Question of the Week: If you've taken a DNA test, has it revealed any surprises?

+41 votes

Or should I say, any surprises you're comfortable sharing? :-)

My dad just got his results back, and he was surprised to find that he had more DNA from the British Isles than from Western Europe, specifically, Germany. We've always identified as being from the German immigrants who became known as "Pennsylvania Dutch."

It's going to be interesting applying his test info to his ancestors!

asked in The Tree House by Julie Ricketts G2G6 Pilot (239k points)
retagged by Julie Ricketts
My second cousin and I are not related. Of our over 1,000 matches each none are the same even. Our grandfather's were born at home to the same woman. So something happened with our grandparents or parents to make one of us not of the Willard line. Both of our father's are deceased so they can't test. My mom took the test so I know she is my mom.

Also my husband and I share .07%. Very distant.
That's one of those "oops". One of your other family members might know. It looks like there's a "secret" in the family. Whether or not grandpa knew

That info will be determined if the rest of the family knew. If you are the one who is related, your DNA would match the rest of the family, no problem finding out.

I have a similar case in my family, but everyone knew so I was able to track the line.
Yes. I'm of English/Scotch/Irish/German heritage... the typical white person in Canada. Apparently I have a long lost cousin living in Zimbabwe that is a match with me! I'm guessing who ever this person is, part of his or her family was from Europe before settling in Africa. Very cool!
I took a Y DNA test and also had a professional genealogist do some research to help me discover more clues about my paternal 2x great grandfather (John Short), died in Union County, NC in 1852-3 at 47 years old and I found out that he is not what his name is genetically. He is genetically connected to the Wests, Spears (Speirs, Speers). It has been determined that this happened due to several possibilities- illegitmate birth, adoption or some other unknown occurrence. This really blew me away. Anybody with those last names happen to have any family records? I know this is really a shot in the dark. ;-)
I had DNA maternal swab test done to prove to my son and his wife that I was indeed his birth mother. It was done on his end but i did receive the results. How and/or where do I give the result numbers to in order to find my descendants information?

Try a account. It will widen your DNA matches to find your Ancestors. A  account could help you as well. Ancestors and Descendants.

Terrie, It sounds like you did a mtDNA test and not an atDNA test. Only atDNA tests can be uploaded to GedMatch. Who did you do your test through?

After 72 years I finally found my Father who died on his ship in 1944 during 'Operation Infatuate' 1 November 1944. No one would tell me who he was when I was growing up, not even his name but with Y-DNA I discovered his Surname and a lot of Detective work through the Royal Navy records uncovered the rest.

Never give up - one day you will succeed.
Yes. Dad always told me we were English. I agree, but DNA also revealed we are also Irish. A huge surprise!
After an extensive search we found the father, mother, brothers and sisters of Pascal Cook (b.1815) after we were contacted by another member of the Cook family as his DNA was matched with another "Cook cousin" from my line. She and I "met" after I posted the quest on Wikitree...we share great-grandparents through my father. Ain't technology wonderful?

54 Answers

+32 votes
Best answer

Still haven't figure out how a descendant of the neighbor of my ggg-grandmother ended up being a match (and it's triangulated, with a 3rd cousin sharing the match as well).  And they were such a religious family!


answered by Gayel Knott G2G6 Mach 2 (20.2k points)
selected by Beatriz Santos
That's hilarious! :)

That's why most elaborate pedigrees are total dream-sheets.
One lying naughty granny every few generations throws every
tree topsy turvy.

Who knew that Poe was speaking about genealogy......."All that we see or seem. Is but a dream within a dream."

+19 votes
According to I don't have any British DNA, in spite of the fact that more than half of my ancestors were from England. This is apparently partly due to the settlement in England of Anglo-Saxons, Scandinavians and Irish.  It's also partly due to the specific DNA I inherited.  It also may result from the difficulty in telling those groups apart genetically.  They are pretty similar and have mixed a lot over the years.
answered by Allen Warner G2G Crew (900 points)
Ancestry only rates a 3 on a 1-10 scale on it's ancestry composition as they only test 26 groups and a total of 3,000 people.
My sister and I show up as sisters but she has major Irish and I have not a trace. I have major British and she has but a trace.
+20 votes
My DNA tests from FTDNA & Ancestry told me I am about 20 % Scandinavian. However, I have never found any ancestors from there. The ancestors I have found, using traditional research, are from England, Scotland, Holland, Germany & France. I always wondered , as a kid, if my family had ancestors from Scandinavia because I looked a lot like the Vikings they used to show in the movies.The DNA tests showed that I have certain genetic mutations only found in Norway/Sweden. I guess they raided these areas, settled & left no records.
answered by Doug Lockwood G2G Astronaut (2.1m points)
edited by Doug Lockwood
+27 votes
I took the DNA test looking for family members, and I was told by a few people close to me to not expect to find anything.

I ended up finding my half first cousin thanks to an AncestryDNA test, and consequently, the name of my mother's father. We hadn't known the name of her birth parents as she was adopted and since around mid-2015 or so I've been on this journey to find that side of the family.

That's certainly a happy surprise!
answered by G. Bartomeo G2G6 Mach 6 (69.2k points)
Congrats on the wonderful find!
+21 votes
I was surprised that I don't understand hardly any of the results and how much reading and work I need to do to understand even the basics.  :(
answered by Vincent Piazza G2G6 Pilot (235k points)
I feel your pain, Vincent! I'm trying to learn, but it's not an easy subject for me.

I now have my dad's DNA results to work through, too. I think I'm going to need some help.
Take a deep breath and allow yourself to be confused.  I know it sounds bad, but in a year you will understand so much more!  I, too, felt like I'd been dropped into the middle of a wild, stormy ocean of information and details. Build your tree; send out lots of emails to DNA cousins and in a while, you will have enough knowledge for some of it to make sense.

I walked through the DNA Confirmation help page today and managed to confirm both parents using my Dad's DNA and a cousin's. Working on some more distant cousins on my mom's side. It's starting to get a little clearer how to understand this. Just a little, though. ;-)

It's a long journey which requires patience and attention to detail, not unlike adding sources to profiles!  Persevere, all will become clearer over time!
+16 votes

Well this may sound a bit paranoid.  But I have little desire to get a DNA test.  The surprise I imagine is, the authorities showing up at my door to take me away because my DNA was found at some murder/crime scene. : )  

I know that sounds silly.  If someone really wanted somebody else's DNA.  There are a number of ways to get it.  

But I am only half joking!  

answered by Mary Cole G2G6 Mach 9 (97k points)
Fortunately for our sake, the DNA tests that we use for genealogy have very limited (if any) value as evidence in law enforcement cases:
Since I'm in the bone marrow registry for both civilian and military databases, I don't worry too much about crime scene dna, since they could find me that way and I'm comforted the know if I'm ever a missing person, my dna tests could verify my identity
I want to have my DNA tested as well, but there is a question with regard whether some day this information will be sold to insurance companies with regard to genetically predispositions toward certain illness.  I too am paranoid.  Could my information some day end up in the wrong hands?  Banks and businesses have problems with their data banks targeted and vital financial info stolen, what is to say that our information won't be stolen as well?  Neva
Your fear is reasonable. House GOP pushes a bill that will allow employers to allow employers to force employees to submit to genetic testing
Lol I was hesitant also
+25 votes

If I were you, I wouldn't take ethnicity percentages on the British Isles vs. Western Europe (Germany) as serious evidence of anything.  Judy Russell writes a DNA genealogy blog every Sunday and regularly warns against taking ethnicity percentages seriously - particularly at the country level in Europe:

The example she covers in the entry linked above is pretty similar to what you are describing.

Here is an older blog entry that goes into detail:

We do have hope though with ethncity predictions.  Ancestry just had a study published in a refereed academic journal on the methodology behind a new feature that it will be rolling out this Spring - genetic communities.  This sounds very promising with respect to providing analysis related to ethnicity that we can use in our genealogy research:

answered by Ray Jones G2G6 Pilot (130k points)
Really great advice, Ray! I need to share these articles with my father.
I agree.   DNA ethnic analysis is not yet ready for primetime.   But promise of ethnic analysis is one of their biggest sales gimmicks.

Why is it that over 1/2 of your new matches have no trees?   IMO, most test to learn if they are a rare descendant of the Lost Colony, or the 2nd cousin 11 times removed from Pocahontas.   They apparently are clueless to the fact that genealogy requires some personal effort.
Does anyone have any insight as to why there is so much interest in ethnic origins? What is the motivation?

I have encountered people who are obsessed with their ethnic ancestry, but care not a whit about their genealogical ancestry.

What goes on in their mind? Any ideas.
I have to admit - even though I am clearly not a fan of the science behind the ethnicity percentages, the marketing behind this is incredibly successful.

Ancestry DNA will likely reach 5,000,000 testers this summer - with a large portion of these tests being driven by their advertising campaign that clearly emphasizes the ethnicity percentages.  While I made fun of this campaign at first, because of the emphasis on ethnicity, I have to give Ancestry credit.  They clearly know how to get people's attention through the emphasis on ethnicity.  Having 5,000,000 tests in the database is going to be amazing.

Humorously - I have all of the ethnicity advertisements to thank for this massive autosomal DNA database that I use every day.
I don't get this interest in ethnicity. To me it is the least interesting thing to be learned from DNA. (IOW I could care less about ethnicity, mine or anyone elses. What interests me is genealogy, and health reports (which I got from 23andme, although I take them with a grain of salt, they have my eye color wrong and per 23andme I do not like cliantro, which is strange as I use it in just about everything from ceviche to spaghetti.
For YEARS, people have asked me if I'm part French.  In Canada, people have walked up to me and said, "Bonjour!" etc.  I thought it was my dad's side, but -- hello, my maternal line includes Sophia Boutelier of Etoben, France.  Then my genealog. research uncovered many Canadian cousins; some living in an island outside Quebec.  

Who knew?  But no, I haven't submitted DNA yet.
My family only first did the AncestryDNA tests this past summer - we didn't realize how new "Genetic Communities" are! I have a great example of how well that works, vs the ethnicity percentages.

My brother's girlfriend is 1/8 Italian, and she was estimated at 0% to 3% Italy/Greece, with the nominal number rounding to 0%. But the SAME TEST also put her in a Genetic Community called "Italians in Campania & Basilcata", which is the EXACT place in Italy her people came from!

Amusingly, my brother's Italy/Greece percentage came out to 11%  ( <1%- 21% ). In reality, we're 0% Italian - we're 100% Northern European. I have the exact same ancestry, and Italy/Greece wasn't even a trace amount for me.

In summary, the regions they give you for your ethnicity are generally on the right continent (or nearby!), but the percentages are scandalously inaccurate. The Genetic Communities I've seen are impressively ACCURATE, but sporadic in term of when they show up. My two brothers have an accurate community or two that I didn't get, and large fractions of are ancestry are unrepresented.
I have found through building my family tree based on records that the ethnic estimates are fairly accurate for me, my DNA should be about 75% English/Irish/Scottish, and supposedly 25% German/Polish from the side of the family I know little before they arrived in the US around the turn of the century - which I actually am 74% English/Irish/Scots, according to the DNA, but I was a bit surprised that the remaining 25% was divided between West, East. and South European, and Finland/Russia.
Jennifer, i think most people are genuinely curious about what admixture results will tell, even if their primary focus is using DNA as a tool for genealogical research.

and there are definitely plenty of folks that have tested who are only curious about their ethnicity and have no real interest in genealogy.

sadly though, i fear those obsessed with ethnic ancestry are mostly racists hoping to "prove" some kind of ethnic purity.
+36 votes
I found someone who shares 26% of my DNA. It turns out she is my half-sister who was adopted and looking for birth relatives. I'm 55 and she is 61.
answered by Jill Steinberg G2G1 (1.2k points)
Jill, I thought of you and Lisa just as soon as I read this Question of the Week. I'm so glad you both decided to join!
+14 votes
Ancestry recently advised me that a fifth cousin Robinson Chlcote had been found.

I've already posted six Robinson Chilcotes, none of them 5th cousins. a couple of 1sts, 4 or 4 removes, even one 8th, but no 5ths. Since all they gave me was his name, and I'm no longer in Ancestry, I'm at a loss.  My 4th GGF was a Robinson, he was the first, his mother's maiden name was Robinson. Yeah, a surprise.
answered by Tom Bredehoft G2G6 Pilot (179k points)

DNA predicted degree of kinship is very often not equal to your actual familial kinship.   Actual kinship and DNA likeness are 2 different things....usually similar, but sometimes quite different.

DNA kinship prediction is still an art, not yet a science...if it ever will be.
That's why you get different predictions of kinship from Ancestry, FTDNA, and MyHeritage......all from the same raw data.

I have an actual 3rd cousin, whom Ancestry gives DNA estimate of 5th - 8th cousin.   

+21 votes
In a very roundabout way. I got a 4th cousin match on Ancestry and there were no shared matches, so I was quite curious. It turned out that he was descended from my gg-aunt Hampson. Her husband was named Padwick, but he joined the British Army under the name Hale (his mother's maiden name), married as Padwick, and their daughters were registered as Hale. My match only knew as far back back as his g-grandmother, one of these daughters. All very nice, but nothing special. But as a result of this I added to my Ancestry tree and wrote up profiles on WikiTree, including a description of his tattoos from his Army records. And then, shortly after, I got an email from a young lady in NZ who had just joined Ancestry and was getting hints for Mr. Padwick in my tree. Turns out he had left England, and his family, and ended up in NZ in 1919. He married there and had another family; his daughter (grandmother of the young lady) recognized the tattoos I had included in his profile. He had told a completely untrue story of his life before NZ. If I hadn't followed up on that DNA match they might never have discovered his background ;)
answered by Chris Hampson G2G6 Mach 8 (80.5k points)
It's interesting to discover the scoundrels in our ancestry - I have a 6th great grandfather that left his wife and 9 children in New Hampshire, went to New York, married another woman and had 4 more children.  That wife died and he moved to Ohio and married another woman, she died within a year of their marriage, and he moved to Indiana and married yet another woman.
+13 votes
Like you I also found my ethnicity was predominately from Great Britain. I always thought I was mostly German since my paternal side is solid German.  However, my maternal side is solid English and Scottish.  I'm sure my siblings have a different mixture. My most useful DNA has been autosomal. My DNA matches opened up a whole new dimension to my genealogy this past year including direct Protestant ancestors from Rhode Island, and a Borden connection. I was able to confirm it also with documentation.  I'm currently finding another DNA match on an entirely different branch of my tree that would link me to President James Knox Polk. I want further validation however before I make that connection confidently.
answered by James Stratman G2G6 Mach 4 (48.6k points)
+14 votes

I found out my hapaloup group was I-M253, further reading on it I found that there is a Viking disease associated with it and I have it. It's commonly known as Dupertryns Contracture it affects the hands. The DNA maps from FTDNA push to the British isles, Sweden, Switzerland, So far i've connected with one 2nd cousin and another 2 to 4 will be getting back to me in a few days, he was at the rootstech conference and manages a couple of kits that link to my mothers side, DNA interesting stuff.

answered by Steve Stobaugh G2G6 Mach 1 (16.3k points)
Thank you for adding this comment. I have 8% Scandinavian genes and also have Dupuytren's Contracture. I had no idea they could be connected. I am so glad that I read your comment. Cue researching that connection!
The few doctors I've seen have said they believe its inherited and of European descent. The reading i've done on Dupetryns and some DNA articles mention Dupetryns as being the viking disease. Its interesting.
My mother was Bavarian and she had the contracture.  I did my DNA through ancestry and it came out as I expected.  My birth father was from Virginia and my mother German.  I was born in Germany.  My DNA came back as 49% Western Europe and 35% Great Britain, 16% other regions.  Pretty much what I expected.
Fascinating. Thank you for sharing this. A family friend has this contracture, and he always claimed to be of Viking heritage. Makes a lot of sense now! I suspect he doesn't know that his finger is a "Viking thing", but I bet he'd be proud of it!
+12 votes
The thing that's surprised me most in DNA is that there are so many matches on GEDmatch.  Literally thousands of certain matches of which only a small number of do I know how they connect to me.  It's a little better on AncestryDNA since many of them have trees for which I can look for surnames I can look for.  Another surprise is that i haven't been able to match with another active WikiTreer, though there are a few I know are relatives; just not close enough or the same link to mark as confirmed.  Some like you, Julie, have a connection, but I believe it's not a blood connection.
answered by Dave Dardinger G2G6 Pilot (354k points)
+17 votes
Not so much surprises but a deep satisfaction in finally knowing for sure. See, my mom was an "early" baby. The second DNA cousin I connected with, a third cousin once removed, comes in from her Dad's side so there's now no doubt. I wish she were here to tell but I like to imagine that she watches over my shoulder.
answered by Debi Hoag G2G6 Pilot (173k points)
+13 votes
My husband gave me an autosomal test over a year ago now through FTDNA.  I also uploaded GedMatch and found even more matches.  I also uploaded it to  Promethease for medical analysis.  I was surprised to find out that I was 45% British Isles (25% of my paper line is Scottish so I would have thought in the 20s to 30s...  but history may play a part here...  I have 12.5% French on paper and some showing as part of the British Isles.  

I have 26% Scandinavian which surprised me but it probably led to my paper German and Prussian ancestors.  One of my Gebhardt / Gebhart / Gebhard male cousins did a Y test and he had a lot of Scandinavian too.

I have 25% Southern Europe which makes sense for my glass makers who likely came from Italy up into Switzerland, Austria, Germany and France.  My glass makers make up 25% of my paper line and while they were French since the 1600s we know they came from Germany and Austria for at least the Stenger surname line and Feisthauer came from Faistau Austria.  

Finally I have 6% Finland and Northern Siberia which is probably a deep throw back because I have no idea who may have come from there.  

That completes my 98% European genes.   Then I have 2% Asia Minor which covers Turkey, Northern Syria, Cyprus, very Northern Iran, Armenia, Georgia, and Azerbaijan.  Once again, I can see the glass makers in my deep deep past moving from this area into Southern Europe like Greece and Italy.  Then in the 1400s and 1500s into Switzerland, Austria, Germany and by the 1600s those genes have hit France.  

So my paper line of 25% Scottish, 12.5% French, 12.5% Swiss and 50% combination of Germany, Austria, Prussia makes sense when I look at the DNA migration patterns.  

What is really fun is meeting all the really wonderful genealogy family oriented folks out there that I am cousins with!  Yeah!
answered by Laura Bozzay G2G6 Pilot (368k points)
From building my tree, I discovered that some lifelong friends that are twins, are my 3rd cousins!  Such a treat to discover that!
+13 votes
So far no unexpected close relatives showing up...

I'm 100% Euoropean which is divided in 73.4% Scandinavian, 8.9% British & Irish, 1.1% Finnish, 14.6% Broadly Northwestern European, 1.5% Eastern European, 0.4% Broadly European.

Living in Sweden, the high percentage of Scandinavian is no surprise but since I've found a Finnish ancestor in the 1600-something so I expected that to be higher.

Not to say that there can't be any surprises to come, one ancestor was a sailor...
answered by Maggie Andersson G2G6 Mach 5 (57.7k points)
edited by Maggie Andersson
+15 votes
I am searching for an unknown paternal line great grandfather.  I found a 67/67 YDNA match indicating a 90% probability of having a common ancestor in the last 5 generations but the auDNA shows basically no shared DNA (two pieces - 3cM and 1cM - don't count)  So either the YDNA is very stable in this family or random chance that these two share no auDNA.
answered by Catherine Ryan G2G4 (4.9k points)
Catherine, yDNA can provide useful information many generations further back than auDNA. So the fact that there's no shared auDNA likely just means that the yDNA connection is more than 5-7 generations further back.
+15 votes
I have done DNA tests on myself, my husband and both my parents. My mom found a cousin we never knew existed through a DNA match.

My mother's father is Irish, her mom is full German. For whatever reason, my mother has always identified more with her Irish side.

My father's father is from a long English ancestry, but his mother was from Ireland. She died when my grandfather was young and there with issues with living relatives about her Irish heritage, so he had a very uncomfortable relationship with her heritage.

They were absolutely stunned when the results showed that my Dad's DNA is more Irish than my mother's.

And I was surprised that because of the specific genes I got from each of them, I am more English than either of them.

All fascinating stuff!
answered by Laura Harlow G2G6 (8.4k points)
+17 votes
I have tested myself, both my parents, and my maternal grandmother. I am hoping to get more of my grandparents on board.

When I first got my results, I was surprised to see 24% Irish, as I have only found one Irish ancestress who lived long ago. All my identifiable ancestors from present day UK were English or Scottish. I'd originally assumed my British percentage would be much higher (It's less than 1%).

I also didn't quite expect the 20% Scandinavian. I'd expected to be mostly Eastern European (which I am, at 44%) and Western European (which ended up only being 9%). Now that I understand ethnicity results better, I don't take much stock in it.

Ethnicity wise, it was a surprise to see some African on my mother's DNA results. After seeing her mother's results and doing some DNA phasing on GEDMatch, I believe this is on her father's side. Definitely a surprise.

The other thing I got from my DNA results wasn't necessarily a surprise but a correction. My second great grandfather had a mystery mother. After being given his birth certificate, I finally had her name, age, and birthplace. I found a woman who fit this exact description and of course assumed her to be my 3rd great grandmother (maiden name Hoover, from Dayton, OH). After taking a close look at my matches, I saw someone who was a fairly close match and had ancestors named Hooven from Dayton. I looked into it on a whim and found ANOTHER woman named Nettie HooveN (not HooveR), same birthdate, birthplace, etc. I ended up being able to figure out that this Nettie Hooven was my actual ancestor, all from DNA. I'm still quite pleasantly surprised that I was able to do this.

My grandfather's grandmother was adopted, so I'm still hoping something will pop up to help me learn more about her origins and/or family.
answered by Chloe Stevens G2G3 (3.6k points)
+14 votes
I was so surprised to have 20% Irish.  I actually don't know of any Irish ancestors back through many generations -- so it might be there is some more searching to do -- I'm sure it was those rascally Armstrongs & Leadmans from Ohio that are driving me crazy.

All of your stories are so very interesting.  Thank you all for sharing!
answered by Kathy Zipperer G2G6 Pilot (173k points)

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