DNA Discrepancies

To create a customer’s ethnicity estimate, DNA companies–including AncestryDNA, 23&Me and MyHeritage DNA, to name a few–compare the customer’s DNA to a reference panel, or DNA from individuals of “known origin.” If a section of the customer’s DNA is most similar to the DNA tied to a reference panel of individuals from Sweden, for example, then that section of the customer’s DNA is “assigned” to Sweden. Identifying the best candidates for the reference panel is key to providing comprehensive ethnicity estimates; discrepancies arise between companies because each company has different DNA samples tied to their reference panels.

This week’s 52 Ancestors prompt is “surprise,” and instead of highlighting an ancestor’s story, I’m highlighting an unexpected turn in my own: my MyHeritage DNA results. AncestryDNA is the only company I have tested with, and I shared my updated ethnicity estimates back in September. As it turns out, 43 percent of my DNA links to Germanic Europe; 27 percent to Eastern Europe and Russia; 11 percent to England, Wales and Northwestern Europe; 9 percent to Ireland and Scotland; 5 percent to the Baltic States (primarily located in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania); 3 percent to Sweden; and 2 percent to Norway. The most helpful result? Ancestry discovered a strong connection to Pomerania, providing me with a boundary-of-sorts for my research in Poland and Germany.

My AncestryDNA ethnicity estimates map

MyHeritage DNA allows customers to download their raw DNA data from other companies–including AncestryDNA–and upload it into their database to be analyzed; I thought I’d try it out, see if there’s anything new to learn or discover. (An aside: when I uploaded my raw data to MyHeritage, I was able to unlock their full results for free; now, customers must pay to unlock their results.) It took MyHeritage less than a day to create my ethnicity estimate and link my kit to potential cousins in their database, but there are discrepancies in the two companies’ estimates–and I don’t know what to make of these differences.

So here are my results: according to MyHeritage, 51.6 percent of my DNA links to Scandinavia; 35.6 percent to the Balkans; 8.2 percent to Eastern Europe; 3.5 percent to Ireland, Scotland and Wales; and 1.1 percent to the Baltic States. How do I account for some of these differences? Many individuals from Britain and Eastern Europe have significant “amounts” of Scandinavian DNA (due to travel between these regions); it’s possible that some of the “Germanic Europe,” “Eastern Europe” or “Northwestern Europe” DNA that Ancestry detected was placed into the Scandinavian category on MyHeritage. Likewise, the Balkan Peninsula is included in Ancestry’s Eastern European estimate; maybe MyHeritage is merely able to discern that difference.

But that much Scandinavian? That much Balkan? I have six great-great-grandparents who were born in Poland; one from Sweden; one from Germany; and eight who were born in the United States (all of German or English ancestry, based on the paper trail). Most of my Polish ancestors remained in the north–not in the Balkans–and I definitely don’t have any other Swedish ancestors in my family tree. Ethnicity estimates are fun–odd, but fun–and completely confusing, too. Maybe I’ll stick to painting my DNA and deciphering centimorgans and shared cousin matches (like that’s not confusing!)–or maybe I’ll try Family Tree DNA’s ethnicity estimates next. Until next time–

14 thoughts on “DNA Discrepancies

      1. I think someone was from Poland, but no one realized the rest. It’s pretty funny. Of course my dad doesn’t believe it…he’s taken 3 different companies and all say the same thing

        Liked by 1 person

      2. That completely makes sense; I think I might feel the same way if I was him. DNA is a great tool, but I guess it’s about where we ultimately feel that sense of belonging–where we feel at home. So I guess that’s Poland!

        Liked by 1 person

  1. At one time I believe the kings of Poland and Sweden were brothers. It is possible you had family that worked in one of the castles. A soldier that went with one king to visit the other may have hooked up with a chambermaid when off duty.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’d be a cool story! I Googled and found this article about King Sigismund III of Poland being crowned King of Sweden in 1592. He apparently lost the crown after a civil war in 1599, but there has to be a number of connections there.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Doing an ancestry test is always a very exciting experience, but I think that even in this day and age our knowledge about human DNA and how different populations are made up genetically might not be sufficient to definitely define one’s ethnicity on a genetic level. So companies like ancestry or myheritage can give you a very solid idea where your ancestors came from but the best option probably still old-fashioned genealogy via the paper-trail, which can admittedly be quite difficult. Anyways, I wish you good luck on your further journey!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, and I’m glad you stopped by! Old-fashioned paper and pencil genealogy is tough, but it’s what I love. DNA and paper records are a great combination, but I’ll take the latter any day.


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