How To Figure Out My Ethnicity – There has been a lot of discussion about ethnicity rates in the genetic genealogy community recently, possibly due to the number of people who have recently purchased DNA tests to find out “who they are”.
Test takers want to know specifically whether the percentages of ethnicity are correct or incorrect and what those percentages should be. The next question, of course, is which provider is the most accurate.
How To Figure Out My Ethnicity
Let me say up front that “your mileage may vary”. The most accurate provider for German ancestry may not be the same as the most accurate provider for British Isles or Native Americans. The most accurate provider for me may not be the most accurate for you. And the vendor that is most accurate for me today may no longer be the most accurate when another vendor upgrades their software tomorrow. There is no universal “best”.
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But again, how do you judge “the most accurate?” Is it just a feeling or is it based on your preconceived notion of your ethnicity? Is it based on the results of a certain ethnicity or something else?
As a genealogist, you have a very powerful tool to use to figure out what percentages your ethnicity should be. You should not completely trust any provider. What is this tool? Research your genealogy!
I want to walk you through the process of determining what your ethnicity percentages should be, or at least close to them, with no surprises.
Surprise, in this case we assume that all 64 of your GGGG-grandparents are indeed your GGGG-grandparents, or at least not proven otherwise. Even if one or two don’t, it only really affects your results by 1.56% each. In the grand scheme of things, it’s trivial, unless it’s the minority ancestor you’re desperately looking for.
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First, let’s do some basic math. I promise, just a little. And it’s really easy. In fact, I’ll just do it for you!
Because 100% of your DNA divided by 64 GGGG-grandparents equals 1.56% of each of those GGGG-grandparents. That means you have about 1.56% of each of these GGGG-grandfathers running through your veins.
Ancient DNA is not exactly split in two by the “one for you and one for me” methodology. In fact, DNA is inherited in parts, and you often get all or none of your DNA from that parent. You rarely get exactly half a piece or front – but half is the average.
Since we can’t know exactly how much of each ancestor’s DNA we’re actually getting, we have to use the average number, knowing full well that we could have more than a 1.56% distribution of that particular ancestor’s DNA, or none appreciably. Current inspection thresholds.
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Also, if that 1.56% is our elusive Native ancestor, but current technology cannot identify that ancestor’s DNA as Native, then our Native heritage merges into another category. That ancestor is still there, but we just can’t “see” them today.
So the best we can do is use the 1.56% number and know it’s close. In other words, you will not know that you carry 25% of the DNA of a particular ancestor who is supposed to carry 1.56%. But maybe you have 3%, half a percent, or none.
To calculate expected ethnicity percentages, you’ll want to work with a family tree chart showing your 64 GGGG-grandparents. If you haven’t identified all 64 of your GGGG grandparents – that’s okay – we can accommodate that. Work with what you have – but accuracy about the ancestors you have identified is important.
I use RootsMagic and in the RootsMagic software I can see all 64 GGGG-grandparents by selecting all 4 of my grandparents one by one.
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On the first screen below, my paternal grandfather is a son, and my 16 GGGG-grandfathers who are his ancestors are shown on the far right. Note that you can click on any of the images to enlarge them.
I simply represented each of the 16 GGGG grandparents and filled in the following table. I used a spreadsheet, but you can use a table or just do it on a paper board. No technology needed.
For example, I know that Daniel Miller’s father is a German immigrant, documented and proven. The family did not speak English. They were Brethren, a religious Germanic sect who intermarried with other Brethren. Marriage outside the church meant dismissal – so that your children are not brothers and sisters. Therefore, it would be highly unlikely, based on both the language barrier and the brothers’ religious practices, that Daniel’s mother, Magdalene, was anything other than German – plus their children are siblings.
We know that most people marry people from their group – partly because they have been exposed to it, but also based on cultural norms and pressures. As for immigrants and language, you married someone you could relate to.
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If we fill in the blanks another way, a native German is probably the father of Eva Barbara Haring’s illegitimate child born to Eva Barbara in her native village in Germany.
Obviously there were exceptions, but they were just the exception. You will need to estimate each of your 64 GGGG grandparents individually.
For example, I had a total of plus one, which is the British Isles. Three and a half plus were Scots. Nine and a half, who were Dutch.
So for a Scot, 3 and a half (3.5) times 1.56% equals 5.46% total Scottish DNA. Follow the same procedure for each category you display.
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In my case, since all of my obscure lines are on my father’s colonial side and I know locations and something about their spouses and/or the population found in the areas where each ancestor is located, I make a “reasonable guess” that these people are from the British Isles. These families did not speak German or French, nor did they have French or German, Dutch or Scandinavian surnames. People married their own kind in their communities and churches.
I want to be very clear about this. This is not SWAG (seriously wild guess), this is educated speculation based on the history I know.
I would guess there is a difference between “uncertain” and “unknown source”. An unknown source suggests that there is evidence that the person is not of the same ancestry as their partner or is from a very mixed area, but we don’t know.
In my case, that leaves a total of 2 and a half of unknown origin, based on the other “half” being unknown from several lines. For example, I know there are other native lines and at least one African line, but I don’t know what percentage is from which ancestor how far back. I can’t pinpoint the exact generation when this line was “full” and not mixed.
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I have several local lines on my mother’s side in the Acadian population, but they go back more than 6 generations and the population is endogamous – so these ancestors sometimes appear more than once and in multiple Acadian lines – meaning I probably carry more of their DNA than I would otherwise. These situations are difficult to calculate mathematically, so just keep them in mind.
Given the circumstances, based on what I know, the unknown source of 3.9% is probably correct, and in that case, the unknown source is probably at least partly indigenous and/or African, and probably some of each.
It is very difficult to compare apples to apples between testing companies because they represent and think about ethnic categories differently.
Some of Ancestry’s regions overlap almost 100%, meaning that any region within a region may actually be part of another region.
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Here is a close-up of the UK region below, shown differently from the map above. The area of Great Britain actually covers almost the entire western half of Europe.
It’s called hedging your bets, or maybe it’s just the nature of ethnicity. It is true that the overlaps are a methodology of doubt not to be “wrong”, but people and populations migrate and migrate and the British Isles is a destination.
This German clan map, also from Ancestry’s UK section, illustrates why calculating ancestry is so difficult, especially in Europe and the British Isles.
Invaders and nomadic groups brought their DNA. Even if the invaders eventually leave, their DNA often becomes established in the host population.
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The Genographic Project divides ethnicity into 9 world regions that show both recent influences and ancient genetics from 500 to 10,000 years ago. I fall into 3 areas shown by the shaded circles on the map below.
The following explanation is provided by the Genographic Project on how they calculate and explain the different regions based on early European history.
Let’s look at how sellers break down ethnicity and see what comparisons we can make using the ethnicity chart we created that represents our known genealogy.
I reworked my ethnic totals format to accommodate vendor regions and created the ethnic totals table below. The Pedigree Percentage column is the expected percentage based on my genealogy calculations. I have kept the ‘British Isles catch’ percentage separate as it is most speculative.
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I have grouped the areas so that we can
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