Updated AncestryDNA Ethnicity Estimates or How To Feel Less Interesting

AncestryDNA have updated their data sets, resulting in changes to many DNA test ethnicity results. I tentatively log in to find out just how much duller i’ve become…


I remember unceremoniously dribbling into my little tube thing back in 2015, and encouraging my mother to do the same. We were both amused by the idea of being DNA tested, and finding out whether we might be Scandinavian.

When the results came back about 6 weeks later, we were pleased, and I took great delight in mocking my mother – a Daily Mail reader – that she was part Eastern European, and therefore every time she bought a copy of that rag, she was in fact hurting herself!

AncestryDNA 'Ethnicity Estimate' results and map.
My AncestryDNA ‘Ethnicity Estimate’ results and map in 2015.

Over the next year, I also coaxed my father in 2016, my mother’s sister, my father’s sister in 2017 whilst she was visiting from the USA, and eventually cornered my sister and via team pressure from my parents, she did the dribble for our sakes in May 2018.

My Father's AncestryDNA Ethnicity result in Lego
My Father’s AncestryDNA Ethnicity result.

This gave me 6 sets of DNA results, but between the 5th and the 6th set, Ancestry updated it’s result data. This meant that for 5 of us, the DNA ‘Ethnicity’ of us all was about to get far “less interesting”.

Less interesting?

Obviously, refining techniques in the galloping field of science is ultimately a wonderful thing. It’s the right thing to review how the tests are carried out and seek improvements to scientific accuracy.

It’s also ethical to update the test results when the accuracy is improved, but in doing so, for my family, it’s made us far less geo-genetically diverse.

AncestryDNA test results chart
The five original sets of DNA estimates, and my sister’s later set after the earlier 2018 update.

Now, as I type, AncestryDNA have updated their data again. In doing so, it squeezes further on the final percentages of interesting little origins hiding in the DNA of my father and my paternal aunt, and removes some of the impossible results that my sister had been assigned – Caucasus and Native American – that none of us (who are definitely all related to her) showed!

AncestryDNA 'ethnicity' split after the September 2018 update.
AncestryDNA ‘ethnicity’ split after the September 2018 update.

I’ve gone from being 61% “Great Britain” in 2015, to being 100% “England, Wales & Northern Europe” in 2018. I’ve very sadly lost my Scandinavian and Irish genes, although my father and his sister have kept theirs respectively.

Regional Data

In what AncestryDNA give as ‘Migrations’, most of my family are listed as ‘East Anglia & Essex’. My mother and sister include ‘East Midlands’. Aside from Essex (tsk!), the rest fits perfectly with the paper trail.

Meanwhile, my results over at LivingDNA, where I uploaded my AncestryDNA test data to back in January 2017, give me a repeat of some of the regions. Their estimate is that I am 95.7% Great Britain and Ireland, and 4.3% showing up as Scandinavia on a map. This GB part sees East Anglia (where about 90% of my paper-trailed entire family history is from) leading the origins way at 53.9%, and South Central England (which covers Somerset and Devon) showing up as 15.4%.

LivingDNA Cautious Region Map of UK
My LivingDNA regional mapping has similarities with AncestryDNA claims.

Interestingly, the Somerset and Devon area, is where my Burnell, Babbage, and Evans families are based, and the Burnell and Babbage families repeatedly provide me with AncestryDNA matches. Interestingly, LivingDNA show me Ireland and in the wider view, Norway are covered – matching what I used to see from AncestryDNA, but what I still see in my father and his sister’s results today.

Dr Karl Kennedy and DNA Tests

The genetic data pool is getting bigger as AncestryDNA and LivingDNA break into new audiences.

AncestryDNA have regularly boasted about the X millionth ancestry tester, and in the last fortnight, they’ve had heavy product placement in the Australian soap Neighbours, and are currently running a long-lost half-sister plot line between veteran character Dr Karl Kennedy, and Magda Szubanski’s guest character Jemima. Magda of course, was subject to a brilliant episode of the Australian version of Who Do You Think You Are? (recommend you watch it!).

The different companies are still battling out the price war – with kits appearing in more UK High Street shops, and of course now Amazon.

Data scientists, like the scientists back in the DNA testing lab, are constantly evolving their methods, ethics, and techniques, to bring a clearer and truer picture to what we are.

I have one kit left, and I have some ideas who I could ask, but top of the list is my grandfather’s cousin, who is genetically closer to my Giddings and Tingey families than any of those tested so far. She’d also be the first person I’ve tested to have a different parent line, so I’d need to watch out for false leads.

Whilst I’m sad to have lost my fantasy ancestral tour list, and my parents have lost their over-dinner conversation opportunities, we should celebrate the science that strives to bring us truth.

I think I’ll cope with being less Scandinavian, and less Irish.

After all, I’m still exactly who I was before I dribbled in 2015.

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.

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