MyHeritage rolled out Genetic Groups as a major new release in December 2020.
My assessment is that MyHeritage has significantly increased the insights offered to people with European heritage. I’m impressed with how my main genetic group pinpoints my Irish ancestry to a small area in a small country. This group aligns with my known family tree. My two other groups are intriguing, and a jump-off point for more research.
This article is a walkthrough and review of using the features within the Genetic Groups display.
What Are MyHeritage Genetic Groups?
MyHeritage genetic groups represent clusters of DNA tests based on shared segments, common ancestors, and specific geographic regions. Your DNA may be assigned to several genetic groups.
Although genetic groups are displayed as part of the MyHeritage Ethnicity Estimate, they are not based on ethnic breakdown. One genetic group may include several ethnicities, and one ethnicity may appear across several genetic groups.
For example, MyHeritage list three groups under my “Irish, Scottish, and Welsh” ethnicity.
Below is a breakdown of the available genetic groups at launch time. A quick scan will tell you that it is skewing toward European heritage. All my groups are for my maternal Irish heritage, and I don’t have any genetic groups on my paternal African side.
How To Get MyHeritage Genetic Groups
You have access to genetic groups at no extra cost if you
- take a MyHeritage DNA test, or
- purchase a MyHeritage subscription, or
- uploaded your DNA to MyHeritage before 2017
If you uploaded your DNA from another site to MyHeritage since 2017, you may not have unlocked the premium features. In this case, you won’t see your genetic groups. The unlock price is about $30.
How to upload your DNA to MyHeritage
MyHeritage says that your groups are calculated “overnight” when you pay the unlock price. Let’s interpret that as within 24 hours!
How Does MyHeritage Create Genetic groups?
MyHeritage describes how it works in this support document. I’ll summarize in plain English here.
The starting point is a set of DNA samples from people whose ancestors were born within the same geographic region for many generations.
You may wonder how MyHeritage identified these people? They analyzed MyHeritage family trees. Of course, this raises the problem of inaccurate trees, misidentified parentage, and wrong locations.
MyHeritage developed algorithms and statistical techniques to look for patterns and clusters and to eliminate outliers.
Let’s say that a MyHeritage customer builds a tree with all ancestral lines staying within Genoa, Italy. This looks like a perfect candidate as a reference to that region.
But the customer is an adoptee whose biological parents were both French. His DNA will be an outlier in a collection of one hundred people with similar Genoan familiar trees. So, the analytical phase will remove this customer’s DNA from the reference collection.
How To View Your Genetic Groups On MyHeritage
To investigate your genetic groups, go to the Ethnicity Estimate page.
You have two ways to examine genetic groups: in list format on the left side of the page, or through the map. We’ll look at the list first.
Viewing The List Of Genetic Groups
Genetic groups may be listed under ethnicities or in a separate list at the bottom of the page. This depends on whether a specific group is made up of a prominent ethnicity.
Taking my own example, one genetic group is showing under my Irish/Scottish/Welsh ethnicity. But notice that the confidence level is set to “High”. I’ve actually upped it manually – the default setting when you open the page is medium and above.
When I reduce the confidence level from high to medium, two more groups appear under the same ethnicity.
Viewing Genetic Groups On The Map
Genetic groups are shown as outlined polygons on the ethnicity map.
In this close-up of the United Kingdom and Ireland, the lightly colored shape shows part of my ethnicity breakdown of Ireland/Scotland/Wales. The genetic group is the darker shape with a thick outline.
Drilling Into Your MyHeritage Genetic Groups
You can use either the list or the map to drill further into your genetic groups.
MyHeritage provides a lot of information when you click into an individual group.
The display gives you a useful description that may help explain the locations of your DNA matches.
This is what I see for one of my groups:
Irish in Ireland (County Cavan and some in County Leitrim) and some of their descendants in the United States (New York)
This is telling me that some of my DNA matches within this group are in New York through historic migration from Ireland. Not exactly a surprise.
But this description was a surprise…
Irish and some English and Germans in Ireland and some in the United Kingdom and Germany, and some of their descendants in the United States (New York City, Philadelphia, Chicago and Boston) and some in Australia.
I’ll have to do some digging into this German angle. You may have some surprises too.
DNA Kits That Make Up The Group
You get limited information about the DNA kits within the group. The total count of kits is shown, along with a count of which have family trees.
DNA kits used to form this group: 1,787
DNA kits linked to family trees: 708
I’m not sure what I can infer from these numbers. I’d like to be able to click on that second line and see a list of the DNA kits within this group that has family trees. That’s not possible right now.
Geography Timeline – Top Places
Genetic groups have an interesting timeline feature that is integrated with the map view.
When you expand the Time Period drop-down, you can switch between periods divided by half-centuries. And watch how the distribution of tree profiles changes on the heat map.
When I work backward within my Irish genetic group, I can see the distribution switching from the United States to Ireland. Of course, this represents historic migration.
But I’m skeptical about Ireland appearing in the periods prior to the 18th century. Irish historical records are very sparse as you go back in time. I’m sure that tree owners are entering “Ireland” as a best guess for birthplace.
This brings us to the dangers of crowd-sourcing genealogy from unverified family trees.
I’d love to be able to toggle the display from the inclusion of all tree profiles to only include profiles that have attached a citation.
Common Ancestral Names Within Genetic Groups
When you drill into a genetic group, MyHeritage shows you the top five surnames and given names in two separate lists. If you check the “expand” option, you get double the number i.e. 10 surnames.
I’d like to see at least twenty!
I’m also not sure of the value of the given name: seeing “John” and “Mary” at the top of the list is hardly enlightening within Irish groups. (It may be very useful for other communities!).
However, comparing the surname lists between similar genetic groups could be fruitful.
Another angle is to look for common group surnames that do not follow the pattern of the census. For example, Kelly and Murphy are two top surnames in my Irish genetic groups. But they also happen to be the top two surnames in the 2000 USA census for Americans declaring themselves to be of Irish descent.
So, I turn my focus to the common surnames that are not so prevalent in the community as a whole. If you’re interested in these types of comparisons, I wrote an article about comparing census distributions to the top ten ancestral surnames across my Ancestry matches. You might get some insight from my approach.
Confidence Levels Of Your Genetic Groups
There are three levels of confidence assigned to your groups: high, medium, and low.
MyHeritage says that a low confidence means that “you are more distantly descended from that group”.
This must mean that I share a lower average of total centimorgans across the DNA kits in the group. I would like to see the distribution of shared centimorgans in a future release.
What If You Don’t See Any Genetic Groups?
Some people are reporting on social media that they have six, seven, or eight genetic groups.
I seem to be on the low side of only having three groups. All are from my maternal Irish heritage. I have no groups for my paternal African heritage.
If you don’t see any genetic groups, then your heritage is primarily from communities that haven’t DNA tested with MyHeritage. It’s a waiting game for some more DNA matches to trickle in.
MyHeritage also says that they will be refining their matching algorithms after this first release. This may split existing groups into more focused communities.
You may be at the cusp of meeting a threshold requirement for falling into a group. Future refinements may tip you over!
A Comparison With Ancestry’s Genetic Communities
My most specific Ancestry Genetic Community points to the same small geographic area as one of my MyHeritage Genetic Groups. I’m impressed with both versions!
Ancestry actually has an advantage over MyHeritage in that it shows a few DNA kits that make up their grouping. Unfortunately, it only shows three! And we used to be able to filter Ancestry DNA matches by grouping – but they removed this feature.
MyHeritage already has a filtering feature on ethnicity. If MyHeritage rolls out an additional feature for Genetic Groups, I figure this will be a significant advantage over their rival.
My Wishlist For Improvements To MyHeritage Genetic Groups
This is my wishlist for Genetic Groups that I think should be relatively easy to achieve.
- Let us drill down within a genetic group to our DNA matches
- Give us a filter on the DNA Match List Page for genetic groups
- Show us a distribution heat map of shared centimorgans within groups
- Expand the Common Surname list from 10 to 20 (and I don’t need the first name list)
- Let us filter the DNA kits to trees that have some minimum of sources and citations
And here is my biggest wish that I suspect will not be forthcoming in the near future:
- Give me African genetic groups (expand the reference database with donated DNA kits)
Another Review Of Genetic Groups
Roberta Estes has also taken a detailed look at her Genetic Groups. I’m a little envious of her 10 groups (I have three). Roberta does a deep dive into one of her Netherlands groups, with some great pointers on using insights for research.
A Video Walkthrough Of MyHeritage Genetic Groups
This video is a walkthrough which covers mostly the same material in this article. But it also includes my reactions at exploring some of the features for the first time! Hence why I titled it “Bewitched & Bewildered”! It may clear up some other people’s confusion too.