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Once you receive your DNA ancestry results whether it’s from 23andMe, FTDNA or AncestryDNA, one of the most interesting parts of the report is the breakdown of DNA ancestry regions.
You’ll see a colorful labelled chart with percentages showing how your DNA splits into various regions. There’ll also likely be a map with color-coded areas to indicate where your DNA originates from.
This part of the report is called admixture or ancestry composition.
Admixture refers to the genetic combination of previously separate populations which occurs when they interbreed.
Almost everyone today has DNA that is derived from the admixture of many different ethnicities though some populations are more admixed than others.
The main aim of a DNA admixture report is to show you your ethnic background and help you understand more about your ancestral origins.
For example, the report might reveal that you are part Asian, part North African and part European.
This breakdown can help you understand more about your family and ancestors going hundreds of years back.
Combined with historical and genealogical records, the composition report can also help fill some holes in your family’s history.
Different companies will provide different types of details regarding your ethnicity composition.
For instance, when you test with 23andMe, they’ll not only show you your DNA ancestry regions, they will also show you an estimate ancestry timeline of when the first ancestor in each ethnicity in your admixture lived.
Some tests will also show you migratory routes for your ancestors based on your admixture percentages.
This can help you understand how your ancestors moved from place to place while meeting (and breeding) with other populations.
FTDNA also has a unique feature called Shared Origins. It shows you a list of your matches with whom you share genetic populations and their percentage breakdown of each population.
This can help you understand exactly which aspects of your ancestral background you share with your matches.
Ancestry composition reports are presented with charts and maps that are easy to read.
The main part of the report is the chart that shows a breakdown of your ancestry with percentages indicated.
The list of DNA ancestry regions will be arranged from the one you share most DNA with. So if you are mainly European, it will be the first entry.
Below the main ancestry breakdowns like European or North African, there are additional sub-breakdowns which are called population clusters.
Under European, you might have Northwestern European, British and Irish and so on. Under East Asian you might have Southeast Asia and Northeast Asia.
These population clusters give you a finer understanding of your origins. Instead of just West Africa, you can narrow down your ancestry to Nigeria or Senegal.
This is quite valuable when you are trying to track down exactly where your ancestors came from.
Note than not all tests provide the same level of break down of your genetic populations. Depending on their database, some tests have a finer level of detail than others.
Others will provide a more detailed breakdown for one population like European but a less detailed one for a population group like Middle Eastern.
In addition to the population breakdown, some tests like FTDNA also show you a heat map with color coded regions to show you where your DNA is derived from.
It provides a quick overview of your ancestry breakdown.
Currently, you can get an ancestry composition report from 23andMe, Geno 2.0, AncestryDNA, MyHeritage DNA, Living DNA and Family Tree DNA.
But my favorites are 23andMe and AncestryDNA.
They have bigger databases and test for more regions than other companies.
23andMe previously tested a mere 31 regions but recently added 120 new ones, making it one of the best for Admixture Analysis.
Ancestry DNA covers more than 350 regions, providing a broader and finer coverage than other tests.
Geno 2.0 is also a good choice. They cover 60 regions though their ancestry composition report is not very comprehensive.
Living DNA covers 80 regions though it focuses more on regions in Britain and Ireland.
DNA testing, by nature, is not always accurate. Your admixture report is just an estimate and it can change if you test with another company or when it is updated.
DNA ancestry regions results are mostly accurate at continental levels but can get a bit fuzzy once you start digging deeper.
This is because populations change. The population your ancestor came from 500 years ago, may not be in the same location today.
In their ethnicity estimates white paper, AncestryDNA acknowledges that…
Genetic estimates of ethnicity also go back thousands of years, beyond the end of a pedigree paper trail. Regions identified as “populations” in a pedigree may have been very different thousands of years ago, and so may be represented differently in a genetic ethnicity estimate.
I strongly recommend you use your ancestry composition report as just one tool to help you with your research. It may not give you the full picture but it can fill some holes.
I'm just another amateur genealogist investigating my American-Scots-Irish lineage. I built MyFamilyDNATest.com after buying all of the leading DNA tests to discover everything I could about my family history. Hopefully, this site will save you time and demystify the emerging science of DNA-based genealogy, for your family project.