Concepts - Calculating Ethnic Percentages (2023)

There has been a lot of discussion in the genetic genealogy community about ethnic percentages lately, likely due to the number of people who have recently purchased DNA tests to find out "who they are".

Specifically, testers want to know if the ethnic percentages are correct or incorrect, and what those percentages should be. The next question, of course, is which provider is the most accurate.

Let me start by saying that "your mileage may vary". The most accurate provider for me may not be the most accurate for you. And the vendor that I find most accurate today may not be the one when another vendor updates their software tomorrow. There is no universal "most accurate".

But then again, how do you judge "most accurate"? Is it just a feeling or is it based on your preconceived notions about your ethnicity? Is it based on the results of a specific ethnicity or something else?

As a genealogist, you have a very powerful tool to calculate what percentage of your ethnicity SHOULD BE. You don't have to be dependent on one provider. What is this tool? your genealogy!

I want to walk you through the process of determining what your own ethnic percentages should be, or at least be close, barring surprises.

In this case, surprisingly, we assume that all 64 of your GGGG grandparents really ARE your GGGG grandparents, or at least they haven't been proven otherwise. Even if one or two don't, it really only affects your bottom line by 1.56% each. By and large, this is trivial unless you're desperate for a minority ancestor.

a bit of math

Let's do some basic math first. I promise just a little. And it's really easy. In fact I will do it for you!

You have 64 great-grandparents.

Generation# You haveOMSApproximate percentage of your DNA that you have today

Each of these GGGG grandparents contributed about 1.56% of its DNA.

Why 1.56%?

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 grannies in your veins.

Fine, but why "about"?

We all know that we inherit 50% of our DNA from each of our parents.

That means we get half the DNA from each ancestor that each parent has, right?

Well, um... no, not exactly.

Ancestral DNA is not exactly split in half by the "one for you and one for me" methodology. In fact, DNA is inherited in parts, and often you get a whole piece of DNA from that parent, or none at all. You rarely get exactly half of an ancestral piece or segment, but half is AVERAGE.

Since we cannot say exactly how much of an ancestor's DNA we actually received, we must use the average number, knowing that we could have more than 1.56% of our allocation of that particular ancestor's DNA, or none, which is recognizable. . . current test limits.

If that 1.56% is our elusive native ancestor, but current technology cannot identify that ancestor's DNA as native, then our native heritage falls into a different category. That ancestor is still there, but we just can't "see" it today.

So the best we can do is use the 1.56% number and know it's close. In other words, you won't find that you carry 25% of a given ancestor's DNA, of which you should carry 1.56%. But you can have 3%, half a percent, or none.

your family tree

To calculate your expected ethnic percentages, you need to work with a family tree showing your 64 GGGG grandparents. If you haven't identified all 64 of GGGG's grandparents, that's fine, we can accommodate that. Work with what you have, but it's important to be specific about the ancestors you identify.

I am using RootsMagic and in RootsMagic software I can view all 64 GGGG grandparents by individually selecting all 4 of my grandparents.

In the first screen below, my paternal grandfather is blue and my 16 GGGG grandparents who are his ancestors appear on the far right. Please note that you can click on any of the images to enlarge them.

(Video) How many generations back is 3% ethnicity in your DNA test results?

So my paternal grandmother

Then my maternal grandmother.

And finally my maternal grandfather.

You will use these views to create your ethnicity table or graph.

Your ethnicity table

I simply showed each of these 16 GGGG grandparents and filled in the grid below. I used a spreadsheet, but you can use a spreadsheet or just do this on a paper tray. No technique required.

You need 5 columns as shown below.

  • Number 1-64 so you don't miss anyone
  • Name
  • Place of birth
  • 1.56% Source: Where on earth does 1.56% of the DNA you got from them come from? This must not correspond to the place of birth. For example, an Irishman born in Virginia is considered Irish.
  • Ancestors: That is, if you don't know exactly where this ancestor came from, then what do you know about him? For example, you may know that your father was German, but you are not sure what nationality your mother is.

My ethnic chart is shown below.

In some cases I had to make decisions.

For example, I know that Daniel Miller's father was a documented and verified German immigrant. The family did not speak English. They were brothers, a German religious sect married to other brothers. Marriage outside the church meant dismissal, so their children would not have been brothers. Therefore, given the language barrier and the brothers' religious customs, it would be extremely unlikely that Daniel's mother Magdalena was not German; moreover, their sons were brothers.

We know that most people marry members of their own group partly because of exposure but also because of cultural norms and constraints. When it comes to immigrants and languages, you married someone you could communicate with.

To fill in the gaps in another way, a local German was likely the father of Eva Barbara Haering's illegitimate child, born to Eva Barbara in her hometown in Germany.

Of course there were exceptions, but those were the exceptions. You must rate each of your 64 GGGG grandparents individually.

Calculation of percentages

Next, let's group the locations.

For example, I had one more altogether, namely British Isles. Three and a half more who were Scots. Nine and a half were Dutch.

You can't do anything with the "plus" designation, but you can multiply by everything else.

So for Scots, 3.5 (3.5) times 1.56% equals 5.46% of all Scottish DNA. Do the same for each category displayed.

Do the same for "unsure".

include history

In my case, because all of my blurring lines are on my father's colonial side, and I know the locations and something about their spouses and/or population found in the areas where each ancestor was found, I'm doing a " justified speculation". "that these individuals were from the British Isles. These families spoke neither German nor French, nor did they have French, German, Dutch, or Scandinavian surnames. People married others like them in their communities and churches.

(Video) Permutation formula | Probability and combinatorics | Probability and Statistics | Khan Academy

I want to be very clear about that. It's not SWAG (Serious and Wild Guess), it's educated speculation based on history I know.

I would suggest that there is a difference between "uncertain origin" and "unknown origin". Unknown ancestry indicates that there is evidence that the person is NOT of the same ancestry as their spouse or from a highly mixed region, but we do not know.

In my case, that leaves a total of two and a half that are of unknown origin based on the other "half" being unknown from some lineages. For example, I know there are other native lineages and at least one African lineage, but I don't know what percentage of which lineage it is. I cannot pinpoint the exact generation that this bloodline was "complete" and unmixed.

I have several native lines on my mother's side in the Akkadian population, but they are more than 6 generations old and the population is inbred, so these ancestors sometimes show up more than once and in several Akkadian lines, which means I probably have more of his DNA than I would otherwise. These situations are difficult to calculate mathematically, so keep them in mind.

Given the circumstances known to me, the unknown ancestry of 3.9% is probably correct, and in this case the unknown ancestry is likely to be at least partly indigenous and/or partly African, and probably a bit of both.

test companies

It is very difficult to compare apples to apples between testing companies as they display and calculate ethnic categories differently.

For example,family tree DNAThe regions are fairly concise, with some overlap between regions as shown below.

Some regions of Ancestry overlap almost 100%, meaning any territory in one region can be part of another region.

For example, look at the UK and Ireland. The UK region overlaps significantly with Europe.

Here is the UK region up close, below, shown differently from the map above. The UK region actually overlaps with almost all of the western half of Europe.

This is called hedging bets, or maybe it's just the nature of ethnicity. It is true that the overlays are a method so that the provider does not 'misunderstand' anything, but people and populations roamed and roamed and the British Isles were a destination of sorts.

This map of the Germanic tribes, also from the Ancestry of Great Britain section, shows why calculating ethnicity is so difficult, particularly in Europe and the British Isles.

Invaders and migratory groups brought their DNA. Even when the invaders eventually left, their DNA often became sedentary in the host population.

23andMe's map below is less detailed in terms of visualizing how the regions overlap.

The Genographic Project divides ethnicity into 9 world regions that reflect genetic influences 500 to 10,000 years old and more recent. I am in 3 regions indicated by the shaded circles on the map below.

The Genographic Project offers the following explanation of how they calculate and explain the different regions based on early European history.

(Video) Math Antics - Ratios And Rates

Let's take a look at how vendors break down ethnicity and see what kind of comparisons we can make using the ethnicity table that we believe represents our known genealogy.

family tree DNA

MyOrigins leads tofamily tree DNAshow my ethnicity as:

I revised my overall ethnicity format to match provider regions and created the overall ethnicity table below. The "% Genealogy" column is the expected percentage based on my genealogy calculations. I've kept the "derived British Isles" percentage separate as it's the most speculative.

I've grouped the regions so we can get a reasonably complete comparison between vendor results, although this is clearly challenging due to the different interpretations of vendors across regions.

Look at the Norse, they might be a Viking holdover, but there would have to be an entire ship of Vikings, pardon the pun, or the Vikings are deeply embedded in various populations.


Ancestry reports my ethnicity as:

Ancestry features Italy and Greece, which is new to me. However, if you recall, the ethnic circle stretches from Ancestry Great Britain to the top of Italy.

Of all my expected genealogical regions, my Dutch, French, and German are the clearest. Many are new immigrants on their mother's side, eliminating any confusion about their origins. There is very little speculation in this group, with the exception of one illegitimate German birth and two suspected German mothers.

23 and me

23andMe allows customers to change their views on ethnicity from speculative to conservative.

Generally, genealogists use the speculative view, which offers the greatest variety and regional divisions. The conservative view generally simply shifts details to larger regions and allocates a higher percentage to the unknown.

I show the speculative view below.

Adding the 23andMe column to my total ethnicity table shows the following.

Genographic Project 2.0

I also tried it through the Genographic project. His results are much more general in nature.

The Genographic Project results do not fit well with the others in terms of categorization. To include the genographic ethnic numbers, I had to add up the totals for several other groups in the gray bands below.

(Video) Percentage, Base, and Rate Problems

The results of the Genographic Project are the least similar and the most difficult to quantify in terms of expected amounts of genealogy. They are certainly the least useful genealogically, although genealogy is not and never was the geographic focus.

I initially omitted this test from this article, but decided to include it out of general interest. These four tests clearly illustrate the wide range of results a consumer can expect in terms of ethnicity.

what's the point

You look at the range of my expected ethnicity versus my estimates of ethnicity for these four entities and you ask, "What's the point?"

That is the point. These are all proprietary estimates by the same person and please note the differences, especially when compared to what we know of my genealogy.

This exercise shows how widely the estimates can vary compared to a relatively strong family tree, particularly on my mother's side, and to other providers. Not everyone has the benefit of having worked on their genealogy as long as I have. And no, in case you're wondering, the genealogy isn't bad. Where there is doubt, I have reflected this in my expected ethnicity.

Here are the points I want to make about ethnicity estimates.

  • The ethnic estimates are interesting and compelling.
  • Ethnic estimations are very entertaining.
  • Don't marry them. You are not reliable.
  • Create and use your ethnicity chart based on your known and proven genealogy and give you a compass for unknown genealogy. For example, my German and Dutch lines are proven beyond reasonable doubt, which means these percentages are fixed and should match reasonably well with the supplier's ethnicity estimates for those regions.
  • Take all estimates of ethnicity with a grain of salt.
  • Sometimes the salt shaker.
  • Sometimes licking all the salt.
  • Ethnic estimations are great for conversation at cocktail parties.
  • If the results don't make sense based on the percentages of your known genealogy, especially if your genealogy is well researched and documented, it's wise to understand the possibilities, why and when to take a healthy dose of skepticism. For example, if your DNA from a particular region exceeds the sum of both parents for that region, something is wrong somewhere that does NOT indicate that you are not a child of your parents. Unless you are the child of either parent, assuming they took a DNA test, you don't need race results to prove or even suggest it.
  • Ethnic estimates are nothing but very high percentages, 25% and up. Ethnicity exists at this level, but the percentage may be incorrect.
  • Ethnic estimates are generally accurate at the continent level, although not always at a low level. Note the weasel word "usually".
  • We should all use the results and use these estimates for your suggestions and advice. For example, if you are an adoptee and are 25% African, it was likely that one of your grandparents was African, or two of your grandparents were almost half African, or all four of your grandparents were quarter African. Suggestions and hints, no gospel and not cast in concrete. Maybe thrown in hot jelly.
  • Ethnic estimates showing higher percentages likely contain a real pearl, but the size and quality of the pearl is disputed. Pearl size and value are directly related to percentage size and reference populations.
  • The unexpected results are puzzling. In the case of my unknown 8% to 12% of Scandinavians, the culprits could be the Vikings, or the reference populations, which are current populations, not historical populations, or some of both. My Scandinavian numbers mean that 5-8 of my GGGG grandparents are fully Scandinavian and that is extremely unlikely in 18th century Virginia.
  • There can be quite large portions of ethnicity that are completely inexplicable. For example Scandinavia with 8-12% and even more worryingly Italy and Greece. All I can say is that there must be a lot of Vikings buried in the DNA of these other populations. But enough to add cumulatively between a great-grandfather at 12.5% ​​and a great-great-grandfather at 6.25%? I'm not sure. However, all three providers have found some Scandinavians, so something is going on. Did they all use the same reference population data for Scandinavians? For now, the Scandinavian results remain a mystery.
  • It is not known what is real and what is not. I mean do I really have some ancient Italians/Greeks and more recent Scandinavians or this deep ancestry or reference population issue? And can my lack of proven native and African ancestry be attributed to this?
  • Proven ancestors beyond 6 generations, i. H. native lineages are disappearing while undocumented and faint ancestors beyond 6 generations appear en masse. In my case like a mischievous Scandinavian flash mob mocking and tormenting me. Who are these people??? are real?
  • If the known/proven ethnic percentages for Germany, the Netherlands and France can be very misleading, what does that mean for the rest of the results? Especially in Europe? The accuracy problem is particularly pronounced when looking at the wide swaths of British Isles between providers compared to my expected percentage, which is even higher, although the inferred British Isles may differ in part, but not by this magnitude. Apparently some British Isles ancestry is classified as Scandinavian or European.
  • On the other hand, these estimates may overlook genealogically proven ethnic minorities. By minority I mean minority for the tester. In my case, African and Native, this is demonstrated in multiple lineages, not only through the genealogy of roles, but also through the Y haplogroups and mtDNA.
  • Vendor products and estimates will change over time as this field matures and reference populations improve.
  • Some findings may reflect the ancient history of the entire population, as noted by the Genographic Project. In other words, if the entire German population is 30% Mediterranean, one might expect that their ancestors descended from that population would also be 30% Mediterranean. Except that I don't show enough Mediterranean ancestry to account for 30% of my German DNA, which would be around 8%, at least not as reported by anyone other than the Genographic Project.
  • Not all suppliers show below 1% where traces of minority mixes are sometimes found. If it's hard to say if 8-12% of Scandinavians are real, it's almost impossible to say if less than 1% of anything is real. Still, I would like to see my tracks, especially at the continental level, which is usually more reliable as that is where both my homeland and Africans are found.
  • If the reason my Native and African ancestors don't show up is because their DNA wasn't passed on to subsequent generations, effectively "washing" their DNA, why didn't that happen to the Scandinavians?
  • Ethnic estimates can never refute whether an ancestor a few generations ago belonged to a particular ethnic group or not. (However,And and mitochondrial DNA testing can.)
  • Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence except in very young generations, such as B. 2 (grandparents in 25%), maybe 3 generations (great-grandparents in 12.5%).
  • Estimates at the continental level above 10-12 percent likely indicate that a particular ethnicity is present at the continental level, but the percentage may not be accurate. Note that the word weasel here - "probably" - is here on purpose. See Scandinavia above, although that's regional and not continental, but it's a great example. My verified native language/African is almost indescribable and my mysterious Scandinavian/Greek/Italian is present in much higher percentages than verified genealogy should suggest.
  • Vendors, all vendors, are fighting to segregate ethnic regions within continents, particularly in Europe.
  • Don't take your ethnicity results too seriously and don't trade your lederhosen for kilts or vice versa, especially if they're not based on intracontinental results.
  • Don't change your perception of who you are based on current ethnicity tests. Otherwise you feel like a chameleon trying out several providers.
  • Ethnicity Estimates are not a shortcut or a substitute for finding out who you are based on solid genealogy research.
  • No supplier, NOR ANY SUPPLIER, can do thatidentify yoursNative American tribe.If they say or suggest they can, run with your money. Native DNA is more similar than different. Just because a seller is comparing you to someone from a particular tribe and they have some of your DNA Matches, it does NOT mean your ancestors were or belonged to that tribe. These three main vendors plus the Genographic Project aren't trying to fool around, but others are.
  • Genetic genealogy, and ethnicity in particular, is still a new field, a frontier.
  • Ethnicity estimation is not yet a mature technology, as evidenced by the differences between the vendors.
  • The ethnic estimates are exactly that. DEAR GUESTS.

If you want to learn more about ethnicity estimates and how they are calculated, please read this article.Ethnicity test, a mystery.


This information is NOT a criticism of sellers. Rather, this is a cautionary tale about how to set expectations correctly for consumers who want to understand and interpret their results, and how to use your own genealogy research to do just that.

Not a day goes by that I am not asked very specific questions about the interpretation of ethnic estimates. People want to know why their results aren't what they expected, or why they listed more of a specific geographic region than both of their parents combined. Great questions!

This phenomenon will only increase with the popularity of DNA testing and the number of people taking tests to discover their identities as a result of highly visible advertising campaigns.

So let me be very clear. No one can give a specific interpretation. We can only explain how the ethnicity estimates work and that these results are estimates generated using different reference populations and each vendor's proprietary software.

Whether the results match each other or customer expectations, these providers are legitimate, as are the ethnic tools at GedMatch. Other vendors may be less so, and some are downright unethical, seeking to prey on the unsuspecting consumer, particularly those seeking Native American heritage. If you are interested in learning the difference between legitimate genetic information and a company using pseudogenetics to steal your money from you,Click herefor a lecture by Dr. Jennifer Raff, especially at 48-50 minutes.

Buyers should be careful, both when purchasing DNA tests for ethnic purposes to find out “who you are” and when internalizing and interpreting the results.

The science isn't there yet to provide answers at the level most people are looking for.

My advice in a nutshell: stay with reputable providers. Enjoy your ethnic results, but don't take them too seriously without corroborating traditional genealogical evidence!



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