Taking an autosomal DNA test with AncestryDNA (Part Two)

The Ancestry DNA results are in for my mother and I… but what do you get, and how can they be interpreted?


It’s been a few patient weeks since I did my AncestryDNA test but the email has come through. The results of the AncestryDNA tests for my mother and I have arrived.

Excitedly I clicked on my name first to see what it would reveal.

When you get your results you’re presented with a kind of ‘dashboard’. This includes your name and a brief summary of your Ethnicity Estimate and your DNA Matches.

Able to see the top three results in this dashboard view, I clicked through to view the complete geographic/ethnicity estimate map and results.

AncestryDNA 'Ethnicity Estimate' results  and map.
My AncestryDNA ‘Ethnicity Estimate’ results and map.

With little surprise, Great Britain appeared at the top. Although DNA runs through us all from our very evolution, my family history research (which is a nanosecond snapshot by comparison) has given me a set of documented ancestors who have never strayed outside of England.

Of course, documents lie but DNA doesn’t, but in both cases – it’s all in the interpretation.

After Great Britain, coming in second and as a complete surprise was my 18% Irish genes. So far, I’ve found no Irish ancestors, and only 1-2 Irish relatives. I can’t even put my finger on a few possible Irish surnames… but, they appear to be in the mix somewhere.

In third place, with a nice 11% is my highly anticipated (and hoped for) Scandinavian DNA.   Having been surprised by the Irish DNA, I’d have expected this or Europe West to have turned up as second.

These three are then followed by what Ancestry calls ‘Trace Regions’. They explain that these are small traces of ethnicity, but that they may be unreliable. They’ve included them just in case.

For me, I’m amused by being 4% Italian/Greek, 3% Finn and Northwest Russian, but surprisingly a lowly 3% Western European.

Setting contexts

What is useful, and acts almost as a caveat to the percentage and map, is the potted history of the region when you click on its name. When reading this, you realise that for someone with 61% Great Britain score (the average Great Briton has 60%, so i only just scraped in), seeing Scandinavian in my DNA is absolutely no surprise. Also, seeing Irish and Scandinavian together is no surprise either, and that’s down to the trade and settlement of the Vikings who held around 1/3rd of England by the late 800s. Vikings of course made their way to Ireland too, so it would be unsurprising for both Scandinavian and Irish DNA to turn up.

Reassuringly, Ancestry’s test had spotted that there was a parent/child relationship between myself and my mother’s DNA.

Comparing DNA with my mother

When you look at my mother’s DNA results in comparison, you get a hint of the 50% of the DNA that I didn’t inherit, and a hint at what DNA may well be lurking in my father.

My mother's AncestryDNA ethnicity estimate
My mother’s AncestryDNA results reveal she’s more European than me.

For my mother, her ‘Ethnicity Estimate’ pitches her as 8% more than the average Great Briton, at 68%.

Then, what is my lowest estimated score (of 1%), my mother has as second – she’s 13% Western European. That’s roughly the percentage that I’d have expected to have seen in my result, given ancestral surnames of the likes of the German sounding Moden and Swiss sounding Gothard surnames in her tree.

With delight, I revealed her Scandinavian roots too (she’s a big Vikings fan, and we share a Viking-sounding Yarrow ancestral surname). Her percent is less than mine, so maybe this hints at some Scandinavian DNA in my father too?

It’s not until you reach her ‘Trace Regions’ that Irish DNA turns up – and for her it’s just 3%, whereas mine was 18%. Maybe this also suggests that there’s Irish DNA in my father.

Also amongst my mother’s Trace Regions is 5% Iberian Peninsula, and our shared Finland/Northwest Russa DNA (at 2%).

I’d guess that when looking at geography – for someone with an estimate so high of Western Europe, then seeing the Iberian Peninsula is no surprise. The Fin and Russian ethnicity traces may well be echoes through our Scandinavian DNA too.

Finally, my mother’s Trace Regions end with what has made me chuckle. She’s 1% Eastern European.  She’s a Daily Mail reader, and I continually mock-plead with her to stop reading that ‘newspaper’… which is packed with shock stories and hatred for people from Ukraine, Poland and other Eastern European countries. Hopefully that 1% will serve as another reason she should stop buying it!!

So, what can I do with this new-found knowledge?

This was my questioning right from the out-set. You get a set of data that spans right back through human life – far too far back into history for you to research. At it’s top level, and for those who aren’t really interested in family history, this is a kind of ‘genetic tourism’ or ‘family tree tourism’. Dr Adam Rutherford‘s recent radio feature on The Business of Genetic Ancestry kind of puts it nicely.

AncestryDNA sold this autosomal DNA testing concept to me when they showed what they’d do next with the data – and that’s to use it alongside all the other users who get their test results, and use it to suggest DNA matches to you. It was this point at Who Do You Think You Are? Live that I decided to pay up.

That AncestryDNA dashboard shows you some of those matches, each with a rating of how confident they are at the matches.. and then it’s over to you to reach out to them and explore that connection through Ancestry.

AncestryDNA matches
AncestryDNA shows you who has varying degree of DNA matches with your results.

I’ve already begun reaching out to a few – and it was reassuring to see matches with people I’ve already linked to through good old fashioned family history research, and also a number of people who are strangers but carry some of my obscurer family surnames too.

Ancestry, I’m impressed. All I need to do now, is think of who best to test next. My father? My sister? The oldest blood relative I can find?

Author: Andrew Martin

+Andrew Martin is owner and lead writer for History Repeating and Family Tree UK. Genealogist, historian, writer, photographer and would-be archaeologist. He'd love a time machine, but worries that it might take all the fun out of it.

4 thoughts on “Taking an autosomal DNA test with AncestryDNA (Part Two)”

  1. I found it interesting comparing your AncestryDNA results with my FTDNA Family Finder autosomal results. I could be wrong but I believe the “ancestrial origin” results are the least exact since they base some of their calculations on the paper trails of others. I too was listed as 100% European with 70% British Isles; which seems about right since my paternal grandmother’s family was from the former Prussia. I went ahead with mtDNA testing and YDNA testing which is also very interesting.

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  2. Aside from the misspelling of “ancestral” I decided to clarify my prior reply. First, I loved the article and your site and second I wasn’t trying to state that either Ancestry.com or FTDNA was superior; My point was that I think autosomal tests as they relate to places of origin may be partly based on paper trails and not genetics.

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