Sunday, April 15, 2012

DNA Test Results from AncestryDNA is getting into the DNA business. For a few months now they have been BETA testing autosomal DNA tests with their subscribers. Last November, I was one of the subscribers they offered the chance to have my DNA tested for the nominal cost of shipping. Considering that it can cost hundreds of dollars to do this (though prices are dropping), I thought this would be a good opportunity to explore what DNA testing can offer me as a genealogist.

Soon after I replied that I was interested and paid the $9.95 shipping, I received a package with three special cotton swabs which I used to scrape the inside of my cheek. I let them air dry, then inserted them into the packaging provided and returned them to AncestryDNA. I then waited...

Last week, I finally received an email notifying me that my results were in.

Autosomal DNA testing is a general DNA test that tells me what my genetic ethnicity (or genetic background) is. The test takes segments of my DNA and compares it to samples from a DNA ethnicity database with other samples from people with known ancestry in specific regions in the world.

Genetic ethnicity results go back hundreds of years, farther back than just about all of my genealogical research. (And I've researched some lines back to the 1500's.)

The following is what I see when I click on the AncestryDNA link when I'm logged into

My genetic ethnicity (according to AncestryDNA results)

AncestryDNA does note that the percentages are accurate plus or minus a few percentage points. The Uncertain percentage includes ethnic regions with too little information for them to confidently predict.

The 78% British Isles ethnicity doesn't surprise me. In the lines where I am able to trace ancestors back to their immigration to America, a good majority come from England, Scotland and Ireland. What I find interesting is the 16% Scandinavian ancestry. I don't have any specific knowledge of ancestors from Norway, Sweden or Denmark. AncestryDNA's website notes that ethnic groups are not static, meaning that people move all the time and a group may contribute DNA to another group at certain times in history. I suppose if I could trace my ancestry back far enough, I would find Vikings from Scandinavian countries who invaded the British Isles and settled there, raising families with those of British genes.

As young children, my brothers and I were quite tow-headed, with blond hair that turned very pale blond in the summer sun, so possibly that's from our Scandinavian genes.

However, I am especially surprised that there is no indication of European ancestry, as the family story is that the Lysles (my maternal ancestry) were originally from France. I am also pretty sure of some Netherlands ancestry (on both sides of my family) and in AncestryDNA's map, Netherlands is European, not Scandinavian. Perhaps the 6% Uncertain ethnicity is European. As this is the BETA testing phase, I provided feedback to AncestryDNA noting this.


What Ancestry is hoping to do is to provide another avenue for their subscribers to connect with cousins who share ancestry. Below my ethnicity pie chart is a list of subscribers who have participated in this DNA BETA test who might be related to me, based on the comparison of details within our Autosomal DNA results. For each of these close matches, I can click on [Review Match] and see "Pedigree and Surnames" of these close matches or, on a separate tab, I can see "Map and Locations."

The Pedigree and Surnames tab shows a 7-generation tree and a list of those surnames of the member I have selected (assuming this member has linked his or her tree to their DNA results). I have one "match" listed who is predicted to be a 4th to 6th cousin. This person's ethnic ancestry indicates 50% Central European, 45% Scandinavian and 5% Uncertain. I am able to view her family tree in and have found a common 10th great grandfather, which would make us 10th cousins. I don't see any familiar surnames in the first 4-6 generations, so I'm not sure how we might be related closer than 10th cousins.

The Map and Locations tab shows a map with icons showing birth locations for direct ancestors from my tree, birth locations for direct ancestors in the match's tree, and, in a different color, common birth locations where we both have direct ancestors. Of course, many of mine are in America, but I also have records for births in England, Scotland, Ireland, and the Netherlands. Zooming in on this map shows more close-up detail of common city and town birth locations.

Below this one 4th to 6th cousin are additional subscribers who are considered possible "distant cousins." The website indicates that "Distant cousin matches (5th cousins or greater) are less sure than 3rd or 4th cousins. These matches are still good leads, but there is a low degree of certainty (50% or less) that you are related." There are 12 which have a 50% certainty of being 5th - 8th cousin, and many more with a 20% or 10% certainty of being 5th - 8th cousins.

I also want to share what AncestryDNA writes on the first page you view:
"You can imagine how complicated it is to determine a person's ethnicity based only on a handful of cheek cells. We have a top team of scientists on the job, but as with anything new, there's always room for improvement. And our ability to determine your ethnicity and predict matches will only get better over time. During this special beta period we are sharing early results, gathering feedback, and making adjustments prior to our formal launch to the public. We don't anticipate any big changes—mostly small ones to better your experience. We expect over time to deliver even more granular results (including regions within a specific country) as we get more data. So if your early results seem way off-base please let us know."
As continues to work on its DNA testing, I'm sure we'll hear more about it and how it's connecting family history researchers online.

October 2013: updated their analysis and I shared it at AncestryDNA Updates Ethnicity Results.


  1. Don't be surprised to see if your results change, or if they identify that last 6% in a few years. My husband did this testing, and it has changed twice in the last year as more people tested and they were able to compare results to redefine a few groups.

  2. Heather, thanks for the comment. I will be sure to check my DNA page at periodically to see if anything changes.

  3. Hi Elizabeth-- I wouldn't be too surprised at the Scandinavian DNA-- I've been able to trace some of my mom's lines WAY back to the 3rd and 4th centuries, and before her family was English, some were French-- and before that, many were Scandinavians (Normans) who settled in-- you guessed it-- Normandy.

    I'm just surprised that there's no DNA from France. But then, there were Scandinavians who settled in the British Isles directly too.

    1. Karen, that's impressive that you've been able to trace some lines so far back! Through royal lines? Maybe my French lines were originally Scandinavian? Thanks for reading and commenting.

    2. Yep, I'm descended from English royalty, from William the Conqueror up through Edward III, and French royalty (the Capets) before that-- so practice your curtsy for when I visit your blog. :-)

      It's likely your French line WAS originally Scandinavian, especially if they're from Normandy.

      One of these days I want to take a DNA test too! I wonder, if my half-Jewish Dad took one for the paternal lineage, would his results show from Israel or Eastern Europe or both...

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  5. Hi Elizabeth,
    Thanks for visiting my blog and letting me know about your write up. I'm really hopeful that the numbers and matches will adjust as more people take the test. I haven't seen mine move at all yet, but I'm sure it will happen, from what I hear AncestryDNA is very busy.
    I haven't made any connections with other Ancestry members as a result of the DNA test, it's cool that you had one that actually does connect, even though it's way back.
    It's funny that you mentioned the blond hair as children, I was wondering the same thing.

  6. Funny, my results came out almost exactly the same as yours and I also had no specific knowledge of Scandinavian ancestors. I just figure my Kentish English relatives and my Irish relatives both lived in places
    heavily invaded by Vikings.
    I was also confused because I know for fact that there are German and French ancestors in my line. But one thing I discovered is that my "throw" might be different enough from my brother or sister's that those genetic
    markers might not show for me, but would for them.
    I'm hoping that as more people connect, I'll find some closer matches. So far, no great revelations.