Researchers use DNA genotypes of people who can document their ethnicity, such as families whose ancestors have always lived in Ireland, and compare their DNA markers to the DNA being tested. The percentage of markers that are shared leads scientists to ­suggest where your family came from. As more people have their DNA tested and become part of AncestryDNA’s private database, the more targeted the results will become. As of November 2013, AncestryDNA had more than 200,000 people in its database. My results will likely become more targeted in the future, yet I still have a relatively good idea of my background. And though the test results claim that most of my ancestry is from Great Britain, for testing purposes, the “Great Britain” region can include Germany, Denmark, Switzerland and Austria too.

From weeks of my own research online, I determined I was of British/­German/Swiss descent. On my mother’s side, historical records go back to her family’s immigration, mainly from Germany. On my dad’s side, we believe his ancestors are from England and Wales. But that’s not what their DNA testing shows. My father has only 25 percent ethnicity from Great Britain, while my mom claims 75 percent. While surprising, the results were in tune with mine, prompting me to believe in the validity of the tests.

J.P. Canton, a senior public-relations manager with, explains it this way. “A lot of times we hear people say ‘I thought I was Spanish, but I’m getting a lot of Scandinavian or Great Britain, and I don’t see that in the paper trail.’ What happens is that countries are formed from people of other regions. My own family is definitely Italian, but my ancestors had moved to South America and around the world. On paper they lived in one region, but that doesn’t mean they were from that region,” he says.

I still have unanswered questions — like where does my maiden name originate from? — and those answers can now only come from researching family histories. To connect me with distant relatives who might have the answers, AncestryDNA will compare my genetic test to its massive database of others who have taken the AncestryDNA test, as well as linking to millions of people who have already researched their family trees on As more people test their DNA and link it to their account, the more matches I can potentially (and effortlessly) find.

“We’re looking at DNA from ancestors across your entire family tree,” explains Stephen Baloglu, director of marketing with AncestryDNA. “If you have enough DNA in comparison, then you are probably related. So with DNA matches, it transcends all of that research you would have to do and goes direct to someone that you’re related to. That person may have already done research and has your family tree.”

My ethnicity might not be a mystery anymore, but I’m more excited than ever to add even more branches to the family tree. 

KIMBERLY BUTTON is a freelance journalist in Orlando, Fla., whose love of spaetzle can only be because of her German roots.