Ancestry DNA Results: How to read & Where to find more
If you recently received your AncestryDNA results, you probably know how confusing it can be to sort through all of the information! The editors here at Genomelink know your pain - we want to make it as easy as possible to explore your DNA kit results and get even more information from your DNA data. Whether you are Irish, African, or have no idea what family connections you have, this article is a great place to start.
These 5 steps below will lead you through every part of your AncestryDNA results and give you professional tips for maximizing the amount of information you can extract from your DNA Story and DNA Matches. Let’s dive right in!
Step #1: Access your DNA Story (DNA Test Kit Ethnicity Estimate)
Start by signing in to your Ancestry account. Once you are signed in, you will find yourself on the Ancestry.com homepage. Click on the DNA menu, then click on “Your DNA Results Summary” as shown in the image above. This will take you to a DNA test results summary page, where you can access different sets of information that we will cover in each one of the following steps.
The image above shows the specific step number that pertains to each section of your DNA results. The green boxes next to each number will take you directly to different parts of your DNA ancestry results. To start, let’s take a look at your DNA Story, accessible through the link next to number 1. Click on the link “Discover Your DNA Story” to get started! (These are your basic ethnicity results.)
Once you click on the link to access your DNA story, you will be taken to a map that shows a number of great features. First, take a look at the Ethnicity Estimate that will appear on the right side of the page. Each region will display a percentage - a rough estimate of how much of your DNA comes from people who originated in this region. On the map, these regions are colored and circled by a solid white line. When you click on a region, you can find a short summary of the region and links to more detailed articles. You can also see the full range of estimates as to how this region may have contributed to your DNA.
You will also notice that some of your regions may include specific “communities.” Each community is a slightly different color and will be surrounded by a dotted line on the map. Communities are a cool new feature from Ancestry that allows you to track the immigration and emigration between different communities over time (see the image above).
If you click on a specific community, you can scroll down to read about different points throughout history and how people from these communities moved around the globe. The interactive map will change to show you the connections between different areas and communities over time. This is a great way to confirm or validate various ancestral connections you may share with your DNA matches!
Step #2: Review your DNA Matches
Head back to the DNA Results Summary, and click on the second item - “View All DNA Matches.” This will take you to your DNA match result page. This page has a ton of great features, starting with a breakdown of your matches by how closely they are related to you. In other words, if you have an identical twin, they will be listed first. Next will be a section of “close family” like brothers, sisters, parents, and grandparents. Then, Ancestry will present you with hundreds of distant family members that you only share a small portion of DNA with.
Keep in mind that Ancestry estimates your relationship with different people based on the amount of DNA that you share. However, you definitely need to validate these relationships with further research - since different relationships can produce similar amounts of shared DNA. By clicking on a match, you will find several options to compare family trees, compare your ethnicity estimates (see the image above), or explore your shared matches. These are all great tools that can help you build out and validate a family tree.
How many generations back is 1% of your DNA?
Though this is a very common question people have, it is not easy to answer. Since you inherit only 50% of your DNA from each parent, and since they inherited only 50% of each of their parent’s DNA, the specific contribution of DNA from a region or culture can fade fast. Plus, since this 50% is not a perfect mix of maternal and paternal DNA sources, there is no good way to perfectly measure how long ago your ancestors were part of a specific community.
In other words, sharing 1% of your DNA with a specific group or person does not mean much. That’s where family trees and ThruLines come into play - check out the section below on how to use ThruLines to help validate your genealogical theories!
Step #3: Check out ThruLines - Don’t Miss This Great AncestryDNA Feature!
ThruLines is an awesome feature unique to Ancestry that uses more advanced genealogy techniques to validate relationships, build out your family tree, and discover ancestors that you and other users have in common. In order to get started, you have to take a few quick steps. If you do not already have an Ancestry Family Tree that is linked to your DNA results, you will have to set it up. Start by clicking “Learn how to get ThruLines” on the DNA Results Summary page (#3 in the image above).
This link will take you to a page where you can learn about ThruLines and start building your family tree. You will start by answering some prompted questions about yourself and your immediate family, before giving Ancestry permission to use your DNA matching and genetic testing results to build out your family tree automatically. (Make sure you are okay with the Privacy Statement in this process.) You will also be given the opportunity to make your family tree public - something that will give you far more matches with other people who have made their trees public.
Since Ancestry has over 1000 geographic regions that they can match to and one of the biggest family tree services in the world, don’t be surprised if you find connections to distant relatives in completely different parts of the world. Remember that humanity started in Africa and migrated to central Europe and Asia, going north into places like Ireland and Russia and east all the way to the Native American tribes that first inhabited the Americas.
Since we all share the same basic genome, a saliva sample or cheek swab can reveal which areas of chromosomes have remained the same or changed over time - this is essentially how your ethnicity results are determined. ThruLines increases your ability to find family tree connections more than other DNA companies (like FamilyTreeDNA) since your raw data is compared directly with family tree data and reference panels.
The only other way to find this type of detailed surname information and common ancestor matching is to pay for expensive mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA, maternal lines) testing kits and Y-DNA testing (paternal lines) through other companies! The AncestryDNA test uses mostly autosomal DNA and advanced matching algorithms to compare your DNA directly with various family trees to give users a huge step-up in their family history research.
Once your Tree is set up and connected to ThruLines, you will have to wait about 24 hours to start receiving matches and suggestions. ThruLines will automatically compare your family tree with your DNA matches and genetic data to see where your trees overlap. Then, it will automatically provide suggestions as to where different matches and families might fit on your overall family tree.
How accurate is DNA testing for ancestry and family tree building?
The above question is an FAQ by many people who are new to DNA testing. There are two basic answers to this question, depending on what part of the process you are talking about. The basic genomics method that laboratory scientists use to measure your DNA and compare it to others is nearly perfect - over 99.9% accurate in most cases. So, if AncestryDNA matches you with another user and says that you share a certain percentage of DNA, that estimate is highly accurate.
Where DNA ancestry testing becomes slightly less accurate is when Ancestry starts trying to predict your relationship to other people and groups. As mentioned above, making these estimates is a complex process that can rely on many different factors. But, using both DNA sample matches and ThruLines, you should be able to validate or change the relationships that Ancestry predicts to make your family tree 100% accurate. With the historical records access that you can purchase through Ancestry, researching family connections with a DNA testing service is nearly unparalleled. (Though, if your family has recent roots in Europe you may want to check out MyHeritage.)
Step #4: AncestryHealth, DNA Traits, and Personal Discovery Project
You may have noticed that there are three items labeled “4” on the image showing the DNA Results Summary Page. These items are not technically “Ancestry” information, but they are good ways to learn more about your DNA and how it affects you. However, be aware that all of these services are an upcharge from Ancestry to access.
DNA Traits is a report that details non-health-related traits (such as eye and hair color) that are correlated to different genes. The report covers quite a few traits, but there are better ways to discover generic DNA traits (see Step #5). The Personal Discovery Project is a new venture aimed at helping their family history by answering questions specific to their family. The AncestryHealth service has been discontinued as a stand-alone offering, though you can still upgrade your kit for health-related genetics information. Again, there are better places to find health-related genetic information.
Step #5: Maximize Your Results with a DNA Data File Download
The absolute most important step you can take to maximize the value of your AncestryDNA test is to download your raw DNA data!
You can follow the steps in this Ancestry support article to locate and download your DNA data file. Save the file to your personal computer, then find 3rd party DNA testing companies. These services (like Genomelink!) review the most recent genetic science articles to discover all the traits that are being correlated with various genes.
In fact, Genomelink will provide you with 25 FREE Traits simply for uploading your raw DNA file. Each trait is described in detail, and researchers have broken down the complex scientific jargon into easy-to-understand snippets about the science behind each trait. With Genomelink you can find hundreds of unique traits related to your wellness, genetic ethnicity, geographic origins, personality, intelligence, and other cool traits. (Plus, this whole process only takes about 1 minute!)
Why Does My AncestryDNA Change?
If you come back to your AncestryDNA account again and again over time, you might notice that your results might slightly change. For example, you might see at first that you have a certain percentage of a certain ethnicity, but at a later date that percentage has increased or decreased. What’s going on?
The short answer is, genetic science is continuously evolving. Because of this, a reputable DNA results provider must also evolve, to keep up with that science. What this means for you is that since DNA ethnicity estimates change over time due to factors such as advances in technology or science and an increase in the sample pool, so will your results. AncestryDNA provides updated ethnicity estimates for free, and you can learn more about this aspect of genetic research on their ethnicity update information page.
Explore All of the Features of AncestryDNA
You’ll find a lot of information on your family history, genetic profile, and more when you use AncestryDNA. It can be a lot to take in and understand at first! Here are quick summaries of some of the main features that help you analyze your AncestryDNA percentage meaning:
- DNA Story - This feature shows you your basic ethnicity results. It uses a map to show you rough estimates of how much of your DNA comes from people who originated from specific regions of the world. DNA Story is also where you’ll find your AncestryDNA Communities, which allows you to track immigration and emigration.
- DNA Matches - Use the DNA Matches feature to find a list of matches based on how closely related they are to you. Close family members (siblings, parents) will show up first, followed by a list of hundreds of distant family members with whom you share only a small percentage of DNA.
- ThruLines - With ThruLines you’ll use even more advanced genealogy techniques to build out your family tree. Get started by answering a few prompted questions, review the privacy statement in this feature to be sure you’re ok with it, and then start exploring your family tree and those of other users who have made theirs publicly available.
- AncestryDNA Traits - This is a report that will detail your non-health related traits, such as eye color or hair color. Keep in mind you have to pay extra to access this feature (and there are better ways to get this information for free, see below!)
- The Personal Discovery Project - This is a new feature that, as of the writing of this blog, was still in the beta testing phase. In it, you take a variety of surveys about yourself, your family, your personality, and more. These insights will be used by AncestryDNA to provide even more information to users in the future.
Explore Even More with Genomelink
Once you’ve checked out all of the great features available to you at AncestryDNA, start building out an even more comprehensive picture of your genetic and family history with Genomelink. Upload your raw DNA data for free to get started with 100 additional traits, plus gain access to reports you won’t find anywhere else, such as our Viking and Ancient Ancestry reports.
You should also check out our article on the 17 Best DNA Upload Sites to find even more places that you can use your raw DNA data file!