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Does Ancestry DNA Really Work?

If you are anything like me, you like to research something before you commit to doing it, and so I definitely understand why you want to learn as much about Ancestry DNA before you decide to take the test.  While the questions my readers tend to ask me range from concerns about privacy to how long it takes to get test results back, the most popular question is this:  Does Ancestry DNA really work?

In this post, I’ll show you:

  • that Ancestry DNA really does work
  • the limitations of an Ancestry DNA test
  • the first step to take if you are interested in DNA testing

Yes, Ancestry DNA really does work

There are two main reasons that people decide to take an Ancestry DNA test.  The most common reason is they have heard that a DNA test can tell them their family heritage or ethnicity.  The second most popular reasons is because many people are interested in finding living DNA relatives.  As it turns out, Ancestry DNA can help you achieve both of these goals.  In the paragraphs below, I’ll explain a little bit about how the process works, and how accurate the results are for the two different aspects of DNA testing for Ancestry.

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Can DNA tell your ancestry?

As I mentioned above, the most common reason for doing an autosomal DNA test, such as the one provided by Ancestry DNA, is to learn more about ancestry.  Specifically, people are usually very interested in finding out where their ancestors came from, in a general geographical sense.  Sometimes, people want to know if what they have been told about their family history is true, and other times, they don’t know anything about their family history at all.

So, can the Ancestry DNA test tell you about your ethnicity?  Can it tell you where your ancestors lived?  The answer to this question is, generally, yes.  Your Ancestry DNA test results will be able to give you a basic snapshot of the general origin of your ancestors reaching back about 250-500 years.  People will generally find that their results match their known family history fairly well, especially if they keep in mind that their ethnicity might show regions that are neighboring the regions where the know their ancestors came from.  (An example of this would be someone from Germany, which usually shows up as Europe West, having Eastern European DNA, which is very common).

Does Ancestry DNA give you reliable DNA matches?

Yes, the DNA matches that you get from Ancestry are very reliable.  When you get your DNA test results back, you will see a long list of DNA matches, organized from closest to most distant.  In other words, the people at the top of the list will share the most DNA with you, and as you move down the list, you will notice that the matches share less and less DNA with you.  Generally speaking, the more DNA you share with someone, the closer the relationship they have with you – genealogically speaking.

This is my absolute favorite part of DNA testing.  I have to admit, I am a little biased – I love DNA matches.  I check my matches every day, and I have even tested with more than one company, and have uploaded my Ancestry DNA raw data to other websites where I can get even more DNA matches.  Someday, I’ll have to wean myself from this – but for now, I am enjoying explaining to my readers how much you can learn from Ancestry DNA matches.

In my own family, I have been able to encourage many family members to do a DNA test as well.  I have had a sister, both parents, my grandmother, aunts, uncles, great-uncles, and cousins all do a DNA test.  All in all, 18 different known family members have done this test, and they have all shown up on my DNA match list exactly as they should have, sharing the right amount of DNA with me and our other relatives.  In other words, I have personally experienced the accuracy of the Ancestry DNA matches.

Can a DNA test tell you your family tree?

The Ancestry DNA test is called an “autosomal” DNA test.  Autosomal DNA is contained within our numbered chromosomes, as opposed to our X and Y chromosomes.  Autosomal DNA tests, just like any other type of DNA test, have very distinct limitations:

  • Ancestry DNA can’t tell you what your family tree looks like.  One of the main reasons for this is that autosomal DNA tests can’t tell you which side of the family a DNA match is on, which would be very important in “building” a family tree with your DNA (which at this point in time is not technically possible).
  • You don’t share DNA with all of your ancestors, so your Ancestry DNA ethnicity report is basically a snapshot of the DNA that you did inherit from your ancestors.  To explain further, you inherited 50% of your DNA from each parent, but you didn’t inherit 100% of each of your parents’ DNA.  The same is true for your parents, and their parent, and further back, meaning that some DNA was “left behind” each generation.
  • Even though you don’t share DNA with all of your ancestors, you do share DNA with many of them.  This means that your DNA test can show ethnicities on your results that reach very far back in time. The 250-500 years is an estimate, but it’s possible to inherit DNA from ancestors from even further back in history.  How cool is that?
  • Your DNA match list will not show all of your more distant relatives.  You will always share DNA with your close relatives, aunts/uncles, first cousins, grandparents, but when you get past the 3rd cousin distance, the possibility grows that your cousin list won’t show all of the distant people in your family tree.

While there are definitely some things that your Ancestry DNA results can’t do for you, I still highly recommend the experience.  I’ve been able to build a beautiful, DNA verified family tree based on information that I have learned from my DNA results.

Are you ready to take the Ancestry DNA test?

There are several companies currently offering DNA testing.  Each one has their own benefit, but I still recommend Ancestry DNA because of the accuracy of their ethnicity estimates and the size of their database of potential DNA matches (currently, they have more than 6 million people in their database!).

If you use the following link below to purchase your DNA test, I will get a small commission at no extra cost to you.  It really helps me support my website – so thanks for your support!! 🙂 Discovery the story AncestryDNA® can tell


Thanks so much for reading this post, and I hope that you learned a little bit about how and why Ancestry DNA really works.  If you have any questions about something that you read here, or you would like to add your own experience with testing with Ancestry DNA, I would love to hear from you in the comments.

I hope to see you back here once your results come back!

Share the knowledge!

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Susan Barnes

Sunday 22nd of March 2020

Great article - very informative. I know from my own experience that Ancestry DNA tests really work. None of my family knew the true identity of my paternal grandmother who lived under an assumed name all her adult life. After my father, his sister (my aunt), and I each took a DNA test we had numerous matches with people who all shared a common ancestor. Through these matches I managed to contact living relatives of my grandmother, one of whom got her father tested. Her father matched with my father as first cousins so the DNA test proved the relationship and we finally found out my grandmother's real name.


Monday 23rd of March 2020

Hi Susan, Thank you so much for sharing your story. It is fascinating, and I am so glad that you finally learned about your grandmother's origins.

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