When to use ethnicity in your DNA search

By Kitty Munson Cooper, blogging at blog.kittycooper.com

Ethnicity (aka BioAncestry)

is the term DNA testing companies use incorrectly for 

Biological Ancestry


CANNOT accurately be determined on a country basis


CAN be determined by Continent, usually several areas, North, South, East, West ....

  for example Northern, Southern and Eastern Europe

Remember Kyle in the Ancestry DNA Ad -  who discovered he was Scottish not German?

Frankly it is hard to tell them apart as both can look Scandinavian or English...

Hopefully he discovered that with relative matching because German does not show up clearly in DNA BioAncestry

map courtesy of mapsland.com

  • West German looks French
  • East German looks Eastern European
  • South German can look Italian or East European
  • North German can look Scandinavian or English

East German Mother, Colonial Dad at MyHeritage

compared with an actual German 2nd cousin 


Known German Ancestors at Ancestry

It turned out his parents had used a Jewish sperm donor

Stan knew he was of 100% German descent!

These were his results at Ancestry

What about English, Irish, Scottish, and Welsh? Can they be told apart?

Most early American settlers on the East coast were from those ethnicities

Although there were some Germans, Dutch, French, and Scandinavians 

Dave has deep American roots as shown at Ancestry:

colonial Pennsylvania and Georgia plus Carolinas

Ethnicity can help greatly with unknown parentage when the parents have different origins, and at least one is not Northern European.


 Adoptee Amelia was told that her mother was Italian and her father a Hungarian musician and that they died in a car crash

AI generated image

 Amelia 's results at Ancestry

Her late Jewish father has been found but not the Italian mother yet

When you have roots in the areas of the Americas that were originally Spanish, you will usually have Native American DNA

The Spanish soldiers who came over and stayed did not usually bring wives, so they often married native women

generated with AI

Tessa's father was unknown:

What would you think looking at this breakdown?

Tessa versus her Colonial rooted mother at Ancestry

What does this ethnic mix tell us?

Hispanic, Mexico or New Mexico

Sam did not know who his father was, Ancestry told him Lebanese and the matches support this

Dede discovered that her Dad was not her biological Dad when she was 40

Dede versus her 1st cousin on her mother's side

It looked like Dede's father was from deep American roots and slavic roots

Tree building found a Yugoslavian descended man marrying a Kentucky girl. Once I had the Slavic surname I searched a large Kentucky tree and found this couple, Dede's grandparents

An Australian woman, Elana, did not know who  her father was. She had only 4th cousin matches at every site

Elana's Australian mother had her from a one night encounter with "Bob" who said he was Maori.

AI generated image

Elana's father is clearly not Maori. He appears to be about half Chinese, then an Australian, Italian mix .

Elana's bioancestry compared to her mother 

28% Asian

8% Southern Europe

It is clear in the DNA that the unknown father is half Chinese and also has southern European roots on the other side, perhaps a Sicilian grandad

Latest Ancestry estimates

Here is what Elana's bioancestry looks like at GEDmatch using the MLDP world 22 project

Since her closest Ancestry matches were Americans of Italian descent, I recruited Rocco Hindman (the coordinator of the Southern Cal  Genealogical Society's Italian Interest Group)  to work those lines. 

Elana had also tested at 23andme and had uploaded everywhere but there were no Chinese matches

 23andme  shows ethnicity by chromosome and includes the X which no other site does

The X can be useful because we all have no X from our father's father. Notice that Elana has no Asian on her X...

Most likely her father's father was Chinese.

Back then we had a quick tool, DNA2tree, to find common ancestors from trees so we were able to determine her paternal Australian common ancestors from all those 4th cousin matches.

Many tools have been disabled by Ancestry, only the gather at DNAgedcom still works

GEDmatch will find common ancestors of DNA matches to a specific kit but this requires the matches to have uploaded GEDcoms

But the common ancestor, Thomas Bugden b. 1811 had 17 children, 16 of whom had children!

Now I recruited an Australian search angel, Peter O'Brien to build that tree and look for an Italian with a descendant who married someone Chinese.

Rocco gave him some Italian surnames to watch for

Peter found such a couple after only a few weeks, a Kwan married a Russo whose mother was a Bugden!

By the way, the common ancestor, Thomas Bugden turned out to be Elana's 4th grandfather 

AdMixture Usage Summary

  • 23andMe and Ancestry have the best predictions 

  • German ancestry is not clear in the DNA

  • European Jewish and Finnish are clear; as are African, Levant, Native American, Polynesian, Chinese and other Asian

  • If the parents of the unknown parentage case are from very different origins, that can help greatly with figuring it out.

When DNA Ethnicity is Useful in a Search

By Kitty Cooper

When DNA Ethnicity is Useful in a Search

Ancestry Composition - Presentation by Kitty Cooper http://blog.kittycooper.com

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