Still, I couldn’t shake the feeling that there’s a lot about me I still don’t know, and the existing technology isn’t ready to figure out. It was a strange experience to see my own results change so much in the past year. I had already talked to my family about where our Iberian ancestors may have lived, and now it turns out we might not have any.
Starr said that most users saw only small variations in their results, and most of the feedback suggests that customers think the updated reports are more accurate, given what they’ve learned of their heritage.
Mine also seemed more accurate. I understood my ancestry to be a mix of Eastern European and British. My surname “Farr” is of Anglo-Saxon origin, according to the Internet Surname Database, and was a nickname for a fierce or lusty man. I also know that my mother’s ancestors on her mom’s side were Polish Jews who emigrated to the U.S.
Scientists at DNA testing companies say that the algorithms are getting better.
“The algorithm uses computational shortcuts to find the most likely combination,” said Yaniv Erlich, chief science officer for MyHeritage. “Think about it as climbing on Mount Everest. We want to get to the summit, meaning the best configuration, but we are unsure what’s the best route.”
Some people get updates that are slightly different from their original results, but for me “the algorithm took a step that put it on a different path,” Erlich said. “The take home message is that these estimates are… estimates. They should be the starting point of a genealogical inquiry. Not the final answer,” he said.