Why Does My Ancestry DNA Ethnicity Estimate Change?

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Do you want to know why your Ancestry DNA ethnicity estimate changed?  In this post, we will talk a little bit about why your ethnicity estimate changes, and how to know if it is up-to-date according to Ancestry’s latest research.

Are you interested in learning specifically about the most recent Ancestry DNA update (September 2018)?  You might like my post titled, “Ancestry DNA Update 2018: Ethnicity Estimate Changes“.

My Ancestry DNA ethnicity estimate changed!

Over the course of the years, I have seen so many changes in my own and my family member’s ethnicity results.  My “Irish” went away, and turned into “Ireland/Scotland/Wales”, my mom’s “Southeastern Bantu” went from 2% to 1%, and my grandmother’s “Italy/Greece” disappeared and turned into Europe South.  

If something like this has happened to you, it is perfectly understandable to wonder what in the world is going on, and ask yourself how your ethnicity estimate can change.

When I first started publishing articles on my website, I was surprised to see how popular the articles about ethnicity quickly became.  As it turns out, people really want to know where they come from, and when something doesn’t match up – or when an ethnicity estimate changes – it becomes a very big deal. 

A person who is proud that their extensive Irish heritage showed up as a large percentage of their ethnicity might be shocked to log in a few months later to see that their Irish might actually be Scottish or Wales.

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Why did my Ancestry ethnicity estimate change?

One of the things that I like to stress to my readers here on this site is that Ancestry DNA calls the ethnicity estimate an “estimate” for good reason.  It’s only an estimate, and this is especially good to keep in mind that the technology to detect a DNA “ethnicity” is relatively new. 

The Ancestry DNA service was launched officially in May of 2012, less than eight years before the publishing of this article.  Their DNA testing service has evolved significantly since then, and they have added many new features and tools to their DNA site, and one important feature that has continued to improve is the ethnicity estimate technology.

As research into human migration and genetics continue, and as Ancestry DNA adds to and improves the quality of the base reference samples used to compare your DNA and determine ethnicity, we should all expect minor changes to our results.  At the end of the day, calling Italy/Greece “Europe South” really isn’t a major change, and amounts to little more than semantics, if we are truly honest. 

I know that I want the most accurate ethnicity estimate possible, given available technologies, and so I tend to view the ethnicity estimate changes as a net positive, rather than feeling like something has been taken away from me.

How can I tell if my Ancestry DNA ethnicity estimate is up-to-date?

This is a brand-new feature (as of February 2018) of the Ancestry DNA site, and I think it’s pretty neat to be able to see whether or not your ethnicity results reflect the most current research in DNA ethnicity.  All you have to do is log in to your Ancestry DNA account, and visit your DNA results summary page. 

Once you are on your summary page, click “Discover Your DNA Story”, which is the green button under your pie chart.  This will take you to your full ethnicity results.

Once you are on your full ethnicity result page, there is a message that will tell you whether your results are up-to-date:

How to tell whether my ethnicity results are up-to-date on Ancestry DNA

If you click on that little “i” in the circle (shown in the red rectangle above), you can see how many regions they currently test for, and how many reference samples are in their database.  Reference samples are part of what they use to determine which regions are shown in your DNA, so it’s neat to see how many samples they have. 

In the image below (which I grabbed for the purpose of showing you in this post), you can see that the update is current as of February 2018, they are testing for 166 regions right now, and have almost 3,000 DNA samples in their reference population.

How many regions does Ancestry DNA test for

If my ethnicity estimate changed, why should I believe that it is accurate now?

Some people have the idea that an ethnicity estimate should perceived as little more than a “novelty” or just something to do for fun.  Others take it exceptionally literally and are very upset when it doesn’t match what they see in their family tree. 

I tend to be somewhere in the middle as far as how important an ethnicity estimate is, or should be, in family tree research.  If your ethnicity estimate is very different from what you were expecting, then it deserves a second look.

If your updated ethnicity results still make a lot of sense geographically (i.e. the updated region is very close geographically to where you know your ancestors were from), then you really have nothing to worry about. 

If you find some type of new surprise (or even just notice an old surprise), like a small Native American percentage when you thought all of your family was from Europe, then this can guide you in your family history research.

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How accurate is my new ethnicity estimate?

The best way, as always, to be able to gauge the accuracy of your ethnicity estimate is to start building your family tree.  Most people don’t realize how much fun it is to learn about their ancestors, so I really recommend that you consider at least making a small tree that contains what you already know. 

As you get back further, you can see if what you find lines up with what your ethnicity estimate shows.  Plus, it’s amazing to learn the names of your ancestors, and even find out where they lived.

I recommend using Ancestry to build a tree, especially if you have done your DNA test with them already.  You can connect your family tree with your DNA results and get extra features by doing so – it makes research more fun and a lot easier. 

If you use the following link, you will be able to have a two-week free trial on Ancestry, which is great for adding records to your family tree (you don’t need a subscription to build your tree) and really getting access to all of the benefits of Ancestry DNA.  I will get a small commission if you use this link, at no extra cost to you whatsoever – it helps me support this website, and thanks 🙂 Ancestry Free Trial

To learn more, check out my “DNA Tools” page where I have compiled resources about how to get started with genetic genealogy and DNA testing!


I hope that this post helped you understand a little more about how and why your ethnicity estimate might occasionally change on Ancestry DNA.  If you have any questions, or would like to share a story about how your ethnicity changed, and what you learned from it (if applicable), I would encourage you to leave me a comment below.

Thanks for stopping by!

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Why Does My Ancestry DNA Ethnicity Estimate Change?
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Why Does My Ancestry DNA Ethnicity Estimate Change?
Find out here why your ethnicity estimate changed based on the latest research, how to know if it is up-to-date, and whether it's more accurate post-update.
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Who Are You Made Of
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