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Ancestry Composition: The Basics

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New 23andMe Experience | Old 23andMe Experience

New 23andMe Experience

Explore the genetic ancestry you inherited from your ancestors—on both sides of your family—with your Ancestry Composition report. Your results reflect which populations your ancestors belonged to before the widespread migrations of the past several hundred years. While paper records might tell you the country an ancestor lived in, your genetics can tell you which regions of the world your DNA comes from—sometimes revealing previously unknown migrations or hidden ancestries. We recommend that you use your genetic reports together with your family history to build a complete understanding of your ancestry.

This article will briefly highlight the different ways the Ancestry Composition report displays your genetic ancestry. Follow along in your Ancestry Composition report as we tour each section. 

Map View | List View | Ancestry Timeline | Parental Inheritance | Chromosome Painting

Map View

You will see a map highlighting the regions of the world that are associated with your Ancestry Composition near the top of the main page of your report. The map is helpful if you want to quickly view all of the regions where Ancestry Composition was able to detect ancestry in your DNA. Learn more about how Ancestry Composition assigns your genetic ancestry.


List View

Below the map, you will see a list of the regions your ancestors likely lived in before the widespread migrations of the past several hundred years. The populations are organized in a hierarchy, which reflects the genetic structure of global populations. For example, Britain and Ireland are part of Northwestern Europe, which is part of Europe.

Click on each population you were assigned to learn more detail about your genetic ancestry. You can learn more about the history and/or location of the region by reading the description that appears at the bottom of your list. To see all of the different reference populations, click the “See all 31 tested populations” link. Learn more about our reference populations.


Ancestry Timeline

In the Ancestry Timeline section of your Ancestry Composition report, you can find out how many generations ago you may have had a single ancestor who descended from a single population. Located below the list of your populations, the Ancestry Timeline section may be helpful for learning about your genealogy, in figuring out from which ancestors a particular ancestry may have been inherited, or in helping to piece together the history of their likely migrations.

When viewing your timeline, start on the left and work your way back in time as you move to the right. If you inherited a certain ancestry from multiple independent ancestors, the estimated generation may be impacted. 


Parental Inheritance

If you connect with one or both of your biological parents, you will get an extra result! When you connect with a parent who is also a 23andMe user, Ancestry Composition will automatically update to display which portions of your ancestry came from which parent. Connecting with a parent may also increase the resolution of your assignments*: for example, more Scandinavian and less Northern European. Learn more about the benefits of connecting with a parent.

Connecting with a parent isn’t an option for everyone. While a parent is needed in order to display which portions of your ancestry came from which parent, there are some things that you might be able to infer about your parents based on your Ancestry Composition alone.



*An increase in the resolution of assignments can also occurs when a son or daughter is connected.

Chromosome Painting

The Chromosome Painting section, located after the Parental Inheritance section, shows a colorful representation of the 23 pairs of chromosomes that make up your genome. The chromosomes are shown in pairs and labeled with numbers (1 through 22) or the letter X; females will see two copies of the X chromosome, while men only see one copy of the X chromosome.

You can hover over or click on the different ancestries in your Chromosome Painting to learn where they’re found in your genome. The gray regions in chromosomes 13, 14, 15, 21, and 22 represent parts of the genome where 23andMe doesn’t test any markers because the DNA sequences in those regions are repetitive and hard to measure.


Common Questions

I received “broadly” or “unassigned”, does that mean you didn’t test me at those regions?

No, everyone is analyzed for every marker on our genotyping chip. The “broadly” and “unassigned” assignments mean we weren’t able to confidently assign the piece of DNA to a sub-population. Learn more in the Aggregation & Reporting section of the Ancestry Composition Guide.

Do the chromosome numbers (1 through 22) mean anything?

In Chromosome Painting, your chromosomes are shown in pairs and are ordered by the length of the chromosome—chromosome 1 is the longest and chromosome 22 is the shortest. You received DNA on these chromosomes from all of your recent ancestors. Because the DNA on these chromosomes is randomly shuffled each generation, it is the the length and the number of segments from a particular ancestry, not the specific chromosome number (e.g. chromosome 1), that is informative about your ancestry.


Old 23andMe Experience

The Ancestry Composition feature tells you what percent of your DNA comes from each of 31 populations worldwide. The results reflect where your ancestors - on both sides of your family - lived before the widespread migrations of the past few hundred years.

This article will address the following questions:


Tracing Your Ancestry

The Ancestry Composition feature uses your autosomal DNA and X chromosome DNA. Both men and women inherited these types of DNA, however, there are differences in the way these types of DNA are passed down from generation to generation. 

  • Your autosomal DNA is the DNA you received from all of your recent ancestors, on both sides of your family tree. This is the same for both men and women. 

  • The number of copies of the X chromosome a person inherited depends on his or her genetic sex. Except in rare genetic conditions, women have two copies, one from each parent; men have just one copy, inherited from their mother. Due to the way the X chromosome is inherited from generation to generation, there are fewer ancestors that could have contributed to the DNA on your X chromosome. For example, the DNA on a male's X chromosome can only be traced to specific ancestors on his mother's side of the family.



There are a few controls in Ancestry Composition to help you explore your ancestry. Here are some tips for getting started:

  • You can zoom in to view the regional and sub-regional results by clicking on the zoom controls that appear next to the views dropdown, or by clicking on the population labels.
Screen_Shot_2013-05-16_at_11.21.11_AM.png Screen_Shot_2013-05-16_at_11.21.59_AM.png Screen_Shot_2013-05-16_at_11.22.14_AM.png  
  • There are 3 different views to explore in the feature; Map View, Chromosome View, and Split View. Map View and Chromosome View are available to all customers, while Split View is available only for members that have one or more genotyped parents with whom they are sharing genomes.
  • By changing the confidence threshold, you can see 3 levels of interpretation for your results, from Speculative to Conservative.
  • View all of the tips mentioned in this article below.


Common Questions

Why is my composition different than the composition for my sibling?

Unless you are an identical twin, you and your sibling received different segments of DNA from each of your parents. Siblings that share two parents, can expect to have only about 50% of their DNA in common. This means that 50% of your DNA is different than your sibling. These differences in the DNA you inherited from each parent can mean that you were assigned an ancestry that your sibling was not, or vice versa. 

Why isn't an expected ancestry included in my composition?

There are some populations - such as our French and German reference population - that are difficult to assign because DNA associated with these populations can also be found with some frequency in multiple regions. Instead of choosing arbitrarily from among these regions, the Ancestry Composition feature will label these type of segments as "Broadly" or "Unassigned". Only DNA that meets or exceeds our confidence thresholds will be assigned to sub-regional population - such as French and German.

Learn more about Broadly Assigned and Unassigned ancestry

Learn more about precision and recall in the Testing and Validation section of the Ancestry Composition Guide


Additional Resources


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