Map Your DNA Ethnicity v. Your Family Tree

Sunny Morton

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As soon as I tried FamilySearch’s new “Where Am I From?” family tree mapping tool, I wondered how my DNA ethnicity results would compare to my genealogical family tree. Here’s what I saw.

Map DNA ethnicity family tree FamilySearch IO.pngFamilySearch has launched a free, interactive Where Am I From? online activity for exploring ancestral origins. With this tool, “Users can see emigration and immigration movements of their ancestors on a map, discover their countries of origin, and learn the heritage and traditions of their ancestors’ homelands,” explains a FamilySearch press release. “The feature contains heritage-specific data for 240 countries and provinces.”

The tool pulls your family tree data from its FamilySearch Family Tree, so you’ll have the richest experience if you participate in that community-based tree. If you don’t, you can still use the tool, but the results may not be as complete or personalized.

Find the tool by logging in to your free FamilySearch account, rolling over the Activities tab and selecting Where Am I From? Then explore your personalized heritage map in four different ways:

FamilySearch Where am I from tabs.png

As you can see, there’s plenty to do and see here with just your tree data. (My favorite tree-based activity is Family Lines, where you can follow the migrations of individual branches of your family on the map. (Just click on it and choose which branch of the family, like your father’s mother’s mother’s father, etc.)

Use DNA ethnicity with Where Am I From?

The first question I had when I saw my tree mapped out like this was, “I wonder how my DNA ethnicity results compare to this.” Of course, I know that tree data is not always right and neither are DNA ethnicity results. But I still wanted to look at them together.

Right off the bat, I can see two ways of using DNA ethnicity results with the Where Am I From tool:

  1. Click on My Heritage to learn more about the ancestral homelands shown in DNA ethnicity results. “Users can learn fun facts from their family homelands, like the types of food they eat, popular recipes, and family and social dynamics, including common greetings, gestures, and other cultural attributes,” explains FamilySearch’s Dan Call of the tool.
  2. Compare your ethnicity map side-by-side with the Generations map, both to see how similar they are and to identify ancestors whose DNA may be giving you the ethnicity results in that region.

FamilySearch where Im from tool + DNA ethnicity.png

Above, I’ve overlaid my AncestryDNA ethnicity estimate with the Generations map. The numbers on the map correspond to numbers of relatives on my tree who were from each area. When I zoom in on the map, I can see information on individual ancestors and their birthplaces.

My DNA ethnicity happens to be pretty consistent with my tree data. But it’s worth a reminder: DNA ethnicity and the FamilySearch Family Tree are completely separate approaches to looking at heritage—and both subject to error. There is no guarantee that the ancestor shown on the map in the FamilySearch experience is THE ONE (or even one of the ones) whose DNA contributed to that ethnicity percentage. But as we continue research in both arenas—confirming tree data by determining how various DNA matches fit into it—we gradually create stronger, more accurate trees.

Meanwhile, what an engaging way to compare these two distinct types of family history data! It’s also a great tool for snagging the interest of other relatives (especially kids).

(If you’ve tested at AncestryDNA, you may also like their Genetic Communities tool, which uses your DNA to identify specific migratory groups found in your family tree. The tool suggests ancestors from your tree who seem to fit the parameters for that migratory group. Again, no guarantees, but totally fascinating.)

What if DNA ethnicity and the map don’t match?

Do you see a drastic disconnect between your genealogical tree and your DNA ethnicity results? More than you’d expect to see, even knowing that DNA ethnicity results aren’t super precise?

First, be sure your FamilySearch Family Tree experience reflects your biological ancestry, to the best of your knowledge. If you, one of your parents or grandparents or other ancestors has multiple parental lines listed, be sure you’ve set that person’s profile to show the biological parental line by default. If you know biological ancestry that isn’t entered yet, go ahead and enter it, specifying the biological relationship and providing sources that will help others understand this relationship. (The Tree data is public for everyone who is marked deceased, but private for living individuals, so don’t enter this data for birth connections you’re not ready to reveal publicly).

If this isn’t the problem, you may need to do a little more exploring in your DNA to see if your DNA matches correspond to your paper trail.

Lingering ethnicity questions?

Still have DNA ethnicity questions? Get our free downloadable guide to your DNA ethnicity results.

Yes, please! Free ethnicity guide for me!

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  1. Charles Acree

    Many thanks for alerting us to this new Family Search feature, as well as the feature, within a very helpful article. It’s too bad that the Family Search website doesn’t provide navigation to its feature (at least none that I can find), so we must use your posted link.

  2. Janice Brown

    It’s a pity that my 5ggm who was born in Wrentham, Norfolk, England (her birthplace is correctly recorded as that in the Family Tree) appears on the map as being born in Wrentham, Massachusetts, United States!

  3. Diahan Southard

    Charles, The site does have this tool in the dropdown menu. After you log in, roll over the Activities tab and select Where Am I From?

  4. Diahan Southard

    Janice, Looks like you found a glitch! I’ll forward your comment to the FamilySearch team to let them know.


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