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Your AncestryDNA® results include your ethnicity estimate, which shows you where your ancestors might have lived hundreds, or even a thousand years ago. Broken down into percentages, the ethnicity estimate tells you approximately how much of your DNA likely came from different regions around the world. For example, you may receive an ethnicity estimate of 50% France, 25% Japan, and 25% Germanic Europe.

The AncestryDNA® Reference Panel

Our reference panel is what we compare your DNA to in order to determine your ethnicity estimate. It’s essentially a list of geographic regions, each of which can be identified by genetic similarities shared by its people. To create this reference panel, AncestryDNA® spent years assembling more than 16,000 genetic samples from around the world, searching for people with long, well-documented family connections to a particular place or ethnic group.

Our reference panel was recently updated to include five times more samples than before. This update not only increased the number of regions in our ethnicity estimate from 26 to 43, but also provides a better understanding of genetic signatures around the world with greater specificity and clarity in geographic ethnicity estimates. To find out in greater detail how AncestryDNA® created its reference panel, read our Ethnicity Estimate 2018 White Paper.

How Does AncestryDNA® Calculate an Ethnicity Estimate?

When we analyze your DNA sample, we look at hundreds of thousands of markers across your whole genome and use an advanced algorithm to find similarities between your DNA and one or more of the reference panel regions.

Depending on what we find, we can often understand if you have a genetic connection to those regions and about how strong those connections are. For example, if part of your DNA is like the DNA from Swedes in our reference panel, then AncestryDNA® reports that stretch of DNA as being from Sweden.

Patterns of Inheritance and How They Affect Your AncestryDNA® Results.

No two people have the same DNA, with the exception of identical twins. That means that each person’s DNA test results will also be different—including family members. Even full siblings may have different ethnicity estimates. This may sound surprising, but the explanation is simple. Even though you receive half of your DNA from your mother and the other half from your father, it’s a different combination for each child.

For example, one sibling may inherit more of his father’s North African DNA while his sister may inherit more of her mother’s Irish DNA. In this case, it’s possible that the brother might show a much stronger North African connection than his sister. This is why it’s always good to have multiple family members tested to gain a more comprehensive look at your shared family story.

Communities and Additional Regions

Your ethnicity estimate may include communities and additional regions. By analyzing your DNA using a different process, we can look for connections to 500 additional regions—many of them even more detailed and precise—as well as tell the story of the migration patterns that your ancestors may have been a part of.

We do this by comparing your DNA to the DNA of every other AncestryDNA member, estimating how closely you’re related. This information allows us to build networks of interconnected people within our AncestryDNA database. We can then examine the family trees attached to the people in those networks, looking for patterns and similarities that reveal common ancestors and shared geographic origins.

By comparing this information to historical events and records, we can then connect you to specific population migration patterns, which may tell the story of how your ancestors moved from place to place over the centuries. Any community stories and any connection to additional regions will be included along with your ethnicity estimate as part of your DNA story.

Visit our Ancestry communities page for more information.

Getting the Most out of Your AncestryDNA® Results

Your results will always include an ethnicity estimate, but to take full advantage of all of these features, you should link your results to a public family tree. This can help you discover your connections to more regions in greater detail, learn about your ancestral migration patterns, better collaborate with your DNA matches, and more. To link your results to a public family tree, click the settings button on the AncestryDNA homepage and look for the "family tree linking" section.