Changing Ethnicity

DNA Story

Both 23andme and Ancestry have recently made adjustments to their ethnicity calculations. Before I go on I have to say it makes me nuts to have everyone babbling about “ethnicity” when they really mean “ancestry.” I’m an ethnic American. More specifically an ethnic Mormon. I can be chill about it as long as I get a chance once in a while to be pedantic. Ethnicity is culture, not biology. Gedmatch calls it “admixture“, so it seems they’re putting in a bit more effort to get it right.

All of the testing companies change their “ethnicity” estimates now and then, as new data emerges and modeling gets better. And you won’t get the same estimate at two different companies. It’s not an exact science, but it has gotten better—much better—over time.

I got a chuckle out of Roberta Estes’ comparison to the old weather joke. “If you don’t like the weather here, wait 5 minutes, it’ll change”. (Don’t Like Your Ethnicity? Wait 5 Minutes.) People in other cities say it, but being a loyal Denverite, I know in my heart it was originally said about Denver.

The picture above shows my current results at Ancestry. These are probably the closest I’ve ever had to results that match my expectations and what my genealogy paper trail shows. Except the Norwegian. That makes no sense. Has to be a mistake for Swedish. My grandfather’s parents came from Sweden, so my DNA ethnicity should be about 25 percent Swedish. Instead, as you can see, Ancestry has me 14 percent Swedish and 9 percent Norwegian.

I think more than anything what impresses me here about Ancestry is that they are able to tease out my connections to Mormon pioneers and Ohio River Valley settlers. They’re missing the strong New England component, though. When I compare my numbers in this table to the numbers in the map, I see that what Ancestry seems to be doing is accounting for my “non-American” ancestry in their estimates for German, Irish, and Scottish. And that reinforces my sense that I am actually old-time colonial American with a few bits of other stuff.

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