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Ethnicity Testing- Is it really worth it?

Discussion in 'DNA Questions and Answers' started by Britjan, May 21, 2017.

  1. Britjan

    Britjan LostCousins Star

    I posed the question back in 2015 about testing for ethnicity and nobody could answer it but reading this thread makes me distictly nervous about spending any money on DNA testing to answer some family questions. I am looking for a reputable ( North American?) company for specific ethnic testing, when I look on line I get a lot of smoke and mirrors.
    It seems to me it would make sense to take a DNA test that would establish some kind of a baseline for my contribution to my Canadian born daughters' DNA. It's likely to turn out to be English and Irish for the most part with very little connection to North America.
    My daughters have some Indigenous ancestry but almost zero proof from records. The names of actual relatives would not be important but they would like to know more about the likely ties they have with the Haudenosaunee Confederacy.
    The same type of query might be of interest to forum members with Aboriginal ties in Australia.
  2. peter

    peter Administrator Staff Member

    I've repeatedly warned against using DNA tests to determine ethnicity: until recently I have described ethnicity estimates as for entertainment only. The exception would have been where someone suspects that they have a non-European ancestor, or a Jewish ancestor. Now things are changing thanks to Living DNA and Ancestry's Genetic Communities.

    I would recommend testing with Ancestry as even if it doesn't answer that particular question right now, it is likely to in the future as they extend their new Genetic Communities feature.

    However the biggest benefit from testing with Ancestry will be finding thousands of living cousins - that's the primary reason why family historians, and especially LostCousins members, should test (once they've done the easy things like completing their My Ancestors page).

    If you also get the answer to your question about native American ancestry, great! But it's not as if your money will be wasted if you don't - millions of people who don't have any native American, Asian, South Pacific etc ancestry to find took autosomal DNA tests last year.
  3. jorghes

    jorghes LostCousins Superstar

    I don't have the technical knowledge of DNA of other members of this forum, but I'll put my two cents in.

    Like Peter, I'd suggest testing with Ancestry. Their database of people alone has solved a couple of question marks for me when I made links with people who turned out to be cousins through links I wasn't completely sure of. I currently have links with 60 people that ancestry thinks are my 4th cousins, as well as 2 3rd cousins - one of which could be a third cousin through my illegitimate great-great-grandfather, but doesn't seem to know much about her tree.

    I also then have about 226 pages of what ancestry would term "distant cousins" - whose relationship should be 5th cousins and more distance. There are over 30 people on a page (I was attempting to count, might be as high as 50 per page), so you yourself can figure out how many people that is who I might possibly have DNA connections to, on a sliding scale of possibility. I have a slight help in identifying at least which side of the family in most cases, by whether or not they also match my parents, who I managed to get tested. Unfortunately, those with a match to me don't always show a match to either of my parents in the Ancestry comparisons.

    I am also currently part of 4 "emerging" DNA circles (two married couples) - i.e. a group of people who have identified the same set of ancestors who also match genetically. One of them is slightly incorrect due to the technicality of pedigree collapse (i.e. the circle should be centered about 2 generations higher in that particular tree), but that is also my Jewish side. The other is centered around a paternal 4x great grandfather and his wife, which also solidified information I was unsure about, around a daughter who had possibly emigrated to NZ from Australia.

    Ancestry have now also added their genetic communities addition, and those that are linked to my family are all "correct" - i.e. they match what I know and match what I thought about both sides of my tree, although currently they're centered around my British Ancestry. I'm still hoping at some point for a Jewish genetic community to pop up. There might not be a genetic community for indigenous communities yet, but Ancestry are still developing their genetic communities addition to their DNA testing.
  4. peter

    peter Administrator Staff Member

    There are 50 to a page, thus over 11000 potential cousins.

    If this number sounds unfeasibly high, see this table - taken from last year's DNA Special newsletter. We have an awful lot of 7th and 8th cousins.


    Note that I didn't go beyond 8th cousin. The reality is that we will get matches with more distant cousins, but they'll always appear to be more closely related than they really are, so will appear in the 5th to 8th total. Similarly, some cousins who are 5th to 8th will appear to be 3rd or 4th cousins.
  5. jorghes

    jorghes LostCousins Superstar

    Well, with 50 per page, that means Ancestry has identified about 11,300 5th cousins and "above" matches for me. And since it is 228 pages in total, that makes it an additional 96 people which make up those who are 3rd and 4th cousins.

    Then of course you have to add all the people it has also identified for my two brothers... and then my parents. It would have significant overlap, but even so.

    Not bad at all...

    and just a note, I have just under 6000 people on my tree...
  6. peter

    peter Administrator Staff Member

    Ancestry have sold over 4 million DNA tests, but that's a very small fraction of the world's population. On the other hand it's likely that their sales will have been mainly to people of European heritage in English-speaking countries, so it might be reasonable to assume that 1% (or so) of the people in that category have tested.

    If we're generous and assume that 2% of your cousins have tested then - if all of those DNA matches are genuine - you must have 50 times as many detectable cousins, thus about 570,000 (50 x 11400).

    The table I posted above understates the number of detectable cousins because it's based on 23andMe estimates (as was the original table on the ISOGG site). If I rework the table using Ancestry's own estimates (and extrapolating for 9th and 10th cousins) we get this:


    Now we're in the same ballpark.
  7. Pauline

    Pauline LostCousins Superstar

    Here's hoping all those detectable cousins don't get in touch and need a reply! I have enough trouble keeping on top of my family history correspondence as it is. :eek::)
  8. peter

    peter Administrator Staff Member

    If your Ancestry tree is private you will get very few messages from the cousins you have been matched with. I don't think I've ever been contacted by a DNA cousin at Ancestry.

    (If only it was possible to have a tree that could be viewed by DNA cousins, but nobody else - as at Family Tree DNA.)

    But having a tree is important because Ancestry will highlight tree matches even where the trees are private. That's how I found a match with an 8th cousin - I'd never have got that far down the list.
  9. jorghes

    jorghes LostCousins Superstar

    I wish that too sometimes, would make even guesses at where people can be placed easier.

    I did contact person who had a shared tree hint (which is often how Ancestry tells you the same person is in the other person's tree - although not always), and they were able to tell me the link, which then confirmed a part of my tree I'd added, but had given a question mark.

    The worst ones don't have a tree, or have 3-5 people in it.
  10. peter

    peter Administrator Staff Member

    Unfortunately a lot of people who take DNA tests aren't researching their family tree.
  11. Bob Spiers

    Bob Spiers LostCousins Superstar

    As someone totally underwhelmed by DNA testing – sorry Peter and yes, I do try to keep abreast of what is written by you and others – I am a little surprised at posting under what is ostensibly a DNA heading. However, a question from my Grandson in Bermuda (just turned 30, married with a child) has changed things somewhat as he asks if it is worth his while taking a DNA ethnicity test?

    Modesty forbids me to dwell on his opening remark… “Granddad you know all there is to know about family history”.. (I wish! But who am I to discourage such faith?). He said he knew from his surname (Mackie) and from reading the Family Tree (in Tribal Pages) he was strongly of Scottish descent via his father. He also knew his mother -my daughter – was likewise strongly English (with a little Scots & Irish) but wondered if a DNA test would show if he had other ethnicity connections adding … “perhaps Danish for example?”

    (Baffled by that last remark he explained that he had been reading about the Danish conquests (he’s a strong history buff) and had ‘wondered’ if there were any Danish blood in his makeup).

    Although I have no interest in discovering ‘ethnicity’, and accept as others that is not a prime reason for taking an autosomal DNA test, I can see no harm in him so doing if that is what he wants, and more to the point, willing to spend the money. I have therefore pointed him in the direction of Ancestry DNA, told him to read up on the subject and obliged with a few links to help him along the way. I said if he went ahead to be sure to share his findings with me.
  12. peter

    peter Administrator Staff Member

    If people can afford to test their DNA for fun then I'm not going to spoil their fun by pointing out all the reasons why it won't work.
    • Agree Agree x 1
  13. Bob Spiers

    Bob Spiers LostCousins Superstar

    I think providence meant me to hear a snatch of a Radio 4 afternoon programme whilst waiting for my wife whilst she visited the library (there is no parking facility so I parked in a side street). I turned on the radio only to catch the host reading out a question received from a lady listener asking…”is it true that DNA ancestral testing is little better than genealogical astrology, as she had read”. Amazed that I had caught something that interested me I listened on.

    The question was put to lady professional genealogist (who had obviously been introduced earlier) who answered along these lines:

    ‘...yes, it is true that comment had been levied in the early days of DNA testing, and at the time was likely a fair. It was at a time when companies tried to extrapolate distant ethnicity information from y-DNA tests which were little better than guesswork…”

    She went on to explain how things had improved since with different providers, different tests and ever-growing data bases. She especially praised Ancestry’s new Genetic Communities facility (and explained how it was intended to work).

    That was about as far as I got before my wife returned but quite fascinating to catch such a discussion merely by switching on the radio to while away the time. (Better than checking my mobile phone anyway).
  14. peter

    peter Administrator Staff Member

    Sadly there are still companies who peddle tests which most people would regard as genetic astrology. The key is to separate the bad apples from the good ones.
  15. FamilyHistoryGal

    FamilyHistoryGal LostCousins Member

    I took two tests. I got the cousin matches with Ancestry but a more thorough report of my ethnicity from Living DNA with a UK regional breakdown which was bang on the money. I only took the second test with Living DNA because I was so disappointed with my Ancestry DNA ethnicity. But now I suppose I've got the best of both worlds (at a price)!
    Last edited: May 30, 2017
  16. FamilyHistoryGal

    FamilyHistoryGal LostCousins Member

    I wasn't that impressed with the Ancestry Genetic Communities. They did mine using people from my tree (couldn't Ancestry just cheat using family members from my tree)? Living DNA didn't have my family tree so I found their regional breakdown far more believeable and unbiased!
  17. peter

    peter Administrator Staff Member

    What you've done is precisely what I'd recommend IF the ethnicity report is important. But first consider whether (and how) knowing that information might help knock down 'brick walls'.
  18. FamilyHistoryGal

    FamilyHistoryGal LostCousins Member

    I agree Peter that ethnicity isn't going to knock down brickwalls unless I was sure my ficitonal untraced father was Mexican or similar. But we are all curious as to the ethnicity results and they are of interest. Ancestry caused the doubt by saying I was 36% Irish (with no British Ancestry at all). I haven't traced one Irish direct ancestor. I agree that you can't always trace ALL your ancestors but with an amount of Irish ancestry that high you'd expect it to be someone not so very distant. Living DNA on the other hand gave me 92.3 Britain and Ireland Ancestry which sounded more likely and the regional results were very accurate - giving me 42.4% East Anglia Ancestry. My father and all his ancestors as far back as I can go have all been from Norfolk. My Maternal Grandmother had all Suffolk Ancestry. Living DNA only gave me 4.7% West and North European Ancestry (Scandinavia) with 2.96% unassigned European Ancestry. Ancestry DNA gave me 13% Scandinavian Ancestry - quite a lot of differences. The fact that Living DNA got the regional results so spot on made me put my faith in all my other Living DNA results.
    Last edited: May 31, 2017
  19. peter

    peter Administrator Staff Member

    My earlier comment was to warn others - it wasn't intended to be a comment on your specific situation.

    Unfortunately people who know next to nothing about DNA tend to latch onto ethnicity because it's something they can understand (or think they do). In fact it can create as many problems as it solves - Ancestry have just told me I'm 20% Irish, which I know is complete rubbish, but earlier in my research it would have proved extremely misleading.
    • Thanks! Thanks! x 1
  20. FamilyHistoryGal

    FamilyHistoryGal LostCousins Member

    It seems everyone is Irish on Ancestry DNA Peter! I agree, it could have been very misleading to me if I'd been a beginner in family history.

    I have over 7,000 people on my tree and not one blood relative is Irish. I wonder which part of our DNA they are reading as Irish? I do have a fair bit of Somerset/Dorset Ancestry and that is close to Wales - are they reading some of the South West of England as Celtic, then assume that is Ireland? :rolleyes:

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