DNA tests: The gift that keeps on giving

DNA Helix

Have you had your DNA tested?

How often do you revisit your results?

(This post is for people who have tested, or who want to test, their DNA for genealogy purposes. It’s not for those who don’t want to, or who are more interested in DNA for health purposes or traits.)

If you haven't revisited your Ancestry DNA test results lately, you may be surprised at how they've changed and what new fun tools are now available to you. Share on X

I had mine tested by Ancestry DNA about ten years ago. And my results are regularly updated and explained to me by Ancestry at no additional cost!

Disappointing early ethnicity results

I’ll admit I was disappointed in the initial results. All I got out of it was that 1000 years ago my ancestors were Vikings. I did have some matches who were also descended from Vikings. Ugh. That’s not helpful! If you and I are a match, I really don’t care if our mutual ancestors were Vikings. What I want to know is from whence my Thorntons came to America in the early 1600s, which was 400 years ago, not 1000. They came from somewhere in the British Isles, probably England. But where, precisely, in England? I want to visit!

Meanwhile, the more people who get tested and are added to Ancestry’s database, the more refined the results become and the more user-friendly tools are developed for analyzing those results.

DNA science is still evolving

“BRITISH: Making things difficult for a thousand years.” I like to use this meme to illustrate the fact that Ancestry adjusts percentages and categories as they add more participants to their database and develop more tools for presenting DNA info in meaningful ways. The DNA doesn’t change over time, but the way people are grouped and labeled does. (CLICK IMAGE TO ENLARGE IT)

Every year Ancestry provides updated ethnicity estimates. Some users are unsettled by this as their 1% Irish disappears, or, in my case, I am suddenly 3% Scottish this year. But, as Ancestry explains it, “DNA science is always evolving, and the improvements make your ethnicity estimate more precise.”

The jockeying around of ethnicities in the British Isles is representative of other regions, and can be explained somewhat by this non-DNA-related meme. —>

Here’s a little video on how it works:

AncestryDNA Ethnicity Estimates: How it works and Updates for 2021

Ethnicity and Racism

Some people misconstrue the genealogy world’s obsession with ethnicity as racism. I suppose there must be some genealogists who are, indeed, concerned about their racial purity. But most, I think, are far more interested in where their ancestors came from as a way of knowing them, and finding out more about them. The very definitions of the terms race, ethnicity, and ancestry are changing all the time.

Here are a couple of interesting articles about that:

Your ‘Ethnicity Estimate’ Doesn’t Mean What You Think It Does

How Science and Genetics are Reshaping the Race Debate of the 21st Century

Also, as you can see from this chart, DNA is just one small piece of evidence that complements traditional genealogical research:

Chart by Blaine Bettinger, The Genetic Genealogist  (CLICK IMAGE TO ENLARGE IT)

Connecting with DNA matches

I have, happily, since my early Viking results, been matched to many DNA test-takers with specific common ancestors. I’m still working on the Thorntons, though, and all of my other branches as well. A genealogist’s work is never done! Some matches are more satisfying than others in terms of their potential to verify or further my research. It depends on whether they have a tree and whether their DNA results are connected to it; how much documented research they’ve done compared to me; whether their family tree is private or public, and how responsive they are to strangers reaching out to them via email. But it’s all great fun!

Who knew, ten years ago, that there would ever be such fun tools as ThruLines, and new ways to view, analyze, and organize matches such as Grouping and Color Coding?

The latest new tool

Ancestry’s Side View Ethnicity Inheritance (CLICK IMAGE TO ENLARGE IT)

The latest new tool, which inspired me to write this post, is called Ethnicity Inheritance. It uses Ancestry’s new SideView™ technology:

Your parents each contributed half of your DNA. Now, you can see which ethnicities you inherited from each parent—even if they haven’t taken tests.

Also, though:

Since we see only half of your parents’ ethnicities, this is not an ethnicity estimate for your parents. If your parents take DNA tests, they’ll receive their full ethnicity estimates. That could give you a peek into the ethnicities of your grandparents, too.

DNA doesn’t know which is which — Parent 1 and Parent 2 — but the more testing one has done (I was able to test my father before he died, and have also tested my maternal aunt), and the more research one has done, the easier it is to tell.

It’s the gift that keeps on giving!

GUMMY BEAR DNA: I had no idea how many people have used gummy bears to explain DNA until I googled “gummy bear dna” images! This one shows why siblings don’t have identical ethnicity results. (CLICK IMAGE TO ENLARGE IT)

In addition to ongoing updated ethnicity reports and new tools, there is the opportunity to upload your results to other 3rd party databases, for additional matching opportunities. Results from Ancestry and 23andMe are not uploadable to each other’s databases at this time, but both companies’ results are uploadable to GEDMatch (among other companies) for free.








Now what?

  • If you haven’t tested your DNA, and you want to, I suggest waiting for a sale. Ancestry has them, usually in conjunction with holidays, off and on all year.
  • If you have tested, and were initially disappointed with your results, and have not returned to Ancestry to see the wealth of new information and tools, take another look!
  • If you have tested, but have no tree, or have not connected your DNA results to your tree, or don’t know what to do with your matches, let me know. I can help you.
  • Take a look at my Org4life Genealogy Resource Roundup for more! (Scroll down to the DNA section.)


Have you had your DNA tested?

What (if anything) happened as a result?

Please share in the comments below!

Copyright 2022 by Hazel Thornton, Organized for Life and Beyond
Author of What’s a Photo Without the Story? How to Create Your Family Legacy
Please contact me for reprint permission. (Direct links to this page are welcome!)


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  1. Seana Turner on May 23, 2022 at 1:49 pm

    No, I haven’t had my DNA tested. I think I fall into the “concerned about privacy” camp. Both of my parents did the Ancestry thing, so I know where I come from. It was sort of a mish-mash of Northern European, and no surprises.

    I will say that I think the technology today is amazing for those have an interest. I have a client who was contacted by someone who apparently was an illegitimate child of his cousin. When the cousin wanted nothing to do with the adult child, my client stepped into the gap and become a surrogate Dad. It is a beautiful story.

    • Hazel Thornton on May 31, 2022 at 11:17 am

      Oh, yay, a happy ending to what can often be a less-than-happy situation. I realize this was not your client’s cousin’s situation, but I do feel sorry for those back in the day who donated sperm (sold it to sperm banks) and were guaranteed anonymity. Who knew that the future would bring easily-available, relatively-cheap DNA testing? Yikes!

  2. Linda Samuels on May 23, 2022 at 2:59 pm

    I haven’t done the DNA test either and have some concerns similar to Seana. But if they reported back using gummy bears, well that might be an enticement in itself. Seriously though, what a fantastic visual!

    Are there drawbacks or advantages of using one testing company over another? I see you’ve used Ancestry, but mentioned others like 23andMe.

    • Hazel Thornton on May 31, 2022 at 11:20 am

      Hi Linda, check out my Genealogy Resource Roundup (scroll way down to the DNA section) for some articles, including DNA company comparisons.

  3. Julie Bestry on May 30, 2022 at 12:25 am

    Great post, but now I can’t get that Lizzo song out of my head. “I just took a DNA test. I’m 100% that *itch…” and now I can’t stop laughing.

    Meanwhile, I knew nothing about there being Gummy Bear DNA illustrations, and that’s pretty interesting (and funny).

    We did my mom’s DNA a few years ago via Ancestry, and it’s 99.9999% exactly what we expected from that small blob that was sometimes Russia and sometimes Poland, depending on who was winning battles. I have every reason to believe that my father’s would be the same, so I’m not going to test, but the privacy issue definitely would give me pause.

    Thanks for always having such amazing info!

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