Wildly different DNA results

+6 votes
I pretty new to this DNA thing so bear with me please.  I little background first. My wife's sister and I took the plunge and did the AncestryDNA test.  Her results weren't too far off from expected. We loaded the data to FTDNA and the origins were a little different, but still as expected and we had some of the same matches. (and some great new ones). So I was excited to get my results back.

My results were a little surprising.  My mother's family is all German, and I have traced multiple lines in Germany back to 9 generations.  Also my paternal line (also German) heads back to the old country in four generations.  You can image my surprise when I was only 14% German on the Ancestry Test.  The rest is all British Isles with the exception of less than 2% from Sweden.  The test did nail it on the list of 1st through 4th cousins I already knew had been tested.

Thanks for reading to here, now it gets interesting.  I loaded the data to FTDNA as we did with my sister-in-law.  FTDNA shows 0% German, 28% Scandinavian, and some British Isles. But the rest is North Africa, Malta,  Arabia, Syria and Iraq, Bedouin and Indus Valley.

Any ideas on have this happens? Do I have the wrong test results.? I have re-traced my steps, the filename uploaded to FTDNA matches the filename  from Ancestry.  I have spent several hours on FTDNA looking at the matches to the data they processed.  My surnames are not in the data, I have yet to find one match that even comes close to my family.

Ideas on how to trace this?
in Genealogy Help by Steve Heininger G2G2 (2.1k points)
recategorized by Ellen Smith

8 Answers

+5 votes
Look at the uncertainty or error range for your results. What is the upper range? For example, my results say 45% Germanic Europe, but it could range from 34% to 71%.

Perhaps you could contact Ancestry that your results differ widely from expected, and possibly arrange for a re-test. I don’t know their policy, but it doesn’t hurt to ask. The worst reply is they won’t do anything.
by George Fulton G2G6 Pilot (416k points)
+13 votes
Most DNA tests under report German DNA. As DNA testing is not very popular in Germany, the testing companies do not have a strong reference data set to draw from. Added to this, the migrations of the Anglo-Saxons etc, mean that German and English DNA is very similar. If you look at the map on Ancestry for "England and North Western Europe" you will see that the region covers not only England, but northern France, the low countries, and parts of Germany. It's incredibly common for people with confirmed gemrn ancestors to have this part of their DNA show up as English instead. If the cousin matching is confirming your paper trail, I would pay very little attention to the ethnicity estimates.

I can't speak much to ftdna results, but is there a chance you are looking at the ancient origins results rather than the more recent ethnicity estimates?
by Kaitlyn Emmett G2G3 (3.9k points)
I have the impression that the under-reporting of German ethnicity is due to the time frame assumptions made by the DNA testing companies.
+2 votes
Here is an admixture comparison at GEDmatch for someone who has tested with AncestryDNA, Family Tree DNA (Family Finder), and 23andMe:


They are not wildly different because those different lab results are being compared to the same population reference.
by Peter Roberts G2G6 Pilot (570k points)
+2 votes
I have a similar problem with FTDNA (My Origins) results for 3 siblings compared to Ancestry results for 2 of the siblings. A ratio of 0 to 34% English/Scottish/Welsh between the 1 sibling compared to the 2 siblings who tested and uploaded to FTDNA. Without satisfactory explanation from FTDNA, I am left with my own thoughts:
(1) The companies can only tell you what is in their respective databases, Ancestry has by far the largest number of autosomal testers in its database.
(2) Interpretation modes of results differs between companies.
(3) Origin results are only a tiny glimpse of truth due to the small number of testers compared to worldwide populations.
(4) As a male, you may find it more satisfying to take FTDNA's Y-DNA test, which follows the pathway of your male sex chromosome (passed from father to son) back through time. There are hundreds of Surname projects available at FTDNA and many blogs and social media groups you can join to learn and understand your own particular pathway.
by Diane Redfern G2G Crew (850 points)
+5 votes

I 100% agree with Peter Roberts' post.  I have tested with four different companies, and each gave different, sometimes wildly different locations and percentages. Naming conventions are often different as well. One company might say "Northern Europe", while another company says "Germany" or "France" separately.  The same holds true for "British Isles" and "England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales".  Also each company generally uses a different reference set to compare against, so the percentages can vary wildly even if the place name is the same. This holds true even when the same DNA sample is transfered like in your case.

For this reason, the best way to compare these different companies is to upload each DNA sample to a site like GEDMatch.  There, you can compare each sample to the same reference standard. You will then find that each sample will be close to being the same percentages across each you try.  I have done this on all four of my DNA samples from the various companies and have found them to be very similar (within a percent or two) no matter how different they were at the original site.

Hope this helps....
by Ken Parman G2G6 Mach 4 (46.9k points)
+3 votes
Pay no attention to the heritage/ethnicity results -- they are useless.  You can probably do better creating your own from your tree.  Now, your DNA matches, that's a different story -- you can take them to the bank.  I have taken every DNA test and documented the results in these articles:

1) https://rowlandgenealogy.com/dna-testing-case-study/

2) https://rowlandgenealogy.com/dna-ancestry-heritage-tests-complete-farce/

by Ron Rowland G2G6 Mach 1 (14.4k points)
edited by Ron Rowland
Ron, I think you are talking about two different things.  The DNA websites report, or try to, what your genetic makeup says about your ethnicity.  You probably didn't inherit your DNA equally from all four of your grandparents, and the percentages become more variable the farther back you go.

I have long thought that what people really want to know is their...sorry, I can't think of the right word...genealogical ethnicity*--i.e., where their parents, grandparents, etc., and particularly where the original immigrants in their various ancestral lines came from.  DNA simply can't tell you that.

*I think one way to describe that is "cultural ethnicity."
Ron is correct, and I don't think Julie is really disagreeing. The ethnic breakdowns DNA testing companies give you are not very good, and I would go so far as to say that they CAN'T be very good.

That being said, you CAN count on them, to a degree, as far as telling you, for example, how African, vs how European, you might be. That sort of thing.

Also, the "communities" given by AncestryDNA along with the ethnic breakdown are astonishingly accurate, in my experience. But they are NOT part of the ethnic mix given.

The real genealogical value of DNA is in your DNA matches with other people, but people don't know that, and that's not what sells.

Here is some evidence showing that GEDmatch’s Oracle-4 ethnic origins estimates are fairly accurate: https://www.wikitree.com/wiki/Space:Autosomal_DNA_Ethnic_Admixture_and_Ancestry

That is to say, if all your known ancestry is from one country, then Oracle-4 is good at determining what your country of origin is (without knowing your ancestry).

Peter, perhaps I'm looking at it wrong, but I could not find any evidence on that link suggesting the GEDmatch estimates are accurate.  In fact, most of the entries have been stricken through.

There are dozens of different ethnic origin reports available on GEDmatch, and Oracle-4 is not one of the 7 basic models (each with about a dozen sub-models that need to be selected).  I do not see how to select the Oracle-4 model.
Ron, I don't even understand how to make sense of those GEDmatch reports!  

And Peter, if all my known ancestry was from one country, why would I be particularly interested in an ethnicity report?

Frank, I agree that ethnicity estimates seem fairly good at distinguishing between African and European ethnicity, for example.  But beyond that, I have a hard time finding evidence that the ethnicity estimates, as they change over time, are getting any better.

I was surprised when I looked at Ancestry a couple days ago and found that my own ethnicity now shows up as 46% Scotland.  That makes no sense at all to me.  Then when I click on "Scotland," Ancestry tells me it's "Primarily located in: Scotland, Northern Ireland."  The accompanying illustration appears to also include part of France.  I find this information useless!

Hello Julie,

Some people believe the ethnicity reports are useless.  The fact that Oracle-4 can usually determine a testee’s ancestral origin (when all their ancestry is from one country without knowing the testee’s ancestry) is evidence that the ethnicity report is not useless.  Imagine a testee has a 20 cM segment that matches other testees who only have ancestry from Finland.  That is very good evidence that testee has a Finnish ancestor.  Run a One-to-many report for any of the Finns at


All of their matches more than likely have some Finnish ancestry.

Hello Ron, The 3 out of 38 entries which have been stricken through had a public family tree and changed their family tree to private.  The entries are still accurate.
I agree with Julie.  Being able to identify the country when all your ancestors are from the same country is not a ringing endorsement.  I
Peter, wouldn't it be equally likely that the Finnish match had an unknown immigrant ancestor some generations back?
Hello Julie,  Please explain how it is equally likely that the Finnish match had an unknown immigrant ancestor some generations back.

Peter, the scenario as I understand it is this:  Two people share a 20-cM DNA segment, for which they have not identified the shared ancestral couple.  (If that is the only shared segment, they could be third to fourth cousins, on average, but possibly closer or more distant relatives.)

One person, say, an American, has not identified the national origin of all his ancestral lines.  The Finnish person thinks he has, but has not studied his distant ancestors in any depth.

In those circumstances, maybe some people would assume that the shared ancestors were Finnish, but I see no reason to jump to that conclusion.  I know little about Finland, but a quick glance at the Wikipedia article makes me think they probably had significant migration into their country over their history.

Hello Julie,

If you look at the ancestries of the Finns at https://www.wikitree.com/wiki/Space:Autosomal_DNA_Ethnic_Admixture_and_Ancestry#Finland 

you can see that much of their ancestry is known and they are from what is now Finland.  I believe it is more likely that the unknown parents of those earliest known ancestors were of Finnish ethnicity. I don’t believe it is equally likely that the 20 cM match could be from an ancestor with a different ethnicity.  Yes at some point there will be immigrants, but it is more likely the shared 20 cM segment is due to shared “Finnish” ancestry.

It's funny that the Finns, specifically, should come up.

Of my 32 gt-gt-gt grandparents (b ~1800):

  12 were born in Ireland

  10 were born in German-speaking areas along the western and southern edge of Germany

  10 were born in the US (6 in PA, 2 in NY, 1 in NH, 1 in NJ)

One of the NYers is 1/2 Scottish, 1/2 Great Migration; the other is fully Great Migration (English). The NH guy is clearly has English roots (plus possibly some Scotch-Irish). 3 of these PA ancestors are likely 100% Pennsylvania Dutch.

The point is, 28 out of 32 are NOT Finnish, yet I have a whole bunch of Finnish DNA matches on MyHeritage. My Finnish roots can only come from 3 gt-gt-gt grandparents from PA, and one from western NJ (right across the river from Delaware). THAT means my Finnish ancestors got off the boat in the mid-1600s, when the Swedes (Sweden included Finland then) settled New Sweden. My NJ gt-gt-gt grandfather is known to have had a great-grandmother who was from a Finnish family among the New Sweden colonists, but his mother is unknown - there are plenty of places for other Finns of New Sweden to show up on that part of my tree.

The biggest Finnish segment that I can easily find is 13.5cM, and it's probably from at LEAST 8 generations ago. It looks like I have at least half a dozen such segments.

When I look at the matches for my distant Finnish cousins, and try to see how they're related to each other, I come up pretty empty. I get the impression that Finland is a pretty endogamous place.

I also get a few Swedes in my matches also, undoubtedly for the same reason.

My ethnic breakdown on MyHeritage is hilarious. It includes 36.6% Scandinavian (which does NOT include Finland) but 1.9% Finnish. Obviously, I am MUCH less than 4/32=1/8=12.5%, as explained above, Scandinavian! It also has 1.4% Italian (um, no) and 1.6% "West Asian" (again, just "no").
+5 votes

Hi Steve,

Thank you for sharing. I’ve come to appreciate the strength it takes to be vulnerable in DNA communities. 

Based on what you shared: your family’s self-identification as German, the ancestry dna test presenting comparable results, the FTDNA results differing in what seems like a ‘wildly different way’, I don’t believe to be a mistake. Here’s why.  

DNA percentages is based on reference populations available in the data the company is testing you against and data of other persons having used the same company, whom may not be in the compiled standard reference population. They also test different markers. 

Over time, your Ancestry results will likely begin to look more like the FTDNA results as Ancestry updates their databases and can provide similar results with a better degree of confidence. 

I’m not a professional, my understanding of this comes my experience having tested and receiving unexpected results.  I ended up making my whole family test.  

I think you’re family has a history of (hidden) Shepardic Judaism.  Most people are aware of the forced exodus of Jews from Germany. But, fewer people are aware of the exodus of Jews from France to the Rhineland. 

How does all of this relate to you and your results? Jews also experienced the same persecution in Spain. There was an exodus from Spain as Jews fled toward the Iberian peninsula in the 1400s.  This is why you may be both German and also from “North Africa, Malta, Arabia, Syria and Iraq, Bedouin and [the] Indus Valley.”   

Your relatives may have relocated again,  integrating with another Jewish practicing community (possibly of Germans).  

I heard whispers of African Jews but I didn’t believe it until I received my test results.  I also have German (and archaic German),Wales, Ireland, Bedouin, Mozabite Berber, archaic African, Siberian, Moroccan, Australian, Melanesian, etc.  

As I conduct the research, I’m finding communities and networks were not established in the Americas, they were re-established…Masons, Scottish Rite, Knights of Templar, royal hierarchies etc., which pre-date modern social constructs of ‘race’ and ‘ethnicity’. 

I hope this helps.  Wishing you peace and an understanding which surpasses all. 

Kind regards,

Angel Horton 

by AD Horton G2G Crew (340 points)
Thank you for a great answer.  I had also uploaded to Myheritage and it was finally processed.  The result was surprising close to what I expected originally.  So I'm still confused with FTDNA, but for now I will set the FTDNA things aside, I have more than enough data to keep me busy from the other sites. Thanks again for the great answer.
+2 votes

Hi Steve!  Thanks for joining our one world WikiTree!  

You can have autosomal genetic matches on any of these surnames, including the question marks:  https://www.wikitree.com/treewidget/Heininger-16/10  There are lots of places for auDNA other than German to appear in your DNA.

If you join the WikiTree DNA Project, the administrators might be able to tell more if we can see your kit matches.  https://www.familytreedna.com/groups/wiki-tree/activity-feed

Each testing company uses different data to determine ancestral origins, so your Ancestry results will be different from your FTDNA results.  My 23andme results are quite different from my FTDNA results.  

by Kitty Smith G2G6 Pilot (559k points)
Likewise, the dna match results can be wildly different depending on who else uses the site--few of my closest relatives have used GEDmatch or FTDNA, but there's a bunch of closer ones on 23andme and Geni.  So when I look at FTDNA, there's 1 second cousin and then it immediately goes to like, 4th cousins.  And within that it can also depend on just how the site chooses to display relatives--Geni limits it to 5th cousins, whereas MyHeritage lists basically anyone who could be even slightly related to me under 'distant cousin' so I have about 2000 matches there, and 90 on geni.
Thank you Kitty for the great answer.  Was playing today with the great wikitree tool for determining connections.  One of the categories is of course Scottish royalty, one of the surprisingly high percentages in my DNA ethnicity. So what the heck, let's check it out.  So I'm not only connected to a number of them, 12 of them are my ancestors. All the way back to the year 810.  Maybe the reason this supposedly German guy likes Scottish music?

Related questions

+10 votes
4 answers
+5 votes
5 answers
453 views asked Apr 29, 2019 in Genealogy Help by Deborah Nystrom G2G6 Mach 1 (10.6k points)
+10 votes
6 answers
426 views asked May 25, 2018 in The Tree House by Shirlea Smith G2G6 Pilot (186k points)
+8 votes
6 answers
205 views asked Sep 18 in The Tree House by Pat Miller G2G6 Mach 4 (43.3k points)
+11 votes
9 answers
587 views asked Jun 7, 2020 in The Tree House by Pip Sheppard G2G Astronaut (2.2m points)
+10 votes
2 answers
+17 votes
11 answers
+12 votes
1 answer
+3 votes
1 answer
189 views asked Oct 22, 2019 in The Tree House by Susan Keil G2G6 Mach 5 (59.2k points)

WikiTree  ~  About  ~  Help Help  ~  Search Person Search  ~  Surname:

disclaimer - terms - copyright