How Far Back Does MyHeritage Go? (Explained)

A DNA test from MyHeritage offers several features for researching your ethnicity and DNA relatives. These features have different limits on how far back in time they can go.

MyHeritage Genetic Groups use ancestry analysis and family trees to show where ancestors may have lived back to the 1600s.

MyHeritage shows DNA matches down to 8 centimorgans. This covers a range of probable relationships from 5th to 8th cousins, which include common ancestors up to nine generations.

This article looks first at Genetic Groups and then at your DNA match list.

How Far Back Do MyHeritage Genetic Groups Go?

MyHeritage introduced Genetic Groups in late 2020 as part of their display of your ethnicity estimates.

Although the groups appear with your ethnicity estimates, they are calculated using different technology and algorithms. If you want more details, we have a full review and tutorial on MyHeritage Genetic groups.

Here, I’ll address how far back they go. It’s important to understand that groups use the family trees of MyHeritage users.

MyHeritage Genetic Groups go back to the year 1600. This represents 14 generations when assuming 30 years per generation.

However, the display of information from the older eras may be misleading.

To understand why, let’s take a closer look at the Top Places Timeline.

Top Places Timeline

You’ll find the Top Places feature on the ethnicity display. The Timeline lets you drill down into fifty-year periods of time going back to the year 1600.

So, the answer to the question seems straightforward: Genetic Groups go back to 1600.

The reason seems simple. The 1600s represent the older limits of genealogical records in the Western world.

If you’re descended from royalty or other notable families, then you may get back further.

As MyHeritage uses aggregated data from the family trees on their website, they put a hard limit of 1600 on their display.

But things aren’t as simple as that, and you need to treat the older results with caution.

Problems with the Top Places timeline

I wrote in our full review of MyHeritage genetic groups about how I was skeptical of this timeline for my own results.

When I slide the timeline back to 1600, the map is lit up across Ireland and South East England.

This means that I share similar DNA to people who have ancestors in their family tree who lived in 17th century England.

However, I have no reason to believe that my Irish heritage stems from that region of England. And when I examine my Genetic Groups, I see that two groups are made up of people with a mix of Ancestral lines across Ireland and England.

I assume that my shared DNA is through the Irish branches within these trees. But the timeline seems to highlight all regions represented within the groups. This is very misleading!

If I’m right, then MyHeritage users should be cautious about drawing conclusions based on this timeline feature.

How Far Back Do MyHeritage Ethnicity Estimates Go?

MyHeritage introduced their ethnicity estimates back in 2017 and hasn’t made substantial changes to the feature since then.

I mentioned that the more recent Genetic Groups are based on different technology and algorithms.

When MyHeritage launched Genetic Groups in December 2020, this is what the company had to say about their ethnicity estimates.

The ethnicity calculation is done separately from Genetic Groups using older technology that is outdated and in need of an overhaul. We are working on replacing the Ethnicity Estimates right now, and in 2021 plan to roll out much better ones based on totally new technology.

MyHeritage Corporate Announcement 2020

For this reason, I’m not going to spend any more time in this article on the ethnicity estimates. When the new version arrives, I’ll come back and take a close look at how far back they go.

How Many Generations Can MyHeritage Go Back With DNA Matches?

The furthest category of DNA matches on MyHeritage is described as “3rd cousin – distant cousin”. Their lowest threshold of shared DNA is 8 centimorgans.

Although 8 cM could be very distant, it could also be a 6th, 7th, or 8th cousin.  The common ancestor could go back 7 to 9 generations.

This handy table shows you how your more distant cousins fit into your genealogical family tree:

CousinGenerationsGreat
3rd42nd great
4th53rd great
5th64th great
6th75th great
7th86th great
8th97th great

How many generations in MyHeritage Theories Of Relativity?

MyHeritage has a feature called Theories of Relativity that attempts to predict the position of DNA relatives in your family tree.

The furthest DNA relative that MyHeritage predicts for me is an estimated 3rd cousin once removed. This would five generations through my 3rd great-grandparents.

My research shows that this prediction is correct, as are the other theories I’ve received.

Using Your MyHeritage DNA Results To Go Back Thousands Of Years

Are you interested in exploring how your DNA matches with DNA samples from Neanderthal and other ancient remains?

And what about how you compare to DNA from Early Neolithic Farmers or Western Hunter-Gatherers?

We have a series of articles about using a free account on the GEDmatch website to explore ancient components of your DNA results.  Check these out:

The GEDmatch website has a collection of different ethnicity calculators that let you explore ancient components of your DNA. Depending on your modern ethnicity mix, some calculators are better than others.

We have an overview of the GEDmatch calculators, which will give you links to specific projects you can try out.

How Far Do Other DNA Tests Go Back?

The MyHeritage DNA test is what’s known as an “autosomal” DNA test. It doesn’t test your mitochondrial or Y-DNA.

The two major alternatives in consumer DNA testing are provided by Ancestry.com and 23andMe. Both are also autosomal DNA tests. This means that the tests should cover a similar timeframe.

However, Ancestry.com makes some more ambitious claims for what its test can do. Check out our review on how far back Ancestry DNA goes.

23andMe is more modest than Ancestry.com (or realistic, depending on your point of view). We also have a review on how many generations back 23andMe goes.

Explore Ancient Origins With Your DNA Results

You can upload your MyHeritage DNA results for free to the GEDmatch website. This gives you access to a set of tools that explore much older components of your DNA.

The GEDmatch ethnicity tools try to go back to the mesolithic and neolithic eras when preparing your admixture reports. You can also lower the threshold on some of the DNA matching tools to compare with more distant cousins.

Check out the details in our review of how GEDmatch may go back thousands of years.

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