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  • Writer's pictureSabrina Riley

Surprising DNA

Let me start by saying I'm not an expert on DNA testing for genealogy. In fact, I've only recently started to get into this new world. This blog post represents my first attempt to really formalize my thoughts and communicate what I've learned from my test results.

I used's autosomal DNA test. Autosomal chromosomes are those we inherit from both parents as opposed to mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) which is passed down from mothers only and Y chromosome DNA (Y-DNA) which is passed down only from fathers to sons. Information provided by Y-DNA testing is limited to the direct paternal line and of course is only available for males. In a pedigree chart this is the upper most line. Information provided by mt-DNA testing is limited to the direct maternal line or the lowest line in a pedigree chart. By contrast, analysis of autosomal DNA provides a more complete picture of one's ancestry including ethnic estimates of all collateral ancestral lines. In addition, DNA test participants are matched with likely relatives among other participants which is useful in extending a family tree and confirming relationships.

I've been collecting information about my family for nearly thirty years, so I thought I'd have a good idea of what my DNA results would look like. Turns out, I was completely surprised. Not so much by the ethnicities it revealed, but by the composition of those ethnic groups.

First of all, I expected my British and German ancestry to be in fairly equal proportion. My father's family is predominantly English and Scottish. We've always believed the German influence to be strong in my mother's family through both the Menges and Fox lines with the understanding that Fox is an anglicanization of Fuchs. And of course I knew that recent ancestors came from Sweden, Poland, and France. And more recently we had determined that my great-grandmother's birth father was most likely Jewish. So how do these expectations compare with reality?

According to's estimate, it turns out I'm more British than I thought, much less German, and surprisingly much more Eastern European. Estimates are an average of forty separate analyses run for a region. In addition to the average, the probable range is also reported. The smaller the probable range the more accurate the estimate. So here's my summary:

Great Britain: 56% (36%-79%) - the typical native is 60%. Lines this blood probably came from include Pusey, Morris, Stevenson, Wood, Cornell, and others we have yet to learn more about such as Oliver, Hill, and Jarrett.

Europe East: 16% (7%-25%) - This was my biggest surprise as I was positive Europe West would be in second place. Lines this came from are likely mostly on my mother's side, but truly have yet to be identified other than Monheit and Gourski/Gureski.

Scandinavia: 8% (0%-22%) - As my Swedish ancestry, the Hanson line, is well documented this is no surprise.

European Jewish: 6% (3%-9%) - This was the next biggest surprise. Not the Jewish blood, but that the percentage came ahead of Europe West. Again this is the Monheit line.

Europe West: 5% (0%-18%) - Still shaking my head over this being so low. I honestly would not have been surprised if this region was my largest percentage, which makes it all the more intriguing that it comes last. Lines I expected to be in this group are Hoseit, Menges, and Culver. But now the question is whether these lines have eastern European origins.

In addition there were trace amounts of DNA from Ireland, Italy/Greece, Iberian Peninsula, Africa North, Caucasus, and Asia South. Trace amounts of DNA are considered much less reliable than the areas included in the full estimates. They are so small they may be an anomaly rather than part of one's ethnicity. However, having seen my great aunt's DNA estimates, her results also included trace amounts from some of these regions. And when you consider Rome's onetime occupation of Britain or the shared Celtic heritage in both Ireland and Britain it is not hard to imagine how some of these trace regions might have ended up in my DNA.

So what does this all mean? For one thing, Europeans are of just as much mixed blood as Americans. I used to think of Germans as full-blood Germans, French as full-blooded French, and so on. Studying DNA demonstrates that migration over centuries has mixed up DNA everywhere. For another, we have a lot more work to do on all of our supposedly German lines of ancestry. For example, Johann Adam Menges may have immigrated from western Germany, but where did his ancestors come from?

It would also be really interesting to have more family members participate in's DNA testing and see what turns up because DNA does vary between family members. Close family members such as parents/children and siblings share about 50% of their DNA. Grandparent/grandchild share about 25%. First cousins typically share 12.5%. And the more distant the relationship, the less DNA is shared and the less confidence there is in the DNA analysis. Family Tree DNA provides a chart which shows the expected amount of DNA shared between family members of varying degrees.

In my next post I will talk about the Monheits and the reason I decided to have my DNA tested.

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