• Carla | The Redbud Genealogist

Ancestry Updates Ethnicity Database... Again

My Ancestry results have changed again!

Are you irritated that their results have changed... again? Why can't it just stay the same? Why can't Ancestry just leave it alone?

TRUST me. It's a good thing.

Ancestry's work to reach this level of precision is nothing short of impressive. And I expect it won't be last time they update the reference panel as the science advances. The transparency throughout the period of change alone...

I digress. Let's take a look at some key facts.

AND... in the spirit of transparency... View the Ancestry 2018 white paper here and the Ancestry 2020 white paper here.

Reference Panel

September 2018 - 16,638 individuals

September 2020 - 44.703 individuals


September 2018 - 43

September 2020 - 70


September 2018 - groups/regions

September 2020 - groups/overlapping regions

In order to make your results even more precise and accurate, Ancestry increased the reference panel by 168%. And they don't let just anybody onto the reference panel! In order to be considered for the reference panel a person must have a paper trail of their family history and a part of your DNA must match those already in the reference panel. The larger the reference panel, the more refined our results will become when finding which groups we match. In additional to the large increase, the quality control of those allowed to be in the reference panel has been redefined to eradicate statistical error and raise the confidence level.

The number of groups you can match has also increased; by 63%. Now, instead of seeing one group of 'England, Wales and Northwestern Europe', you might see instead Scotland, Ireland, England & Northwestern Europe, and Wales separated. This shows the precision they've been able to achieve by not only increasing the reference panel, but also changing and adhering to strict standards of selection to the panel since the 2018 update. They also identified areas that were overrepresented or underrepresented and adjusted their reference panel to balance it out.

In this update, you will begin to see further refinements in and around the UK, northern Europe, Japan, China and India... broadly speaking... due to the composition of the reference panel as it is today AND the higher degree of accuracy and number of SNPs matched by the algorithm. Now... is the panel fully balanced and each population represented equally? Undoubtedly to a higher degree of confidence than the last update and most certainly when compared to the pre-2018 panel.

I would still like to see more discernment between Native American tribes. SO MANY of you have questions about tribal affiliation and citizenship!

Ancestry even adjusted the way they use the terminology to describe the people in an area with deep roots who share DNA. Before 2018, Ancestry used "regions" to describe the geographical areas where you match. In 2018, you see groups/regions being used more. This suggests they were seeing data from their updates of different cultures overlapping each other in the same area and that made it difficult to untangle one particular group. Now in 2020, we are seeing the terms 'groups' almost exclusively and sometimes 'overlapping regions' to show they now recognize multiple groups in a place.

The adjustments to the algorithm that matches your DNA against the reference panel only serves to refine what was already there but is now able to be discerned from other groups in an overlapping region.

And it will change again... with more refinements to the composition of the reference panel, groups and algorithm.

Ancestry has been hard at work to deliver more precise results for you. Instead of complaining, let's be grateful for their transparency. They recognized the over- and under-representation of certain groups, like Norway, in their panel before 2018. This forced them to look hard at the representation in the reference panel and more clearly define groups all over the world.

In my opinion, they are doing a fine job at it. And I'm happy to pull my Viking hat out of the closet again.

Transparency note: I am not affiliated with nor do I receive compensation in any way from Ancestry. I'm just REALLY supportive of how they're going about addressing the issues that plagued their reference panel for many years before the last update. Kudos.


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Member of Association of Professional Genealogists,

National Genealogical Society,

Oklahoma Genealogical Society,

International Society of Genetic Genealogy, and 

Boston University Genealogy Studies Program alumni.

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