MyHeritage is one of the newer players in the genetic genealogy arena. They offer their own branded autosomal test for a regular price of $99 (currently on sale for $79, with free shipping if you order 3 test kits or more) and also accept free transfers of raw data from AncestryDNA, 23andMe, and Family Tree DNA.
Before today, a free transfer gave you only a list of “DNA Matches”, relatives who share DNA segments with you. That list includes a name, often an age, country, estimated relationship range, and amount of shared DNA (expressed as both a percentage and in centimorgans, with the number of segments and size of the largest segment indicated). You can also message your matches through MyHeritage’s internal communication system.
The number of people in their database is still quite small, so you’re not likely to get many matches there just yet. For example, as of 30 May 2017, I have 95 DNA matches at MyHeritage, compared with 1,515 at 23andMe, 1,696 at Family Tree DNA, and 12,695 at AncestryDNA. However, some of my matches are quite close, including a known first cousin once removed and a known second cousin once removed.
On 30 May, MyHeritage users who have transferred into their database were given access to the “Ethnicity Estimate” that was previously available only to customers who tested directly with them. The email from MyHeritage says this:
In addition, the Ethnicity Estimate will be provided for free to users who have already uploaded their DNA data to MyHeritage from other services, or who will upload it in the coming months. Users who upload their DNA data to MyHeritage, already enjoy free DNA Matching, and now they will benefit from the new ethnicity analysis too. This is not offered by any other major DNA company.
This means that now’s a great time to transfer into their database, before they impose fees for transfers or for added features like the Ethnicity Estimate. To transfer, simply click this link to set up a free account. Detailed instructions for how to transfer your DNA data to MyHeritage are given at the end of this post.
Ethnicity Estimates at MyHeritage
The presentation of the Ethnicity Estimates is quite nice. The estimates are easy to find, with one-click access from the main MyHeritage page; just hover your cursor over the DNA tab, and select Ethnicity Estimate.
As with their competition, you will see a list of ethnicities with percentages representing MyHeritage’s estimates of your genetic makeup. To the right is a world map showing the geographic origins of those populations. Click on an ethnicity to have the map zoom in on that region. This is what mine looks like.
A feature unique to MyHeritage is a customized video that reflects your estimated heritage: a rotating globe showing each geographic area in turn, with a background soundtrack of music from each region. It’s very nicely done. You can see a sample video here.
Hardcore genetic genealogists will dismiss this feature as a marketing gimmick which, frankly, it is. Then again, if it gets more people interested in learning about their family histories, I’m not going to complain.
You can also click on “All supported ethnicities” to see a list of every category they use. This is where MyHeritage shines. They analyze 42 different ethnicities, compared to 24 at Family Tree DNA, 26 at AncestryDNA, and a reported 31 at 23andMe. (Note that seven of the categories at 23andMe are generalized regions, e.g. “Broadly Northwestern European”. Whether those should truly be considered unique reference populations is an open question. Without them, 23andMe has only 24 reference populations.) Another new entry into the market, Living DNA, claims 80. I look forward to reviewing their estimates when I get my results in August.
These are the breakdowns offered by MyHeritage. Several of these are offered nowhere else, like Mizrahi Jewish, Thai and Cambodian, and Eskimo/Inuit.
My Ethnicity Estimates
So, how does MyHeritage stack up for accuracy? I compared their numbers with those derived from my family tree, which is fully DNA-confirmed through great grandparents, 100% complete through 2-great grandparents, 87.5% complete through 3-great grandparents, and 50% complete through 4-great grandparents. I can confidently assign a geographic origin to all but two of my 64 ancestors in that generation. Which is to say, I have a pretty good idea what my ethnicity estimates should be.
This table compares what I expect my ethnicity estimates to be with what MyHeritage reported.
On the positive side, MyHeritage did a really good job estimating my Irish ancestry, on par with my estimate from 23andMe (18.3% British & Irish combined) and decidedly better than the estimates from either AncestryDNA (50% totaled across both regions) or Family Tree DNA (70%). However, they completely missed my French and German (which together make up nearly 75% of my ancestry), overestimated my Iberian by quite a bit (38.6% vs the expected 5.5%), and report three ethnicities that aren’t in my tree at all (Italy & Greece at 9.9%, Balkan at 10.5%, and Scandinavia at 22.7%).
Clearly, their algorithm needs some refinement, which they indirectly acknowledge in the the press release announcing this release:
Dr. Yaniv Erlich, Chief Science Officer at MyHeritage, said, “For MyHeritage’s science team, this major update of our Ethnicity Estimate is only an appetizer. There are excellent installments on the way, and users can prepare for a feast! We have detailed plans to increase accuracy, extend our Founder Populations project further, and improve the resolution for ethnicities of great interest to our users from highly diverse origins. Our goal is to use science to further the public good, and to bring the best innovations of our science team to the public.”
You shouldn’t scrap your tree or buy a new wardrobe based on the ethnicity estimates from MyHeritage, but if the company works to improve accuracy and add new populations as promised, I’m willing to give them a chance. Plus, you can’t beat free!
How to Upload Your Raw Data to MyHeritage
Use this link and fill in your gender, name, email address, and birth year to set up a free account for yourself. You can skip through the fields for parents and grandparents if you don’t want to or are unable to start a tree. Once you’re set up, hover your cursor over the DNA tab along the top of the screen, click on Upload DNA Data, then follow the instructions. Note that you must accept the MyHeritage Service Terms, but the Consent Agreement to participate in DNA-based research (including by third parties) is optional. If you are not sure how to download your raw data, click the How to download? link for instructions specific to your testing company.
I’m curious to hear your thoughts on the ethnicity estimates. If you do the transfer, post in the comments to let me know what you think.