Most recently in September 2018, Ancestry did a major update to its ethnicity estimates for its $99 test. Curious to find out how my new results would compare to the ones I got before, I logged back onto the site.
It's been about three years since I first sent my spit over to Ancestry to see what the company could tell me about my heritage. My AncestryDNA kit arrived in the mail in a small box the size of a hardcover book.
Opening it up, I found a collection tube (and a bag to seal it in once I was done), a set of instructions, and a smaller box to send it all back in.
After a few minutes of dutifully spitting into the collection tube, I was ready to get my sample ready to ship. Following the kit's directions, I placed a special cap on my tube designed to release a chemical solution (the blue stuff on the top) to get — and keep — my spit in tip-top shape for sequencing.
Once that was done, I placed it into the bag, packed it up in the box, and it was off on its way to Ancestry's labs in Utah.
About six weeks after that, I had my results. Right off the bat, I was clued into my Scandinavian heritage.
Here's what the results looked like on a map. Apart from a trace 1% of DNA from Asia, roughly 99% of my genes suggested European roots, particularly from the Scandinavian countries of Norway and Sweden. By my own rough calculations, I should be 50% Norwegian thanks to my dad's side of the family and at least 37.5% Swedish, so the results weren't super surprising to me.
A few years ago, when I first submitted my spit for ancestry results to 23andMe and Ancestry, the two platforms didn't pick up much on my Finnish ancestry, which my mom informs me comes from her side of the family.
Three years later, I decided to pull up my results again. On 23andMe, my percentage of Finnish ancestry had jumped up to 6.3%. The results had last been updated at the end of December 2018. "Your Ancestry Composition is a living analysis that improves over time as our research team gathers additional data and updates our algorithms," the site told me when I clicked on the information symbol next to the date.
Curious to see what had changed on Ancestry, I logged in for the first time in a while. What I found surprised me.
A lot had changed. When I first got my results, I had been told I was 90% Scandinavian, not breaking out Norway from Sweden. According to the most recent update from September 2018, I was a whopping 71% Norwegian, 17% Swedish, 6% English/Welsh/Northwestern Europe, and 4% Finnish, up from less than 1%. This slide shows how my initial results compared to my updates.
Finding out that I was about 17% Swedish was a major surprise, considering I'd expected to be about 37.5%. Turns out my mom's ancestors must have had more ties to their Nordic neighbors than we had realized.
While my DNA hadn't changed, the information Ancestry uses to interpret my DNA had. "Your ethnicity estimate is based on the data we have and the methods we use to compare your results to that data," the site said in an FAQ page attached to the new results. "Because we're always collecting more data and our methods are constantly improving, your estimate may change over time." In September, Ancestry attributed the changes in part to a new algorithm that analyzes longer segments of genetic information.
The results got even more granular than at the country level. I was told there were two places in western Norway where I likely came from (information corroborated by my family).
After digesting that newfound information, I played around with a feature Ancestry's had for a few years now called DNA Story. It shows the migration patterns of my ancestors from the 1800s on. My family on my dad's side had moved from Norway to farmland in Iowa and Illinois, lining up with what Ancestry told me.
Ultimately, finding out the more granular details of my ancestry won't change the way I think about my heritage, though I might lead with my Norwegian roots instead of Swedish going forward. And I might have to ask my grandparents to take the test to get to the bottom of this.