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    Can DNA Tests Tell You Your Ethnicity?

    Genetic tests are now capable of finding the ethnic composition of people. According to Ancestry statistics, over 30 million people have taken DNA tests, and 50% of these were for finding out their genealogy. 

    Although genetic testing was once the best way to discover health issues, today it’s all about finding where in the world your ancestors came from. This has to do mainly with the FDA stopping companies like 23andMe from promoting its health kits due to inaccuracies. 

    How Does DNA Testing For Ethnicity Work?  

    When it comes to the ethnicity test, the procedure of at-home testing is private, easy, and reliable. All you need to do is order a kit online and follow the instructions once it’s received. 

    Depending on the genetic testing company you choose, the collection method will vary. While some labs ask for a cheek swab, others may request you to spit in a test tube. Once you’re done with the genetic sample collection, send it back to the laboratory to receive your ethnicity results in a few weeks. 

    How does it work? First, the laboratory digitizes your genetic specimen to determine its nucleotide bases. Then, it’s compared against the library of other genetic samples to find out similar patterns. 

    As a result, the testing service algorithm figures out where your DNA came from, strictly based on its reference library. In such a case, there could be contradictions of ethnicity when you compare the same specimen via different testing companies. While this is a way to determine the race, there are other tests to assess paternal or maternal lineages. 

    Take a look at it below. 

    Mitochondrial DNA 

    Referred to as mDNA or mtDNA, Mitochondrial DNA is the genetic material inherited by the males and females from their mother. This DNA is acquired from the mitochondria of the maternal egg cell. 

    When you do an mDNA test, it reveals the migration outline of your ancestors on the mother’s side from hundreds and thousands of years ago. Haplogroup or the common ancestor shared by the genetic population is also revealed. Moreover, it doesn’t recombine with the genetic material of the father so, the mDNA of a person is identical to that of their mother’s. 

    mitochondrial dna

    Y-STR DNA 

    Generally known as the Y-DNA STR test, this genetic material constitutes half of the sex chromosome in males, and it’s inherited from the father. You might know it as the 23rd chromosome or the sex chromosome. This test is mainly for discovering ‘recent’ ancestry. It’s conducted between two males to determine their biological relationship. 

    Similar to mtDNA, this test reveals the haplogroup and the migratory routes of the paternal side of your family to thousands of years. This is because the Y-chromosome of the father is passed down to his son without drastic changes. 

    Autosomal DNA 

    This type of DNA refers to the 22 pairs of chromosomes minus the sex chromosomes. Autosomes are genetic material that come in equal parts from both mother and father as well as grandparents. Autosomal DNA Testing is used for expanding the family tree and for figuring out relatives up to five generations in the past. 

    Unlike mtDNA and Y-STR DNA, this test can uncover more about your relatives from both paternal and maternal sides at once. 

    What Will The Test Results Reveal? 

    The best thing about results from DNA testing for ethnicity is that they show the ethnicity estimates. This is where the percentage breakdown of race by nationality or haplogroup is revealed. For instance, suppose the result shows you’re 47% German. What this means is there’s a 47% chance your ancestors are from Germany. 

    Take a look at this video of Conan O’Brian on the Late Show and his groundbreaking results that prove 100% Irish ancestry due to inbreeding:

    African American 

    Up to 13.4% of US residents are African Americans. Among this, 58% of African Americans are seen with 13% of European ancestors, and 5% show Native American ancestry. According to historical information dating back to the 19th century, most of the said ethnicity of people settled down around the Chesapeake Bay. 

    Up to 75% of the African American ancestry estimates to West Africa, and Salas attributes this to slavery. This is the same reason why people of this ethnicity find it impossible to trace their ancestral tribes via checking up the surname, census, or land records. 

    Native American 

    When it comes to genetic testing the ethnicity of the Native Americans, the data available on Native American ancestry is limited. Indigenous people of the now-United States from the pre-Columbian era are termed as Native Americans. 

    Currently, 2.09% of the total US population, or 6.79 million people, are Native Americans. There are 574 federally-approved tribes, and this includes all the ethnicities of Alaska Natives as well. Determining the connection of a person’s maternal lineages to the respective Native American canonical haplogroups called A, B, C, D, or X is conducted by assessing Hypervariable regions one and two of the DNA. 

    Native American Tribes


    The highest selection of genealogy data is available amongst the European haplogroup. When it comes to Americans of European Ancestry, there are over 4.8 million Europeans in the US. The largest European ancestry groups are German Americans (13.9%), followed by Irish Americans (10%), English Americans (7.4%), Italian Americans (5.2%), and Polish Americans (3%). 

    History records over 57 million European immigrants came to the US in the early 17th century. This ethnic category’s subgroups are Eastern European Americans, Northwestern European Americans, and Southwestern European Americans. 


    Accounting for up to 2.6% of the total US population, Jewish Americans are defined as Jews by culture, nationality, religion, and language. The chief ethnic groups are Ashkenazi, Sephardi, Yemenite, and Mizrahi. According to the reports, up to 40% of Jewish ancestry (Ashkenazi mitochondrial DNA variation) finds its lineage in prehistoric Europe. 

    Over 95% of Jews in America are Ashkenazi Jews who came from France, Germany, and Eastern Europe. They’re mostly settled around New York, Miami, LA, Cleveland, Philadelphia, Baltimore-Washington, and San Francisco.

    Jews Celebrating Passover


    Americans with Asian heritage who come from East, South, and Southeast Asia constitute the majority of available Asian DNA. Accounting for up to 6% of the US population, the total Asian Americans in the US is estimated to 17,320,856. They’re primarily settled in California, New York, Texas, Hawaii, Florida, Virginia, Illinois, Washington, and Pennsylvania.

    This category’s largest ethnic groups are 3.79 million Chinese, followed by 3.41 million Filipino, 3.18 million Indians, 1.73 million Vietnamese, 1.7 million Koreans, and 1.3 million Japanese.

    Which DNA Test Is The Most Accurate For Ancestry? 

    Ethnicity predictions rely on the libraries owned by genetic brands; hence, they aren’t that reliable. This is because testing companies compare your DNA with the available reference points. The results of one company may not look identical to the ethnicity estimate of another. If your focus is on the accuracy of results, then it’s best to go with a popular or big service provider with a large library. 

    Whether you want to discover your ethnic history or connect with lost or unknown relations, the best way to find a reliable testing company is by reading their privacy policy. It can show you the type of security protocols it follows, such as sharing your genetic data without consent for research or with law regulators. 

    Further research might also reveal the total ethnic regions, population groups, and specimen collection methods. The following will compare and contrast Ancestry DNA, MyHeritage, and 23andMe so that you can pick the best option. 

    Started in 1996, this is one of the earliest direct-to-consumer DNA testing brands. 

    Here are the key things to know about this brand: 

    • Price varies from $59 to $100 
    • Largest ever database of DNA customers in the market representing over 60 geographical areas 
    • A pool of 15 million customers 
    • Spit in the tube method for collecting genetic material 
    • It can take anywhere from nine days to eight weeks based on demand 
    • Results displayed in a pie chart format that’s easy-to-understand
    • Tests for this company is performed by Quest Diagnostics
    • Opt-in family matching so that the right to find relatives is yours 
    • Users can adjust the privacy settings, and the results are also deletable 


    Founded in 2003, MyHeritage is currently available in 42 languages.

    Take a look at its key features and basics below. 

    • Costs start from $79
    • Results are generated fast, and you get it as early as four weeks 
    • 42 ethnic groups with main groups such as Africa, America, Asia, Europe, the Middle East, and Oceania 
    • Over 13 million databases and data referenced from MyHeritage Founder Populations Project
    • Specimen collected via cotton swab method 
    • Upload your DNA data for free to MyHeritage even if you tested with other brands 
    • Accurate identification of ethnicities instead of large groups such as Eskimo & Inuit, Jewish groups (five), Baltic, Greek, Italian, Sardinian, Irish, Scottish, Welsh, Indigenous Amazonian, and Balkan 
    • Results are available in animation and pie chart formats
    • Users can delete their genetic information from MyHeritage as and when they wish
    • Easy to disable Smart Matching and DNA Matching 


    Synonymous with DNA testing in North America, 23andMe was officially launched in the US in 2007.

    The following describes the important attributes of this provider.  

    • Costs vary from $89 to $100 based on where you buy 
    • Database of 12 million customers, 2,000+ geographical regions, 45 distinct populations, and reference dataset of 14,437 people
    • Patrilineal and matrilineal migration paths revealed in results 
    • Adjustable settings for privacy 
    • Option for deleting data except for the ongoing research 
    • DNA diagnostic conducted by LabCorp
    • Users can opt-in for getting matched with relatives and family members on the 23andMe database 
    • Genetic specimen collected as saliva into a tube 
    • Results take two to three weeks to generate 
    • Customers can receive results in pie charts or via hardcover book (extra $40)

    Bottom Line 

    Are you considering getting an ethnicity test online? All you need to do is order the kit, send back the sample, and you’ll obtain the genealogy estimate within a month or two via email. 

    Users can find out their ethnicity via autosomal testing while paternal lineage is found via Y-STR and maternal via mtDNA diagnostics. The results will reveal the percentage mix of your DNA based on haplogroups like African American, Native American, European, Jewish, and Asian. 

    Depending on the test you choose, you’ll also find out where your ancestors came from, including a map of their migratory route. While there are hundreds of brands to choose from when trying to determine ethnicity DNA, not all provide accurate results. For maximum accuracy, the best way is to sign up with a company with a large reference database and reliable policies like, MyHeritage, or 23andMe.