What is a segment?

A DNA segment is a block, chunk, piece, string of DNA on a chromosome. It is typically determined by a start location and an end location on a chromosome. A segment refers to all the DNA in between and including the start and end locations.

We use the term segment in at least two fundamentally different ways:

  1. An ancestral segment is one which is passed down from an ancestor. Ancestral segments are passed to you from your parents, who got them from their ancestors. Each of your chromosomes are made up of ancestral segments – much more on this later.
  2. A shared segment is one which both you and a match have. Both you and your match have segments which are identical from start to end. Also sometimes called an HIR (Half-Identical Region). Also sometimes referred to as a matching segment. Note: a shared segment is determined by a computer algorithm – it may or may not come from a common ancestor – much more on this later.

IBD: When a shared segment comes from a common ancestor, we say it is IBD (Identical By Descent). Both you and your match have these identical segments on a chromosome because these segments came from the same ancestor.

Note that IBD shared segments are based on ancestral segments. The ancestral segment that you and/or your match received from an ancestor, may be (and often is) larger than the shared segment. What you see in the DNA match lists, reports, tables, or chromosome browsers, is the overlapping portion of your ancestral segment and your match’s ancestral segment. This overlap is the identical part that is reported as a shared segment.

02 Overlapping Segment graphic pic5

 IBC: Sometimes a “shared segment” does not come from an ancestor. The computer algorithm creates the apparent shared segment from parts of the DNA which are not all from one ancestor. This can happen in your “segment”, your matches “segment”, or both. Thus, the fact that they appear to be identical to the algorithm is by chance. We refer to these segments as IBC (Identical By Chance) or IBS (Identical By State). In any case these shared segments do not exist on one chromosome for you and/or your match, and they both therefor are not IBD – much more on this later. The “shared segment” or “matching” segment is therefor IBC.

02 Overlapping IBS Segment pic7

17 thoughts on “What is a segment?

  1. Chromosome 19 has a beginning location of 211912 and an ending location of 63788972. It just happens that these are the parameters for my mother. Does this mean that the whole chromosome is one big segment?


  2. On my chromosome 19, my mother starts at 211912 and ends at 63788972. How can this be one big segment as 211912 is the beginning location for chromosome 19 and nothing before this location. 63788972 is the very end of the chromosome and nothing after this. Would this mean that the whole chromosome 19 is one long segment? New to this, help.

    I have changed my e-mail address to oliverbeckersandy@Yahoo.com. If anyone can help, I would appreciate it.


    • Sandy,
      To you, each chromosome from a parent looks like one long segment. 23 chromosome segments from each parent. When you compare with a 1C, you’ll “see” some segments that are from your grandparents, which will be part of the DNA a parent passed to you. Jim


  3. Pingback: Mapping My DNA To My Four Grandparents – Hartley DNA & Genealogy

  4. Pingback: Does Triangulation Work? | segment-ology

  5. Just found you today from DNA explained—–looking forward to learning–Thank you in advance for sharing your experience/knowledge.


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  8. Pingback: Segmentology.org by Jim Bartlett | DNAeXplained – Genetic Genealogy

  9. Jim, looking forward to your following blog articles explaining your “much more on this later”. You create the suspense of a thriller 🙂


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