Comparing DNA Testing Companies: Ethnicity Estimates

Introduction

As genetic testing for ethnicity and genealogy becomes more popular, potential test-takers are wondering which company to test with. What’s accurate? Who has the largest database for matches? And so on… In this post, I’m going to explore my ethnicity test results and share what company I have found most accurate for me.

I’ve previously discussed my paper trail in great detail but, in summary, I’m about 75% English, 19% Scottish, and 6% Irish. When I DNA-tested for the first time I was really interested in what the test would show about my ancient heritage and how it would match up with my paper trail. I also had an interest in how DNA testing would help with genealogical research, however, this interest mainly grew after receiving my test results once I was able to work with my genetic matches.

I originally tested with AncestryDNA. Since then I have uploaded to Gedmatch and DNA.LAND, as well as transferred results to FamilyTreeDNAMyHeritage, and Wegene. I have also tested immediate family (parents and brother) for comparison and uploaded their results to some of the aforementioned sites.

[See ‘Conclusion’ for any disclaimers.]

AncestryDNA

The AncestryDNA results attempt to break down ones genetic makeup into two categories ‘Thousands of years ago’ (the ethnicity estimate) and ‘Hundreds of years ago’ (Genetic Communities, which I have analysed in detail here). I have found that theScreen Shot 2017-04-19 at 2.17.32 pm ethnicity estimate slightly overestimates my Irish-ness (which, despite its name, encompasses Ireland, Scotland, and Wales) as well as the Europe West region. However, this is impossible to verify since, as Ancestry claim, they are looking into a persons deep ancestry, which is beyond what can be confirmed from a paper trail. Moreover, my Great Britain assignment has been underestimated at only 9% as compared with the 75% recorded in my paper trail. Overall, it is impossible to know for sure how accurate the ethnicity estimate is since they are identifying deep ancestry, although I cannot say that it would be reliable to depend on for determining ones recent ancestry as the amounts are so skewed compared with the paper trail.

On the other hand, the [new] Genetic Communities feature is very reliable for identifying recent ancestry, though it still has some way to go in identifying more regions and assigning more communities.

Screen Shot 2017-04-19 at 2.20.36 pm.png

Despite all comments that may imply otherwise, I believe AncestryDNA is the best company to test with. This is due to their customer database, which is currently at four-million, the largest database out of all the testing companies. This is significant for genealogy and adoptees as, through the DNA Matches feature, you are enabled to search a larger database of DNA cousins and their family trees, hence improving your own genealogical research.

Gedmatch

Gedmatch have a range of different admixture reports authored by different people. Different reports are recommended for people of different ethnicities, as they can be more reliable for one ethnicity and less reliable for another. One method, created by Cordue, uses a couple of different gedmatch calculators in conjunction to reliably identify IndigenScreen Shot 2017-05-31 at 9.05.19 pmous Australian ancestry.

I was advised that given my British ancestry, Eurogenes K13 would be the best admixture utility to use. The most obvious issue with this report is that it altogether assigns me 5% Asian and it leads me to believe I have Amerinidian ancestry (which is almost impossible). The latter assignment is especially problematic since many Americans hope for Amerindian ancestry and being told by a report that they have it is misleading and potentially problematic.

One stand out of the Eurogenes K13 report is that it picks up on my “1.78% Northeast African”, which is not recorded on my paper trail but has been picked up by other ethnicity tests. This consistency suggests the report is semi-reliabile.

DNA.Land

The DNA.Land ancestry composition is very vague. Like AncestryDNA’s ethnicity estimate, it appears to search into a person’s deep ancestry, and, as a result, it is difficult to ascertain the accuracy of the composition. In some ways, the vagueness seems to imply a lack of confidence by the company in which if they use broad definitions for regions they cannot go wrong.

Also, DNA.Land is not worthwhile using for DNA matches. I know of definite matches using the system that don’t show up on their “find relatives” feature.

However, DNA.Land’s trait prediction report is interesting and worth taking a look at. Particularly, if you want to learn about your circadian rhythms, coffee consumption, education attainment, etc. While probably not so accurate, these are fun to look into.

Screen Shot 2017-04-19 at 2.38.55 pmFamilyTreeDNA

Pre-update I would have said FamilyTreeDNA’s ethnicity report was far from accurate. FromScreen Shot 2017-04-19 at 2.40.58 pm falsely assigning Jewish ancestry to my dad to assigning us very little British Isles. However, post-update I believe it’s one of the most accurate reports. Their placement of me as 85% British Isles, which includes England, Ireland, and Scotland, is so much closer to the 100% I should have.

[N.B: I have read elsewhere that Amerindian genetic markers are very similar to Siberian markers. I question if the Eurogenes K13 (aforementioned) misidentified me and, instead, the Siberian identified by FamilyTreeDNA is probably more likely a true representative of those markers.]

Yet, I have noticed in DNA groups that I’m part of a minority of satisfied customers with the new update. I would suggest that Familytreedna are probably very reliable when it comes to people of British origin but maybe not so reliable with people of other ethnicities.

MyHeritage DNA

MyHeritage DNA’s ethnicity report, though new, has really impressed me. The “Irish, Scottish, and Welsh” is the closest to accurate out of all tests. In fact, considering my Irish and Scottish ancestors would have shared DNA with Scandinavian, English, and European, it is probably most likely tScreen Shot 2017-05-31 at 7.17.51 pm.pnghat I’d have less rather than more “Irish, Scottish, and Welsh”. With that in mind MyHeritage DNA’s estimate of my Irish-ness should be more accurate than Ancestry DNA’s. The “English” estimate appears to be a lot less than on paper, however, when the “Scandinavian” and “North and West European” percentages are read in conjunction with the “English”, MyHeritageDNA is again very accurate (arriving at 79.6%).

[At this point, it is also important to note I have a brick wall on my maternal grandfather’s paternal grandparents, who could be French due to having a possibly-French surname; though are most likely English. In the case that they are French, this report would be spot on. Regardless, I still think MyHeritage DNA are spot on considering the English genetically overlap with North and West Europe in many historic cases, such as the Normal invasions.]

Wegene

Wegene is a Chinese testing company. They are probably very reliable for the Asian market. However, they gave me the least accurate estimate. [The 0.04% represents “Chinese”.] Having seen all my other estimates and what I’ve said about my paper trail, it’s quite apparent how off Wegene has been.

Screen Shot 2017-05-31 at 9.57.15 pm.png

The one advantage of this company is that they attempt to identify ones mitochondrial DNA using some markers that are on the Ancestry chip. They placed me in U5a1. While I have never had my mtDNA tested, I do have reason to believe this is correctly identified.

Conclusion

Of course it is important to remember that the ethnicity reports generated by these companies are nothing more than estimates. Due to genetic admixture, it is scientifically very difficult to identify ethnicity with 100% reliability.

I also want to clarify that everything I have written is my personal opinion, I have not been paid by any companies to positively review their product or negatively review another company’s product. Furthermore, the accuracy of each company will vary depending on an individual’s heritage as each company has strong and weak reference populations.

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