nigeria used to be assigned somewhere else, probably to a nearby region, which means changes there, too.

Benin & Togo and our Ivory Coast & Ghana regions have seen big changes as well. We’ll keep working on all our regions in Africa, but as we improve our ability to identify regions, this can affect your percentages in regions around it.

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What’s happening in the United Kingdom and Ireland?

Over the long history of the region, there were a lot of interactions between people living in what is now modern Scotland, England, Ireland, and Wales. In fact, there were enough interactions that it has been difficult to tell if some DNA is more similar to the English, Scottish, or Welsh—or Irish or Scottish for folks in northern Ireland and southwestern Scotland.

AncestryDNA has updated our reference panel and the way we look at DNA, and we can now more easily tell people from closely related regions like these apart. This allowed us to split the United Kingdom and Ireland into four new regions: Wales, Scotland, Ireland, and England & Northwestern Europe.

People from England or the northern counties of Ireland may be getting more Scotland than they might expect given their family history—and sometimes vice versa. This is a natural consequence of trying to distinguish several closely related peoples apart at just the DNA level. This update is the first time we have been able to identify these four regions separately, so don’t be surprised if we are able to make more refinements to these regions in the future. 

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What happened to my England, Wales & Northwestern Europe?

With this update, we have expanded our reference panel and updated the algorithm we use to generate ethnicity estimates. The main result is that we have been able to break larger regions, like the United Kingdom and Ireland, into smaller, more precise ones.

You may see your England, Wales, & Northwestern Europe region now broken up into one or more of the following regions: England & Northwestern Europe, Wales, Ireland, or Scotland.

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How do the regions get their names?

Even though we’re actually looking at people rather than places, most regions are named after a modern-day country or region where people in our reference panel have family going back generations or that members of a community likely share in their past. However, there are two important things to keep in mind.

First, these are modern names that don't always reflect the history of a people. For example, the United Kingdom has been home to lots of different peoples, including native Britons, Celts, and Nordic and Germanic invaders. We don't know exactly how much or how many of each of these groups might be reflected in our current DNA samples. Another example is Iran, which is home to many ethnic groups.

Second, don't be surprised to see regions extending beyond modern political boundaries for the same reasons mentioned above. Our Baltics region reaches into neighboring Poland, Belarus, Russia, and even Ukraine. And it should come as no shock to Brazilians to see our Portugal region among their results.

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How do I read the region maps?

The maps were created by determining the average levels of ethnicity of people whose family has lived in the region for a long time. The brighter the shading, the higher the percentage for this ethnicity region we see in their estimates on average. The maps are approximate, and people outside the highlighted shape may still have that region in their estimate. Similarly, not everyone living within the highlighted area will have the region in their ethnicity estimate.

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How does AncestryDNA find the stories for the communities in my DNA Story?

Communities are based on our Genetic Communities™ technology, which identifies groups of AncestryDNA members who are most likely connected because they share fairly recent ancestors who came from the same region or culture.

Once we identify a community, we look for patterns in ethnicity and data from family trees linked to AncestryDNA test results, including ancestral birth locations, to see where their ancestors lived and moved to. You don’t have to have a tree to get a community, but trees that are connected to test results do help us identify the story that explains a community’s past.

Historical researchers use that time and place data to look for the overarching story that binds the members of a community together. While they may not tell your ancestor's story exactly, your DNA suggests that you are connected to this time and place.

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Why don't I have any communities?

If you don't have a strong genetic link to a community, or if we haven't identified one yet that links to your ancestor's past, it won't appear among your results.

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How can I download my ethnicity results from before the latest update?

You can access and download your previous ethnicity results under the Updates link in the upper-right corner of your ethnicity estimate.

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Still curious to understand more? Cool--we're glad you're as interested in genetics as we are. Check out our white paper on ethnicity prediction.