Why Does My Ancestry DNA Ethnicity Estimate Change?

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.

Why Does My Ancestry DNA Ethnicity Estimate Change_

Our Ancestry DNA ethnicity estimates go through periodic changes based on updated science and technological advances. The past few years, there have been updates to our results about once per year.

The most recent major update was the September 2020 Ancestry DNA update. As with any update from Ancestry, you might see different regions on your results, find that previous regions have slightly different names, find the percentage to be different, or see a region completely removed from your results.

Below, find out more about exactly how and why these changes occur. Plus, learn what these changes mean for your family history research.

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” and then “Scotland”, my mom’s “Southeastern Bantu” went from 2% to 1%, and my grandmother’s “Italy/Greece” disappeared and turned into Europe South.  

Below, you can see three of my ethnicity estimates. You will see some similarities as they have gone through changes, but there are also some big changes.

The first one is my most recent:

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 feature of the Ancestry DNA site was added in 2018, 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:

Screenshot of ethnicity estimate with updated date on the very botton
I put an arrow pointing to the date that my results were most recently updated

If you click on that little “i” in the circle shown next to the updated date in the image above, a popup message will appear. I will then have the opportunity to view more details about the most recent ethnicity estimate update.

This information usually includes 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 July, 2020, they are testing for more than 1,100 regions right now, and have more than 44,000 DNA samples in their reference population.

According to the latest Ancestry DNA, the most recent update includes data from 44000 reference samples and compares customers' DNA to more than 1100 regions
This is the most thorough update yet!

The more complete the data included in the reference population datasets, the better ethnicity results can be provided by Ancestry DNA.

If my ethnicity estimate changed, was it wrong before?

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. 

(Check out this article about how to build a family tree on Ancestry, which is the best way to get the most from your Ancestry DNA results: How to Build a Family Tree on Ancestry)

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 sponsored link, you can get a two-week free trial on Ancestry – perfect for adding records and documents to your tree:  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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