Comparison of Ethnicity Estimate From the Four Major DNA Testing Companies

Are you wondering what to expect from your DNA ethnicity estimate?  Perhaps you are trying to determine which company offers the most detailed, or most accurate ethnicity estimate.  In this post, I will show you my complete ethnicity results from Ancestry DNA, 23 and Me, Family Tree DNA, and My Heritage DNA.  My sincere hope is that this post helps you decide where to do a test, and what to expect from your own results.

My favorite aspect of DNA testing is the DNA matches that come along with test results – you can learn so much from your DNA matches.  I do understand the interest in ethnicity estimates, however, and that’s why I decided to do this post for my readers.

How accurate are ethnicity results?

Before we get started, I want to share a little bit about my family’s background.  I went through my family tree and figured out where all 16 of my great-great grandparents were born, and then I put the data into a pie chart to make it easy for you to make comparisons using percentages, etc.

Are ethnicity esimtates accurate? You decide

There are some important facts about ethnicity estimates that you should know before we move on to my estimates from the four big DNA testing companies:

  • We only inherit 50% of each of our parents’ DNA.  This means that there is a lot of information in my mom and dad’s DNA that I didn’t inherit, and therefore cannot be analyzed on my DNA results.
  • Even though it is possible for a person to be “100%” from one ethnicity region, it is more likely in some regions for people to be very “admixed”.  Admixed is just a fancy term for genetic mixing, and means that someone from Germany (which typically shows up as Europe West on DNA tests) will generally have Eastern European, Southern European, British, or even Scandinavian DNA.
  • Each company has its own definition for each region, and sometimes they can even be different than the traditional geographical or political vocabulary that we use to describe a particular place.  My Heritage DNA, for example, defines Central America as ranging from Mexico through parts of South America.  In other companies, this region will show up as Native American.  And of course, we wouldn’t say that Mexico is Central America in a geographic sense.

Note:  I did my initial DNA test with Ancestry DNA and uploaded my raw DNA results to these other companies.

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Ancestry DNA Ethnicity Estimate Example

I did my first DNA test with Ancestry DNA.  I was interested in finding out more about where my great-great grandparents were born, and I thought that a DNA test would help me out.  My husband was also interested in DNA testing, so we did our tests together.  My favorite part of my Ancestry DNA results are my DNA matches (Ancestry has the biggest DNA test database), and the Shared Ancestor Hint feature, which is an advantage of having my results on a website where many people build and store their family trees.

Below you can see the results of my Ancestry DNA Ethnicity Estimate.  It has updated slightly since I first did it, since they do occasionally upgrade their technology and reference populations as new science becomes available.

Example of expanded ethnicity estimate on ancestry dna

One interesting aspect of the Ancestry DNA ethnicity results is the “Migrations” feature.  If you have ancestors who were part of a major migration, Ancestry DNA might give you a Migration in your ethnicity results.  In my results, you can see that I have ancestors who settled in three regions in the Northeast United States in the early 1700s.  If you click on a migration, you can learn more about the history and even see DNA matches that also share that migration with you – a potential clue to how you might be related.

Example of Ancestry Migrations

My Heritage DNA Ethnicity Estimate Example

My Heritage DNA currently accepts transfers of “raw” DNA data from some of the other major testing companies, such as Ancestry.  I have really enjoyed my My Heritage DNA results because they have a lot of international testers on the site, and since I have recent immigrant ancestors, I have a lot of relatively close cousins living in other countries.  I have been able to get in touch with many cousins in countries like Germany, Australia, Slovakia, and Poland through this website.

A very minor feature of the My Heritage DNA ethnicity results is the ability to play a short musical clip from the regions that show up on your ethnicity estimate.  I think that this is a very thoughtful way, however small it might  be, to connect what you see on your results to the idea that your ancestors were part of that culture.

23 and Me Ethnicity Estimate Results Example

23 and Me doesn’t usually accept DNA uploads, but there was one day this past month where they had a special day where Ancestry DNA customers could upload for free.  Fortunately, I found out about the upload opportunity in time.  I had initially thought that I might be able to have access to DNA matches, which turned out not to be the case.  No worries, though, because I got a nice ethnicity estimate (called Ancestry Composition by 23 and Me).

Below are my 23 and Me Ancestry Composition results:

Example of 23 and Me Ancestry Composition Results

There were a couple cool aspects of my ethnicity estimate on 23 and Me.  One was the ability to actually download my ethnicity data.  For advanced genetic genealogists, there are tools to help you determine which DNA segments match which ethnicity, and even which ancestor likely passed a particular ethnicity segment down to you.  It’s a lot of work, but I thought it was neat to be able to start working on this.

The other interesting feature was my Ancestry Timeline, which you can see below:

Example of 23 and Me Ancestry Timeline

Family Tree DNA My Origins Results Example

Family Tree DNA (FTDNA) also accepts raw DNA data transfers from a few other companies (23 and Me, Ancestry, and My Heritage).  You can transfer your data for free, but if you want access to the really cool Chromosome Browser (for advanced users) and your ethnicity estimate, which is called “My Origins” on FTDNA, you have to pay $19.  It’s a pretty reasonable amount, especially for the access that you get.

Below, you can see my ethnicity estimate from Family Tree DNA.  I thought it was interesting that FTDNA found a small (VERY small) amount of Native American, which you can see on the New World.  One of the main questions I had before I took a DNA test was whether or not I have Native American ancestry.  The FTDNA estimate is the only test that showed any amount for me.

Example of Family Tree DNA My Origins Comparison with other companies

FTDNA also gives you an “Ancient Origins” estimate if you have primarily European Ancestry.  While it isn’t helpful for true genealogy research, it’s cool to look at.  It’s different than your ethnicity estimate, which tells you where your ancestors probably lived within the past 300-500 years (sometimes a little further back).  The Ancient Origins estimate extends back thousands of years by comparing your DNA with samples from humans who lived several thousand years ago and can give you an idea of the migration patterns your ancient European ancestors took.

Ancient Origins comparison FTDNA


Do you know which one you like best?  Below, you can click through to purchase a DNA test.   They are listed in the order that they are for this article.

Note:  A few of the links below are affiliate links, which mean that I will receive a small commission (very small – but it all helps!) at no extra cost to you, thanks for using these links to get your test:

Ancestry DNA (affiliate links below):

My Heritage DNA:

23 and Me:

Family Tree DNA (affiliate links below):

I hope that you enjoyed seeing examples of my ethnicity estimates from each company, and that this post helped you decide which company to test with or what to expect from your results.  If you have any questions, or would like to share which ethnicity estimate seems most accurate to you, I would love to hear from you in the comments below.

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