New AncestryDNA results add confusion

I didn’t know what to expect when I heard that Ancestry.com was refining its ethnicity results for the DNA test customers.

AncestryDNA originally told me that I was 45 percent Finnish/Volga-Ural Russian, 51 percent Eastern European and 4 percent unknown. Now, I am 81 percent Europe East,  16 percent Finnish/Northern Russia, 2 percent Asia East and less than 1 percent Melanesian.

Talk about confusion. I have several family tree lines back to the 1600s and 1700s. My documented Russian ancestry comes from central Russia, northern Caucasus region and Volga-Ural Russia.

I have yet to find any ancestry from Finland or northern Russia. This Asia East ancestry could come from a far distant ancestor that I have yet to discover from Far East Russia.  The Melanesian ancestry could be meaningless.

I also have tested with Family Tree DNA, which didn’t give me any interesting information on my ancestor’s true roots. FamilyTree DNA determined I am 100 percent European, with ancestry that could be Basque, Finnish, French, Orcadian, Romanian, Russian, Sardinian, Spanish or Tuscan. That is hardly useful.

I have not tested with 23andme but it still seems AncestryDNA offers the most precise information on ancestral roots even though I cannot prove the latest results, except for East Europe. The highlighted area for East Europe covers my documented “German” ancestry from Poland, in addition to an area of Russia from where I don’t have any documented ancestors.

AncestryDNA charges $99 for its test and will likely offer a sale for the holiday season. It is worth the price if you have done enough work on your family tree or just want the information.

FamilyTreeDNA makes interesting change and offer

Two years ago, I decided to tryout DNA testing for my genealogical research. I first started with FamilyTreeDNA because it has the largest database for DNA genealogy testing.

I had four pages of matches until a few weeks ago for the FamilyFinder test, which was advertised as a test that finds maternal and paternal relatives within 5-6 generations. So now, FamilyTreeDNA has decided to make improvements to its analyzing system to guarantee that matches are really within 5-6 generations.

It is great that FamilyTreeDNA wants to make sure that my matches fall within the time period promised on its website. But I still lost a few matches I have  spent time to determine which line connects our families. Now, FamilyTreeDNA has admitted its improvements have had some glitches so I am hoping some matches will return.

I also tested with AncestryDNA last fall after I was offered a free test to be part of the first group for the new test. I have 1,500 matches on AncestryDNA. So far, I have confirmed a German surname  with a match. A bunch of people have my Hoffmann surname in common but that does not guarantee that is where our families really connect.

All of my matches on AncestryDNA are not closer than 5th-8th cousins so the test’s confidence level that these people are my relatives is very low. With having 100 percent eastern European ancestry, I am not going to get those great matches as people with British Isles, French and Italian ancestry until DNA genealogy tests become more popular.

It is pretty obvious why FamilyTreeDNA decided now to guarantee the FamilyFinder matches will be within 5 to 6 generations for customers’ paternal and maternal lines. AncestryDNA is taking away customers from FamilyTreeDNA. It is hard to compete with Ancestry.com when it offers more information with its new DNA test and has a very popular genealogy website.

Another change FamilyTreeDNA made to attract more customers is offering a $39 Y-DNA12 test, which only men can take to analyze their paternal line. The test is pretty weak. It will find matches within 29 generations, but there is an advantage to getting this test. After taking this test, you can wait for a sale on upgrades for the stronger Y-DNA tests. FamilyTreeDNA has sales throughout the year.

DNA genealogy testing for those with Russian and Ukrainian ancestry is a gamble but it may be worth trying the $39 test. The Y-DNA test may be the best route for starting in DNA genealogy testing if you can get a bunch of male relatives from different family lines.

FAQ- DNA testing for Russians and Ukrainians

Updated September 13, 2019

Are Russians and Ukrainians really doing DNA testing yet?

The number of matches I have with Russians and Ukrainians have made DNA testing worth it. The largest Russian genealogy forum has an active section for DNA testing. The interest in DNA testing is growing each year in the former USSR.

Many Russians and Ukrainians escaped from the USSR so those families are living worldwide. Great potential exists in DNA testing for those with Russian and Ukrainian ancestry.

Why should I do DNA testing?

You won’t know what will be found until you complete a test. You may find unknown close relatives or fill in family tree gaps.

I have not had much success with my family tree. Should I still do DNA testing?

Yes, but do not expect DNA testing to make up for the lack of research on your family tree. Maybe some of the people with whom you are matched will be eager genealogy researchers who will be extra helpful to determine who is your shared common ancestor.

Can both women and men take these tests?

Yes, but only men can test for their paternal line, the Y-DNA test. Men also can test for their maternal line, the MTDNA test, and the combined paternal and maternal lines test, the autosomal test. Women can take the MTDNA test and autosomal test. The autosomal test does not tell whether matches come from the maternal or paternal line until the tester’s mother and/or father have tested with the same company.

Who should I have tested?

I recommend asking the oldest relatives to take the tests first and then test yourself and close relatives. If you are struggling with your family trees, test the males from the different family surnames. That will make it easier to determine how the matches are connected to your family.

What are the most popular DNA companies for genealogy research?

The main DNA testing companies for genealogy are Ancestry FamilyTreeDNA, 23andme and MyHeritage.  Only FamilyTreeDNA and MyHeritage ship their tests to Russia and Ukraine.

How can I learn more about what their tests offer?

See the reviews of the companies here:

A Russian-American’s insider view of the 23andme Autosomal Test
A Russian-American’s inside view of the new AncestryDNA test
A Russian-American’s insider view of the MyHeritage DNA test
A Russian-American’s insider view of the Family Tree DNA’s Family Finder Test

Which DNA testing company do you recommend?

See this post for recommendations, based on various interests and backgrounds- Guide for making the best choices in DNA testing

Which tests do you recommend?

For testing male lines, I recommend starting with the Y-DNA37 test from Family Tree DNA. Once matches are seen at this level, try an upgrade to the tests with more DNA markers  for stronger matches. DNA companies seem to have a larger database for western European ancestry. It is better to play it safe with Russian and Ukrainian ancestry.

I recommend the mtFullSequence test from Family Tree DNA for studying the maternal line. The weaker maternal line tests only will give you matches so far back in time that it will be impossible to determine common ancestors. You will need to know many of your maternal surnames.

The autosomal test that combines maternal and paternal lines can be done with the four DNA testing companies.

How much do DNA tests cost?

The Family Finder test (autosomal) is $79 US dollars at Family Tree DNA. The same test is $99 US dollars at Ancestry and 23andme and $79 US dollars at MyHeritage. Y-DNA tests start at $169 US dollars at Family Tree DNA.

When is the best time to buy DNA tests?

The four companies are competing for customers so sales are held throughout the year. The biggest sales seem to be held during the holiday season. After the holiday season period, watch the four big companies’ websites for sales or follow them on Twitter to learn quicker about their sales.

Here are the Twitter pages: Family Tree DNA, 23andme, MyHeritage and Ancestry.

 

Free DNA genealogy database saves money

DNA genealogy testing can get pretty pricey. Many testing companies charge expensive fees to transfer DNA information into their databases and require retesting sometimes.

If you have tested with FamilyTreeDNA or 23andme, you can use a free website –GedMatch– to see whether you can find matches with the company you haven’t used yet. GedMatch tells you how many generations you are separated from your matches, something I have not seen on AncestryDNA or FamilyTreeDNA.

GedMatch provides easy directions for uploading your X-chromosome and autosomal data. The site also allows you to upload your gedcom files for your family trees and then searches for matching surnames in the database’s family trees.

People with Russian and Ukrainian ancestry are underrepresented in DNA genealogy testing. I no longer get excited when I see matches with Russian and Ukrainian ancestry on AncestryDNA. Few people who do DNA genealogy testing have detailed information on that ancestry. The same is true on FamilyTreeDNA.

Hopefully, more people will keep uploading their DNA information to GedMatch. The website stops me from spending $299 for 23andme’s genealogy DNA test. I e-mailed 23andme about whether my data from FamilyTreeDNA could be transferred to its database. The customer service representative gave me an answer that the company analyzes DNA differently from FamilyTreeDNA so transfers are not possible. Yeh, right.

From the websites of FamilyTreeDNA and 23andme, I still cannot figure out which company has the larger database. So I will use GedMatch to find my matches from 23andme.

I wish there was a Russia- or Ukraine-based DNA genealogy testing company for me to transfer my DNA testing information. My matches would be so much closer by generations.

Ancestry.com answers my question on identity

I finally know my ethnic background, thanks to the newest DNA test offered by Ancestry.com. I am 51 percent Eastern European and 45 percent Finnish/Volga-Ural. Only 4 percent of my ancestry is a mystery.

In plain English, 51 percent of my ancestry comes from the former Eastern Bloc countries, plus Montenegro, Greece and Macedonia, and 45 percent of my ancestry comes from western Russia and its neighbor, Finland.

I was part of the beta group for this new test. I mailed my DNA sample in November and only received the results last week. The results included almost 100 matches for possible 5th to 8th cousins. I am pretty happy with all the results after I only paid for the test’s shipping. More matches will be posted as they arrive.

These results explain why I have several matches on FamilytreeDNA.com with people in Finland. I have yet to prove a connection to any matches on ancestrydna.com or FamilytreeDNA.com. I have a match on FamilyTreeDNA.com for a third cousin whose family lived near one of my great-grandmother’s birthplace. I am waiting for my match to complete research in Polish archives to see whether we can document our connection.

I need stronger matches than a bunch of fifth to eighth cousins to make DNA genealogy well worth it for me. A fifth cousin has a great-great-great-great-grandparent in common as the earliest possible connection.

It is easy to forget the true size of a family tree. Everyone has eight great-grandparents, 16 great-great-grandparents, 32 great-great-great-grandparents, 64 great-great-great-great-grandparents and 128 great-great-great-great-great-grandparents. Then, when a match arrives for a third cousin, you have to figure out which of the 32 ancestors is the common link. A third cousin could also be linked to a great-great-great-great-great-grandparent.

That is why knowing where your ancestors were born and lived are very important to make DNA genealogy worth the pricey cost. Maybe a good portion of long ago ancestors were born in the place where the family had lived for many generations. But one great-great-grandmother was born 220 miles west of where three of her siblings were born.

My biggest frustration with DNA genealogy is that some people I e-mail for information on their ancestors do not answer my e-mail messages. They assume it will be impossible to prove the connection. I do not understand why these people spend hundreds of dollars per test and do not give every match a chance to prove a connection.

But DNA genealogy is worth the money if you are willing to wait for the matches that will be easy to prove. FamilytreeDNA.com dominates the market for DNA testing so it is best to use that company. Hopefully, more people with ancestry from the former USSR will start using DNA testing for ancestry so I can finally make some more breakthroughs on my Russian family tree.