Can a Child Have More Ethnicity Than a Parent?

Marc McDermott
First Published: | Updated: April 2, 2024

When it comes to genetics, there’s a pretty common question that people tend to have, whether a child can have more ethnicity than a parent. This exact question can be confusing and is the source of many discussions among the genealogy community.

In this article, I will guide you through the answers to these questions to understand what this means and why it happens. I’ll take you through several scenarios so you have all your questions answered.

Various Result Scenarios

Upon receiving ethnicity results, sometimes surprises unveil themselves and can leave you with numerous worries such as whether you were adopted or one of your parents was adopted and never knew about it. Or maybe you uncovered a family secret.

Some of the results that cause this chain reaction with your thoughts are:

  • You know your parent’s ancestry even though they weren’t tested, but your ethnicity estimate is entirely different; or at least slightly different.
  • Your parents used a different company than you did for their DNA test, but your results show something different.
  • You and your parents took the same test, yet the results show that you have more of an ethnic percentage than they do, even though you think it’s impossible.
  • You’re confused about a seemingly random ethnicity you’re sure that your parents don’t have.

The thoughts that flood your mind after these results are entirely natural. However, before you panic, let me explain a few things to you.

First, consider the DNA percentage from each parent. The most common explanation why you would have more of certain ethnicity than a parent would be that your other parent also had the same ethnicity. For example, if your father were 25% Irish and your mother 75%, you would be about 50% Irish and twice as much as your father.

Steps To Take After Getting Your DNA Results

The possibilities mentioned above are possible; however, that does not mean that your ethnicity test can indicate that there’s some big family secret hiding in the shadows. Of course, that’s possible too, although highly unlikely.

When viewing your results, you will need to keep an open mind. There are a wide variety of reasons your results are different than you expected, and no, it’s not because you’re secretly adopted. More on what to do with DNA results.

The Ethnic Regions May Be Mixed

One perfect example of this is if your ancestry line has indigenous ancestors from the Americas, your result may have vaguely stated “Native American.” However, the ethnicity results may have confused you with others who have ancestors from Brazil, Mexico, or Argentina. So, if your ancestors are several generations back, this may cause the questionable result.

Your parents could have strong roots in a particular region; however, their DNA comes from ancestors who resided in an area nearby. For instance, companies can’t really test for one specific country (yet), such as the Netherlands, so it might show up as “Western European.”

This can make it hard to understand the results that you receive fully. While the Netherlands is in Western Europe, many ancestors your parents share DNA with could have resided in Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, and sometimes France. That’s why the result shows up as Western European.

Other Surprises Of Your Parents’ Ancestry

If your ethnicity is a complete surprise, such as it’s from a completely different continent, then you may need to investigate further as adoption or even infidelity would be possible. If that’s the case, then read this guide to DNA testing for adoptees.

But if your father shows as 25% Irish and you show as 50% Irish, that’s not a cause for concern. But if both your mother and father are 100% Irish and you’re 100% Italian, then I’d start to investigate.

Your Parents Tested Using A Different Company And Your Results Don’t Match With Theirs

If you took a different test than they did and used a different company, then there are several reasons you might be showing different results.

Each testing company compares your DNA to different reference populations to formulate your percentages. Therefore, since each population is slightly different from company to company, this will show different results on all the ethnicity results.

Also, companies have different ways of describing regions, even if those regions are the same. For instance, Ancestry reports indigenous Mexican DNA as “Native American” DNA, while My Heritage will report it as Central American. Furthermore, the companies also categorize the regions differently. You might see Scotland and Ireland with Great Britain standing alone for one company, while the other groups them together as Britain/Wales/Scotland.

What To Do To Get A Clear Result

If you used a different company than your parents, you can do a few things to get more of a consistent estimation. When you receive your estimation results, you will see a range of percentages for each result even if the company you use doesn’t provide that range. As an example, let’s assume you used Ancestry DNA.

Ethnicity Ranges On Ancestry DNA

On your estimate, it may, for example, say that you have 7% Scottish. However, if you click on it, it could say that your estimated range can be anywhere from 2% to 32%. So, from there, you could follow your family tree to see if you have any Scottish ancestors.

Now, if it shows that you have 2% of a specific ethnicity yet your parents don’t, then that means that your parents may have a small percentage that didn’t show up on their results, yet you inherited this from both of them, which is why it showed up for you. Or possibly this is simply a trace amount in which is called statistical noise. A small percentage like this can easily be statistical noise.

Statistical Noise

Statistical noise sometimes happens from random results. It’s also referred to as ‘the range effect.’ For instance, if you have 1% Swedish, and your range is 0% to 3% possible, that 0% is still possible even if the 1% shows up for you.

Therefore, if both of your parents test 0% for Swedish (in which it won’t show up on their results at all), then you’ve either inherited that minor amount from both of them, which is why you are 1%, and you really aren’t Swedish at all.

Something you can do is check your results every so often, as you will find the change. Some people can show 35% English only to show 55% in several months after more people have done the DNA tests. The more people they get into their system, the more accurate your results will be, and they will change over time.

In Summary

There are reasons why your ethnicity may differ from your parents or why you may have a higher percentage than them. By tracing your family lineage, you can understand your results more and piece together the puzzle pieces that are missing. There is a logical answer, and it’s your job to find it. It’s part of the fun of Genealogy.

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