After eleven years of genetic genealogy and as many genetic tests, I went straight to MyHeritage, the leader in DNA testing in France, when, in 2016, this start-up launched its first genetic tests. Their publicity is excellent, but dishonest. As for their results, they are inaccurate and incomplete. The following is a comparison of its strengths and flaws in relation to its main competitors.
MyHeritage's DNA-test onslaught in France
MyHeritage has launched a massive communication campaign on social networks in France. The company has even managed to get a commercial broadcast on television, despite genetic testing being banned in the country. Attracted by an unbeatable promotional offer, the French rushed to take these DNA tests, both for themselves and family members.
In February 2019, MyHeritage announced that it had sold 2.5 million DNA tests, already surpassing FamilyTree DNA's one million tests. Although well behind AncestryDNA's 15 million users, the progress they have made in just two years is enough to make any genetic genealogy laboratory green with envy.
With only a limited understanding of DNA testing, users were sometimes delighted with their results. The majority, however, were soon disappointed and confused. You can see just how disappointed users were if you read their comments on my article: Are ethnicity tests reliable?
MyHeritage's ethnicity estimates
In order to estimate ethnic origins, a panel of references is required. On its website, MyHeritage shows how it set up its own, highlighting its "Founder Populations" project. Their description doesn't lack superlatives. They selected 5,000 of their members with reliable family trees, and so were able to define what they claim is the largest possible ethnic reference panel of 42 regions!
MyHeritage are lying! They are guilty of serious false advertising!
Among the three other major laboratories that have shared the market since the 2000s, Ancestry, the leader in the United States, offers an ethnic reference panel of over 500 regions worldwide (click on the list in the image for more details).
To view DNA testing, you need to use Google Chrome. Ancestry respects French law and does not deliver its DNA kits in France, but you can order it thanks to the tip, described here in my article, or those of even shrewder blog readers via their comments.
This unrivalled reference panel was based on 16,000 DNA samples. Ancestry, with three times as many samples, was able to establish 84 times as many ethnic regions.
Want to know the details in pictures? I compared my results before and after September 2018, when Ancestry improved its reference panel. Recently, Ancestry has just increased its reference panel from 500 geographic regions to 1,000 geographic regions. In ascending order, we have FamilyTree DNA with 26 regions, MyHeritage with 42 regions, 23andMe with 216 regions and AncestryDNA with 1,000 regions (as of 10 December 2019).
23andMe, another major player in genetic testing, used more than 13,000 DNA samples to reference 175 populations around the world.
MyHeritage's claims to superiority, which sell well to beginners, are therefore unfounded.
My French ethnic origins
Talking about French ethnic origins is a historical aberration, rather we should evoke regional origins or a geographical area linked to a population.
But, in any event, with MyHeritage there is no hope of getting a precise answer.
When we look at the 42 origins they have identified, we realise that Europe, a continent of 52 countries in which 225 different languages are spoken, has been reduced to 14 regions.
List of regions referenced by MyHeritage
Africa: Central African, Sephardic Jew – North Africa, Ethiopian Jew, Kenyan, Maasai, Nigerian, North African, West African, Sierra Leonean, Somali
America: Native American, Amazonian, Mesoamerican and Andean
Asia: West Asian, Chinese and Vietnamese, Eskimo/Inuit, Japanese and Korean, Mizrahi Jew – Iranian/Iraqi
Mongolian, Nepalese, South Asian peoples, Central Asian peoples, Filipino, Indonesian, and Malaysian, Thai and Cambodian
Europe: English, Baltic, Eastern Europeans, Finns, Greek and Southern Italian, Iberian, Irish, Scots, and Welsh
Italian, Ashkenazi Jew, West and North European, Balkan Peoples, Sardinian, Scandinavian
Middle East: Yemeni Jew, Middle East
Oceania Melanesian, Papua, Polynesian
You may have already noticed that the details regarding Europe, a region that concerns us in particular, are very superficial. You won't get a detailed map of your origins.
In my result that I've posted, MyHeritage estimates that over 55% of my DNA comes from the Balkans. As you can see, this covers half of Europe. On 23andMe, my ethnic breakdown is 16% Serb, and so on, broken down by country.
MyHeritage's dubious ethnicity results
Even worse, the results are inconsistent. People who had their parents tested shared some of the results with me via their comments. How is it possible to have origins that are 30% Italian, while the father and mother combined have only 10%?
How is that possible? It's not possible! Unless one of the parents is not the parent, which is not the case in this example, one that, moreover, has been genetically confirmed.
You inherit, perfectly equally, half of your DNA from your father and the other half from your mother. After that, the theoretical percentage of 25% for each of your grandparents may vary. And so on for each of the previous generations as you halve the percentage.
Therefore, an ethnic-origin percentage cannot be greater than the combined ethnic backgrounds of both your parents. This is biologically impossible.
My Review of MyHeritage
You will understand, based on my analysis, that my opinion of MyHeritage and its ethnicity estimates can only be lamentably negative. To date, MyHeritage has the worst ethnicity results of any genetic genealogy laboratory.
Having only launched their genetic test in 2016, this seems perfectly understandable to me. What I strongly dislike, if not find exasperating, is the lie.
That their publicity highlights the brand's strengths is to be expected, but the fact that they present themselves as the best on the market when it comes to ethnicity means they are taking me, as a consumer, for a fool.
And who likes to be taken for a fool?
I invite you to advise your friends to go to another genetic genealogy laboratory for more reliable ethnicity results.
On the other hand, if your research concerns genetic genealogy, MyHeritage cannot be ignored, because it has the largest French test base.
However, I urge you to exercise the utmost caution, as MyHeritage's DNA investigations are just dangerous, both ethically and deontologically reprehensible.
MyHeritage allegedly sold nearly 3.5 million genetic tests in December 2019 (unofficial source, to be confirmed). France is supposedly their second largest market in the world. Suffice to say that they have enough genetic data to be able to establish a detailed reference panel for France. But what of it? Where are the expected improvements? None are expected to be announced any time soon.
There is an urgent need for MyHeritage to invest in order for its results to live up to its claims, which we know today to be false.
More importantly, there is an urgent need for French MPs to legalise genetic testing in France. The practices of genetic genealogy laboratories would then be regulated by French law. Our genetic data, sensitive personal information, would be protected. And genetic genealogy laboratories would finally be able to establish detailed ethnicity panels corresponding to geographical areas of present-day France!