AncestryDNA Results: My Ethnicity Estimate

Kiss me I’m Irish!

My Genetic Genealogy Journey Continues!

On Friday, December 16, I received an exciting email from AncestryDNA! My results were in! Darn Christmas shopping got in the way of my truly having the time to dig in and digest all the goodies they provided in my report! My plan is to have several posts as I learn and discover what these results mean to me. Today is focused entirely on the Ethnicity Estimate…and there were surprises!

Ethnicity Estimate: My Expectations

If you recall from my last post about my reasons for embarking on this Genetic Genealogy Journey, I expected the following:

For the record, I expect mine to be primarily English, German, and Danish, with just a little Irish mixed in. I don’t expect any surprises like being 25% East Asian or Sub-Saharan African. So this portion of the result should be mildly interesting in terms of what percentage of each ancestors’ DNA I inherited. By and large, however, I expect it to confirm my family tree as it has been researched.

So based on this expectation I was quite surprised when I got the following results:

Click to view my results

Here are my initial reactions to this information about my ethnicity estimate:

  • I had expected Great Britain to come in at a higher percentage.
  • I expected Germany to show prominently at about 25% or so, and I think the “Europe West” region reflects that.
  • Based on my Danish ancestry (my Great-Grandmother was Danish) I expected Scandinavia to be much higher than simply a “Trace Region.”
  • Absolutely SHOCKED to see 27% Irish!

After the initial excitement and then shock, I spent a little time digging in and trying to understand its meaning.

Breaking it Down

As a reminder, I am a complete newbie to genetic genealogy. I reviewed the links at the bottom to understand what the results mean.

The ethnicity range article (and results) were most interesting to me. AncestryDNA analyzes your DNA at 40 different randomly selected segments and compares them to those of a “standard” set of DNA results from people from the various regions. They then provide a “percent match” for each of these segments. The “average” becomes the number that is displayed when you first look at your ethnicity estimate. The “probably range” is some other statistical result which is  the “general spread” and “encompasses most of the variability.” They don’t provide a lot more details than that. However, my instincts tell me they are probably using 2 standard deviations from the mean. This includes the middle 95% of the results and eliminates the tails on each end.

With this background I clicked on each ethnic region result to get the range and other historical data.

Ethnicity Estimate Ranges

My Ethnicity Estimate Range

Clicking on each ethnic region provides 4 major pieces of information.

  1. Your Range.
  2. Information about where this ethnic group can be found.
  3. How your results compare with others from this region.
  4. Population history of this region.

All of this information is really helpful, but I don’t have time to get in to details about each one.

You can see my expanded results in the image to the right. The thing that both amazed me and continues to confuse me is the ranges. The example AncestryDNA provides shows an individual with 55% of one ethnicity. His range was 45%-65%. What a reasonable result, right? Mine, however, have enormous ranges which seem to tell me almost nothing.

To be fair, there is a tremendous amount of mixture between Great Britain and Europe West. The details help you learn this as well. These population groups have mixed for centuries upon centuries. So, I can kind of see how it would be difficult to come up with a specific number. At the same time, it becomes not very useful to me!

Great Britain and Europe West

The next thing that really stood out to me is that for my 2 “strongest” ethnic regions – Great Britain and Europe West – the range goes all the way down to zero! I really don’t know how to interpret this result. Genealogically I absolutely expected these to be the 2 strongest ethnic results for me. My ancestors have come almost exclusively from Great Britain and Germany. Going back 10 generations or so I start to see a little sprinkling of ancestors from Belgium, France, and Switzerland as well. As I mentioned, Denmark is also a strong ancestral region, which could show up either in “Europe West” or “Scandinavia.”


My initial surprise that the range is so broad for the first 2 – including that it goes down to 0% – was heightened by seeing that my range of “Ireland” as an ethnic origin in my ethnicity estimate is from 8% – 45%. Does this mean they are 95% confident that I am at least 8% Irish? In pure mathematical terms, 8% is about 1 in 12. 1 in 16 is a little over 6%. So if one of my Great-Grandparents were pure Irish this is a result I would expect to see. Now we know DNA inheritance is not “purely mathematical.”

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Tabulating My Ancestors’ Birth Places

The Irish result continued to excite me, because it was such a surprise. I started having 2 distinct lines of thought to make sense of this. First, I wondered if perhaps I have Irish ancestry from 400 years ago or even more anciently. My family tree shows my ancestors are from England, but just perhaps they came to England from Ireland way back before the reign of the House of Tudor (pre-1400 A.D.). That seems possible, but still very unlikely that the ethnicity estimate would appear so high.

Second, I thought perhaps I don’t know where my own “blind spots” are. I feel like I “know” my family history, but there are brick walls we haven’t been able to break through. Some are even fairly recent. Could this ethnicity result be a clue to those brick walls?

I jumped over to “Grandma’s Pie” on the BYU Family History Technology Lab website.  This is one of five fun family history apps that students at Brigham Young University have created. I adjusted the pedigree pie as follows:

  1. Showed multiple generations all the way to 6th-great grandparents
  2. Turned OFF “extrapolate unknowns.”

By turning off the extrapolate unknowns, I was able to visually identify all the ancestor’s whose birth place (or name) were unknown to me. I then counted them to generate my table.

My Pedigree Pie

Spreadsheet Work

I created a simple table in a spreadsheet program. Across the top I included labels back for 8 generations. Below each generation, I included 3 numbers: # of direct-line ancestors, number of unknown ancestors, and number of ancestors known to be born in Ireland. I have shown only 6 generations in the table below.

# of ancestors 2 4 8 16 32 64
# unknown 0 0 0 0 1 2
# born in Ireland 0 0 0 0 0 0

My first missing or unknown ancestor is my 3rd-great-grandfather. I have a single clue as to his name, but I have included him as though I knew nothing about him. This is Ella Belle Bunch’s father, who I currently think is named Robert Wood. This is the brick wall I am hoping the AncestryDNA test can help with by connecting me to other unknown cousins. Going out to my 4th-great grandparents adds 2 more unknowns – Robert’s parents.

NONE of my known ancestors for 6 generations were born in Ireland. Out of a total 126 direct-line ancestors in those 6 generations (4th great-grandparents) a grand total of 3 are unknown. Going back one more generation however, is a little different. Suddenly I have 1 ancestor known to be born in Ireland. I also have 28 5th great-grandparents whose name and/or birthplace are unknown to me. Out of 128 possible 5th Great-Grandparents, 28 are unknown to me. This information surprised me, initially. That is over 20%! However, knowing that my 5th great-grandparents were born in the mid- to late-1700s made me realize that I shouldn’t be that surprised.

I have not really ventured in to any source records past 1820 in my research so far. I have decided I have enough “clean-up” and “verification” to do in the first 6 generations to worry about for now.

What Comes Next?

This is as far as I have come so far in analyzing my Ethnicity Estimate results. I am equal parts surprised and delighted to be Irish! My Genetic Genealogy Journey will continue, and I hope I will learn more about how to interpret these results. I can’t wait to learn more and see where this takes me!

Please share your experience with interpreting your ethnicity estimate results in the comments!

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