Ancestry SideView Results: How to Understand Them

It was back in April 2022 that AncestryDNA released one of their latest tools to help you better understand the origins of your ethnicity. On Ancestry itself it is officially known as Ethnicity Inheritance but the technology used is known as SideView.

In this post we will take a closer look at SideView to learn more about it and most specifically how to interpret the results it gives us.

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Ethnicity Estimates and Genetic Inheritance

When we get our ethnicity estimate results from AncestryDNA it gives us a relatively good idea of what our most recent ethnic ancestry is. At a glance we can see the main regions our ancestors came from recently and often we are not hugely surprised by the results.

The problem with this information until fairly recently is that we were not always 100% which side of our family a certain ethnicity may have come from. Of course if we know that our mother is of Italian descent and we get Italian ethnicity markers in our results it should be obvious who we got them from. Trouble is it isn’t always that simple.

Believe it or not it is entirely possible to have an ethnic result from a region that you think came from one parent but actually came from another instead. You see DNA is odd in that way and because inheritance is random this means we do not get DNA from all of our ancestors.

As an example let's assume your mother's great-great grandfather was 100% Italian and that she has a small amount of Italian DNA showing up in her ethnicity report. This DNA may not get passed down to you at all because the amount is so small. We will also assume there is no DNA test result for your father in this scenario.

Having received your own results you do have Italian DNA and it’s slightly higher than what your mother has. This means one of two things: either your father also had Italian DNA and when combined with your mother gave you more overall or he had more Italian DNA than your mother and you inherited all of that.

You don’t have results for your father but he always identified as German and Irish with no mention of Italian. It is possible that he had an unknown Italian ancestor and he passed down the DNA from that person to you. The result being that you have no DNA from your known Italian ancestor but have some from a completely unknown individual. It’s confusing but it happens.

So why does this matter? Well it illustrates that we do not always know with great certainty where our ethnic ancestry comes from. This is of course until SideView came along and helped open up our understanding of our familial roots.

What Is Ancestry SideView?

As mentioned when you are looking through the tools of AncestryDNA you will actually be looking for the Ethnicity Inheritance tool. The technology used to create this tool is known as SideView and it is a very clever algorithm.

Ancestry starts out by finding all of your matches which share at least one significant segment of DNA in common with you. They next try to sort these matches into two different potential parents by grouping the segments that show signs of overlapping with other matches.

The result is an assessment of half of your DNA being attributed to two different parents. They can’t say definitively which parent is which just by the DNA but they are able to confirm they are separate individuals which is a great starting point.

Do Our Parents Need to Test to Help SideView?

The answer to this is a resounding no because if our parents did test then SideView would essentially be obsolete and not of as much use. This is not to say it would not be helpful at all because it could still show us which parent we inherited certain ethnicities from.

It is possible as an example that both parents have a small amount of a certain ethnicity in their results. You may have an even smaller amount in yours but which parent did that come from? The answer could be both or just one. The ethnicity inheritance tool would show if it came from one or both parents.

Obviously, in terms of our genealogical journey with DNA, it is fantastic when close relatives like parents test so if they are willing it's always a good idea. It is just not needed in order to find value in the SideView technology.

How Does SideView Show the Information?

Each of us inherits half of our DNA from each of our parents which as mentioned SideView can essentially separate out into a visual representation. The algorithm makes it possible to determine which segments of DNA came from which of our parents.

This complicated technology is then used to create two halves of a circle that will represent two different parents. Among the DNA segments the system looks for those ethnicity markers that point to specific regions so they are able to give an ethnicity estimate of the DNA we inherited from those specific parents.

As mentioned the DNA does not specify which parent is which because obviously there is no way of being able to tell this as the DNA in question is autosomal. As both males and females have autosomal DNA there are no gender specific markers that would assist in this determination.

So the principal graphic for SideView is two unconnected semi circles with color coding that represents the percentages of certain ethnicities found in the analysis. This is then displayed alongside a full circle of your own ethnicity estimate as an illustration.

In the image below you will note that in my own DNA I inherited all of my Welsh DNA from just one parent and I got some Irish DNA from both parents. The majority of my English DNA came from just one parent and I got DNA from the Scotland region from both parents.

Further down the screen on the Ethnicity Inheritance app there is a table that more clearly defines the percentage of DNA you inherit from each individual parent. In the table they are simply referred to as parent 1 and parent 2.

How Do You Understand the SideView Results?

So how exactly do we understand the results of the SideView analysis? Firstly we should make it clear that the results are not a complete indication of the ethnicity estimate of our respective parents. They only show the ethnicity markers that we inherited from them.

There may be ethnic DNA markers that we did not inherit which are present in our parents DNA but subsequently not in our own. This is important to note as it can have a bearing on determining which parent is which in terms of the results.

As mentioned we can not determine gender from the results so the only way to potentially figure out who is who is to use some common sense thinking and some deduction.

The key tool to use from your results is the table which more clearly defines the percentages of DNA you acquired from each as yet undetermined parent. It is here that we search for clues that might uniquely fit with what we know regarding our parents.

An important clue to seek is an ethnicity that one parent is most likely to have had while the other is less likely to have. In my own case I know my paternal grandfather was born in Wales to Welsh parents and part of a long line of Welsh ancestors.

There is no question that the only parent who shows any Welsh ethnic markers therefore is most likely my father, and he would be at least 50% Welsh. I myself possess 45% Welsh Ancestry which likely all came from my father who was likely Parent 2.

I also know that my paternal grandmother is descended from a long line of Welsh and Shropshire natives so also would have been genetically very Welsh. Parent 2, who I suspect then is my father, had only a small amount of English and Northwestern European DNA.

I know my mother's family are largely from Shropshire, England and that her maternal great grandfather was from Lancashire. This means that Parent 1 from whom I inherited 31% England and Northwestern European DNA was likely my mother.

It will sometimes be very obvious which parent is which depending on the potentially unique ancestry your individual parents have. Obviously though, it is possible that your parents may have very similar ethnic backgrounds.

Can You Use Your Parents DNA Results?

As mentioned you don’t necessarily need your parents' DNA results to make this work but if your understanding of their respective backgrounds is that they are very similar having them both tests is possible might be a great help.

If you have both parents' ethnicity estimates then realistically speaking you don’t need SideView. This is because you can easily see for example if one parent has a small amount of Scottish ancestry and the other does not. If then in your own results you have Scottish ancestry this can have come from only one person.

What If You Do Not Know One or Both of Your Parents?

This can be a potential stumbling block when it comes to determining which parent is which on the SideView. Again we can not tell gender from the results so it is vital to know something of the background of at least one of the parents.

In the case of adoption or estrangement from parents this can be very difficult but not completely impossible.

Tests From Close Relatives

You may have some relatives who despite you being estranged from parents may be willing to be in contact with you. You may be able to convince aunts or uncles to test to help you determine the general ethnicity that would also be found in a specific parent.

You may even encounter close unknown relatives on Ancestry within your DNA matches. The results of a half-sibling might be invaluable to determine which parent is which in the SideView results.

Family Stories

If you are adopted it is possible that your adoptive parents may be aware of some information regarding your parents. This may include specific nationalities, names or general place of origin for your parents. These all may contain clues that make sense when compared to the SideView results.

As an example if your adoptive parents recall your mother's name and it happens to be somewhat unique perhaps research the origin of that name. You may discover it has a specific European country of origin or some other ethnic root. If indications of this show up in one of the parents on the SideView results this may be an important clue.

Can You Label the SideView Results?

If you have been fortunate enough to determine which parent is likely which you can if you like, label the results to reflect this. The table section of the results allows you to edit the parents. Sadly at present you can only label them as maternal and paternal

When you do this it will also reflect on the initial graphic and it becomes more clear which parent you inherited your DNA percentages from.

Is This Tool Accurate?

As with many things DNA related the accuracy of this is dependent on a number of factors. The main one we need to consider here is the number of cousin matches we have. If we do not have a lot of cousin matches in the database this can decrease the accuracy.

But if we have a large sampling group to work from then this tool is estimated to be about 95% accurate which is not bad at all. As mentioned however if your parents happen to have very similar ethnic backgrounds or are cousins this may confuse the results.

Especially problematic would be if your parents were first cousins as you could easily inherit the same DNA twice. Their DNA would also likely match several of the same people making it harder to define a parent 1 and parent 2.


It is not hard to understand the basic premise of the SideView results; they essentially indicate the DNA that you inherited from each individual parent. The difficulty comes when you have to determine which parent is which.

The algorithm cannot do this for you so it is important to understand as much as you can about at least one of your parents' roots. Knowing that either your mother or father might have roots that your other parent does not can often be helpful in understanding the results.

Neil Edwards

Neil Edwards

Genealogist and family-tree research specialist

Neil was born in Shropshire, England surrounded by centuries of living history. His interest in the past has been a lifelong passion leading to undergraduate degrees in both Economic History & Geography and History & Politics.

This interest in history quickly translated to family history when he moved to the U.S. in 2010. It was here that he began working on his own family tree as well as that of his American wife. That research allowed him to gain a wealth of experience working with both U.S. and European genealogical documents and studying their best uses in researching family history.

Following 9 years of honing his genealogical research skills, Neil was proud to have earned a certificate in Genealogical Research from Boston University in late 2019. Neil also took part in the research process for a Duke University study into the families of 19th Century UK Members of Parliament.

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  • "Ancestry SideView Results: How to Understand Them". Accessed on September 22, 2023.

  • "Ancestry SideView Results: How to Understand Them"., Accessed 22 September, 2023

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