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Ancestry DNA Beginner’s Tutorial

This beginning tutorial for Ancestry DNA results will help you understand the basics and get the most from your DNA.

If you have done your DNA test with Ancestry, congratulations! You have begun an amazing adventure. If your results are overwhelming, don’t worry.

Ancestry DNA Beginner's Tutorial

In order to get the most from this tutorial, you should already have received your DNA results. If you haven’t gotten your results back yet, you might be interested in my post “10 things that you can do while waiting for your DNA results.”

If you haven’t yet done a DNA test, check out my ultimate DNA testing strategy to help you decide which test to take and the best way to move forward.

What can you learn from Ancestry DNA results

As I mentioned before, your Ancestry DNA results can take you on an exciting adventure. Most people, including myself, initially become interested in DNA testing in order to get an ethnicity estimate. This is the pretty pie chart or list of percentages that we see in advertising online and commercials.

An ethnicity estimate can provide clues about your family’s recent ancestry and some of your family’s more distant roots, but it isn’t the only thing that you’ll learn from your Ancestry DNA test.

When I first did my test years ago, I didn’t realize that I would get DNA matches to go along with my ethnicity estimate. I didn’t know anything about Shared Ancestor Hints, or how to attach my DNA to my family tree, or even how to find how many centimorgans I share with my DNA matches.

Through my DNA test, I was able to identify the parents of my great-grandmother and find relatives in countries all over the world. I was able to confirm my mother’s Jewish heritage and found out that I had more Polish ancestry than I had previously thought. I’ve made many more discoveries, and learn something new almost every day.

Let’s get started, shall we?

How to access your Ancestry DNA results

There are a few ways to access your Ancestry DNA results, but the easiest is to click here: Ancestry DNA Insights. You might be prompted to log in to your account.

Once you log in, your results will look something like this:

what do ancestry dna insights results look like?
This is a screenshot of my DNA results overview on Ancestry!

From this screen, you can explore the different elements of your DNA results. In the following sections of this post, I will explain each element in more detail and let you know what you can learn from each one.

What are the different sections of Ancestry DNA results?

Your Ancestry DNA results are divided into two main sections, with a few “bonus” sections.

The two main elements of your DNA results are:

  • Your DNA Story, which includes your ethnicity estimate and maps of where your ancestors lived as well as migrations (as applicable)
  • Your DNA match list – a list of all of the people who have tested their DNA with Ancestry who are genetic matches to you

The “bonus” elements of your DNA results include:

  • Ancestry DNA ThruLines
  • Personal Discoveries Project

Click here to buy the Understand Your DNA Results Ebook

Understand your Ancestry ethnicity estimate and your DNA Story

The ethnicity estimate is typically the part of DNA results (from any of the major companies, not just Ancestry) that generates the most interest. It’s no surprise, since it’s actually pretty cool that a simple saliva test can tell you which regions of the world most closely match with your DNA.

There are a few very important bits of information that you will need to know, however, in order to really understanding your ethnicity results:

  • We don’t inherit all of our parents’ DNA. In fact, we only get half of it. Furthermore, your mom only got half of each of your grandparent’s DNA, and the same is true for your dad. And so on and so on. If you were wondering why your rumored Native American roots didn’t show up in your DNA, this could be one possible explanation.
  • The way DNA is passed down is random, so while we do get 50% of our mom and dad’s DNA, there is no way to know which 50% we got (and therefore, which 50% we didn’t get)
  • Our ancestors might not have been a “100%” genetic match to the region where they were from. For example, your Italian great-great grandparents might have had roots in Greece or Sephardic Jewish ancestry.

Because of the way that DNA is passed down and ethnicity is inherited, these autosomal DNA tests can most accurately detect ancestry from the past few hundred years. The further back in our family tree our connection to a particular region is, the less likely it is that it we will still carry a genetic trace of that heritage.

As a final thought on the topic, I’d like to mention that DNA testing companies use samples from living people who live in the regions tested and who can prove ancestry going back several generations in those regions. This means that our ethnicity results show us where our DNA most closely matches today. If you have ancestors from a part of the world that has had significant populations move to another region in the past 100-200 years or so, this can be helpful to keep in mind when trying to determine how accurate our ethnicity results are.

More on ethnicity estimates:

What are DNA matches on Ancestry?

Oh. My. Goodness. I finally get to write about my absolutely favorite aspect of DNA results. Most people don’t realize it at first, but DNA matches are the best reason to do the Ancestry DNA test. Ancestry DNA has the biggest private database of DNA samples – more than 14 million people have done a DNA test with Ancestry – and so you’ll find lots of great matches on the site.

As I mentioned before, we inherit 50% of our DNA from each of our parents. The DNA that we inherit is passed down in very long segments, but these long segments are actually made up of smaller segments that were passed down through the generations from our ancestors.

People who are on our DNA match list are people who share matching DNA segments with us, and most of them (except, perhaps, the most distant) are almost definitely related to us in some way.

Our DNA match list is organized in a way that shows us our closest relatives first. These are the people who share the most DNA with us – meaning our common ancestor isn’t very far back in our tree. As we move down our DNA match list, we’ll find that our DNA matches are related to us in a more distant fashion and we’ll have to look further back in both of our trees in order to find the connection.

If both you and your DNA match have a family tree, Ancestry DNA might be able to spot a common ancestor for you and give you a “Shared Ancestor Hint“.

For more on your DNA match list:

What are Ancestry DNA ThruLines?

One of the benefits of doing a DNA test with Ancestry is the power of being able to leverage the family tree information on the site and the largest database of DNA testers. A result of this powerful combination of data is something that Ancestry calls “Ancestry ThruLines”.

If you have ThruLines show up on your results, it means that Ancestry DNA has detected the same common ancestor in your family tree, as well as the tree of others who are DNA matches to you. You might also find people in your ThruLines who are not already in your family tree, but who are the ancestor of some of your DNA matches and whose genealogical connection to you is suggested by other family trees on ancestry.

For more on Ancestry DNA ThruLines:

Traits and Personal Discoveries on Ancestry DNA

Contained within your DNA is information about traits that you might be more predisposed to.

The Ancestry DNA Personal Discoveries project is a series of questions You provide Ancestry DNA with information about your likes and dislikes, health and wellness, and traits and characteristics. This information is used for research and development of new products. Participation is entirely optional, and it has no bearing on your DNA results or ability to use the website.

More on this topic:

Is there a way to change my test settings on Ancestry DNA?

There are a variety of settings related to your DNA test that you can change. These options range from choosing whether you would like to participate in research to deleting or downloading your DNA data.

To read more about the different options available and which test settings might work best for you, check out my post on the topic:

Can you share your Ancestry DNA results with family and friends?

If you want to share your DNA results with with a particular friend or family member, you can definitely do so. It’s easy, and all you have to have to an e-mail address of your friend or family member. They will need to set up a free Ancestry account, but it only takes a few seconds.

To see complete instructions about how to share your Ancestry DNA results:

Do you need to take an Ancestry DNA test?

If you haven’t yet taken your Ancestry DNA test, I highly recommend the experience.


I hope that this tutorial has helped you get a good understanding of the basics of how to use the Ancestry DNA site and what type of information you can learn from your results.

If you have any questions about something that you read here, or if you would like to add your experience with your DNA results to the discussion, I would love to hear from you in the comments below.

Thanks for being here!

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