Ancestry DNA test. What to expect?

Hello Everyone,
For Christmas my wife got me an Ancestry DNA test. I’m looking forward to sending it off and seeing the results to see if they confirm what I think is my family history.

What kind of information can I expect to see from the results? For those of you that have done these tests, did they seem accurate? Any surprises?

My results were about what I expected. WASP from western Europe. My daughter was tested and it gave the results that she was, with 99%+ certainty, my daughter. It also picked out my close ancestors who had also submitted DNA and it found many known cousins, uncles, etc. It also selected 2nd or 3rd cousins for whom you have never heard. Then you can PM those people and get some interesting stories.

What surprised me was my daughter’s DNA test. My ex-wife, her mother, is AFAIK, 1/2 Italian from Western PA. Her first result showed her 8% Italian and after it was “revised” 0% Italian. My ex-wife’s grandmother, by contrast, was 88% Italian. I thought there would be more Italian DNA in her, but it was, more than half, WASPy with the remainder from Eastern Europe, the Middle East and Mediterranean.

I made the comment that maybe your mother cheated on me and wasn’t really your mother. She did think about that possibility for at least 2 full seconds before she realized the obvious joke.

My wife sent hers off and found she was irish/Scottish/French but was 2% native American which she admitted wasn’t much but it pleased her. She’s adopted, and did find her birth mother, although she had passed already. My son sent his off (for some crazy reason) under his wife’s name so the results showed his wife was my daughter. Which makes me question a lot of things; for example, couldn’t they tell male from female? Mine was Scots/Irish which wasn’t surprising, but the whole thing makes me question how they can be so sure that records far back are really accurate. Name changes ,for example - especially before standardized spelling.

I received one as well from my younger sister. She did one a year or two back, and she wants me to take one as well, in the hopes that it will tell us more about my dad’s side of the family.

The ethinicity estimates have improved, but are still a lot less accurate than people expect. The main problem is people don’t understand how small uncertainties at the population level can translate to major ones at the individual level.

If they are not showing you +10% ethnicities from the wrong continent you should not suspect errors in your family history, even if it disagrees. Working on finding common ancestors with shared matches is the only valid game in town, but you need either multiple matches from separate lines descending from such ancestors, or you and the match need to have complete enough trees, validated through other matches, to serve as evidence that the shared ancestor cannot be along a different line.

If you put in a good tree and link your DNA to it Ancestry will serve up “thrulines” which are conjectures on ancestors that were the origins of the DNA for a match, but these require the work mentioned in the previous paragraph as validation. The algorithm doesn’t take into consideration the possibility that the link is on a different branch of your tree.

There’s a lot of misinformation and low quality information out there. In part because Ancestry has little interest in being accurate in explaining the uncertainties (though you can now click through and they will give you an estimated range like 0% - 16% instead of the 4% the main list shows you), and in part because people looking at their result engage in a ton of confirmation bias and ad hoc hypotheses (to explain their single data point).

Unless you have some uncertainty about your lineage, don’t expect much, other than conversation fodder with friends and family.

However. . . if you follow up on your relatives list, you might some surprises. I think most people don’t really care about who all shows up on the list, or how they might be related, but I tried to identify at least the second cousins’ lines. I’m familiar with three DNA tests, and each one had at least one surprise.

In my own, I found I had a biological cousin that none of the family ever knew about. My uncle was a sailor. 'Nuff said. Also found out that one of my great-uncles fathered a child with a teen-aged Black domestic–and no, my great-uncle was not Strom!

In my (half-) sister’s list, we found she had an aunt that no one ever knew about. (Grandpa got around, apparently!). Also, we found her grandmother had been previously married, and some of her descendants from her first hitherto-unknown marriage were on the list.

In my wife’s case, she was the surprise. She was adopted as an infant, so she was the surprise that showed up on her relatives’ lists. (Just in case you’re curious, we were able to identify her biological parents, both deceased, and everything we had assumed about them was wrong!)

My brother (adopted) did one of these several years ago. It confirmed his mostly eastern European lineage, but the option to share info for potential connections lead him to learn both his biological parents are still alive (our parents are gone). This was something he had been seeking most of his life, but state privacy laws prevented him making much progress. He has contacted both bio parents and now established a close connection with his bio mother and has discovered a whole extended family, 50+ years after adoption. The advancements in DNA technology reaching average consumers is providing some interesting outcomes, for sure.

I have determined I do not wish to have any revelations so will forego the DNA testing for now.

I think the DNA test will tell you what you think it will. Where your ancestors were from, who are some family members who are on Ancestry.

I think what it will give you is the ability to trace your roots, and to find famility members that you might no know about. My grandmother was adopted, and had no idea who her parents. Though Ancestry DNA (and lots of comparisons among others on Ancestry) I was able to nail down who her mother was. (Still trying to figure the father.) That can be a lot of fun, and is interesting.

If you aren’t interested in (small a) ancestry, I think 23 and me gives you a bit more info on health issues. But if you are interested in (small a) ancestry, than I think 23 and me is pretty useless.

I don’t think I understand this. None of the DNA information you get directly from the test has anything to do with particular people, it only has to do with populations and probabilities. To get information about actual people in your ancestry, you would have to follow up on the relatives contact list (which is people who have also filed a sample and who share some percentage of your DNA) and ask them about what the connection might be, as Earl_Snake-Hips_Tucker describes above (this is unlikely to be effective for anyone further removed than 2nd cousin).

I didn’t have much luck with closer unknown relatives, there were only a couple of 2nd cousins identified, and they were both people I knew. However, my sample was reported as having around 12% Ashkenazy content, which is about the right amount for a great-grandparent. I took this to mean that my great-grandfather who emigrated from Germany was 100% Ashkenazy (he’s really the only possibility) and based on his life history, this may not have been known even to him. Or it’s a mistake. I don’t suppose I’ll ever know for sure.

You’re not related to anyone famous, you have no Indian blood, and someone in your extended family misplaced an infant that they didn’t tell anyone about. Your ethnicity is several different kinds of white, but not traceable to any specific immigrant in any specific part of Europe.

My mother told us that we had a half-brother down in the Yucatan somewhere – a result of my father’s work during WW II. It would interesting to know I have nieces or nephews down there now…

Sorry, didn’t make myself clear. I was referring to research on individual families. Some of my relatives have already done research and I was skeptical about ancestors and the accuracy of the data. I read that some people had traced back as far as Charlemagne and I had doubts about such data.

Ah, I see. It is not rare to be descended from Charlemagne, nearly everyone with western European heritage is. What is rare is being able to prove it through family records. But I understand your skepticism, a lot of what we see on genealogy TV programs especiallyi is based on speculation and supposition, as well as paper records and family oral history.

Autosomal DNA (which is the test that Ancestry offer) can provide DNA matches to other testers up to about 8 generations out. From 4th cousins, your chances of getting a match drop to 50%, and you will only match approximately 10% of 5th cousins.

You can use these shared matches to draw some conclusions about shared lineage, but this can still be derailed by research errors. For example, if a bunch of your matches have listed the same couple as their ancestor, Ancestry’s thrulines may predict that couple are also your ancestor, but this is just based on the apparent consensus of your matches. Given the extremely high number of inexperienced researchers who just accept every hint Ancestry offers without evaluating it, erroneous information spreads rapidly and appears to be consensus but isn’t fact. Always be very cautious about accepting any information that comes from user-submitted origins.

Expect that a lot of family lore might be debunked. Every family has stories about non-conforming branches in the woodpile. Almost any family that’s been in North America for more than a 150 years thinks there are some Native Americans or black slaves in there. My family tree has lots of roots in the Old South and Indian Territory, yet my results came back pretty much 100% European (80+% Britain and Ireland).

Indeed. My brother’s wife’s family all believed that she and her brothers all had the same father.

One other thing, if you peruse your relatives list: The relationships are only approximations, like ‘close relative, 1st-2nd cousin, 3rd-4th cousin, etc.’ I have first cousins who show up as second cousins because our DNA commonality ‘score’ is a little below what’s normal for first cousins.

Similarly, my (half-) niece, my wife’s half-niece, and my sister’s half-aunt all show up as first cousins, as there’s a lot of overlap in the scores.

So, if you pursue trying to figure out where they fit in, don’t take it for the gospel, since they’re just approximations.
Here’s a relationship chart with score ranges, for reference.

Similarly, in small population groups lots of people show up as tenuous relatives. Yes, yes, I share a minuscule scrap of DNA with all Jews. I wish there were a setting to delineate a limit for notifications, like “2nd cousin/first cousin once removed.”

One of my second cousins (whom I know that I’m related to) is on Ancestry also, and he’s sending me some info on my mother’s side. One other guy with my surname traced back to some Scottish noblemen - and while I remain doubtful, my great-grandfather (another positive) is on his list. One of my nieces is also doing some research - and a lot was done years back in one branch of the family, as we have members of the DAR.

No real surprises for me, either. English, German and other European roots. A small indication that there may have been a Native American ancestor about 7 greats ago.

My wife’s niece, on the other hand, was surprised to find African American ancestry. Her father had a Latino-sounding last name. When she started researching, sure enough: she ran across census records listing ancestors described as “Negro”, then “Mulato”, and eventually “White”.