Fula, Wolof or Temne? Upper Guinean AncestryDNA results 2013-2018

This blog post will feature a summary of my Upper Guinean AncestryDNA survey findings. A fitting conclusion of my African AncestryDNA research as I am myself of Cape Verdean descent. And therefore this particular section was of paramount significance to understand my own African Roots! These results were obtained during 2013-2018 but I had not fully processed all the data up till now. Relatively few African customers of Ancestry are hailing from this particular area. Which is why it was difficult to gather a sufficient sample size. But eventually I did succeed. Also through the valuable help of several friends!1 Follow the link below for detailed analysis & screenshots:

Table 1 (click to enlarge)

Stats, SEN, n=34

“Senegal” is primary for most countries throughout the wider Upper Guinea area. Usually with “Mali” as secondary region. This goes even for the northern part of Sierra Leone. But this country shows greater variation. With “Ivory Coast/Ghana” also being a prominent component overall. An almost equal “Mali” group average (38-39%) was obtained for 6 samples from Mali when compared with 3 Gur/Senoufo speaking samples from Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast & Ghana.

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Table 2 (click to enlarge)

Stats Fula

A clearly detectable Upper Guinean component is mirrored among the Fula from across Upper Guinea and the Hausa-Fulani. Indicating their shared Upper Guinean origins by way of eastwards moving Fula migrations. However due to their partial Nigerian Hausa lineage the Hausa-Fulani results can still be quite easily distinguished through their primary “Nigeria” scores.

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My final survey group now consists of 122 AncestryDNA results from Senegal, Gambia, Guiné Bissau, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Mali and Mauritania. Although still limited this data-set already provides a rather robust basis. All the more given that my combined survey group (n=122) contains a number of people which is almost three times greater than Ancestry’s Upper Guinean Reference Panel at that time (n=44; 28 samples being used for “Senegal” + 16 samples for “Mali”).

And also crucially I have managed to gather plausible ethnic details for many of my survey participants. Enabling me to compile a separate Fula survey group (n=46) which is quite extra-ordinary as it includes Fula people from a wide range of countries (see Table 2). While usually in published studies only Fula samples from one particular area are being covered (often from the central/eastern Sahel and not from Upper Guinea).

To a lesser extent I also uncovered more specific ethnic backgrounds among my Sierra Leonean and Senegambian survey groups. Allowing for a finer detailed ethnic analysis of Upper Guinean genetics. Which is why I think these “old” results may still be useful and are not obsolete yet. Even when I did discontinue this survey after Ancestry’s update in September 2018. Because in my opinion Ancestry’s new version of their ethnicity estimates regrettably has been a downgrade in regards to their African breakdown, overall speaking (see also this blogseries).

Five main implications for Afro-Diasporans can be singled out. These are discussed in greater detail on the main page. In this blog post I will mostly elaborate on the question if it is possible to distinguish Upper Guinean DNA. Furthermore I will briefly touch upon 23andme’s new “Senegambian & Guinean” category and also how Ancestry might improve things in the near future. Especially in light of their upcoming update.

  1. “Senegal” + “Mali” combined is a solid indication of lineage across Upper Guinea (Senegambia, Guinea Bissau/Conakry, Sierra Leone, western Mali).
  2. “Mali” can also be predictive of DNA found in Burkina Faso, northern parts of Ivory Coast & Ghana.
  3. “Ivory Coast/Ghana” can also be predictive of Sierra Leonean DNA
  4. “Africa North” might also be inherited by way of Fula ancestors
  5. “South-Central Hunter-Gathers” can also be predictive of West African ancestors

In summary: Regional admixture DOES matter! Judge each case on its own merits. Combine insights from different fields to achieve complementarity!

Figure 1 (click to enlarge)

COMPILUG

The two first results illustrate how AncestryDNA’s 2013-2018 version was able to clearly distinguish between Fula & Wolof lineage (for Africans themselves!). The additional “Africa North” and “Middle East” scores making the difference. To a lesser degree also within Sierra Leone some ethnic differentiation (going by group averages) could be observed. Obviously there was greater individual variation though. And in no way was either “Senegal” or “Mali” an exclusive marker for any given ethnic group! For Afro-Diasporans follow-up research is therefore required (DNA matches, historical plausibility, genetic genealogy etc.).

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Akan or Ewe? West African AncestryDNA results 2013-2018

Without wanting to rehash things this blog post and one more upcoming will provide a quick recap of my final AncestryDNA survey findings for continental Africans. These results were obtained during 2013-2018 but I had not fully processed all the data up till now. Arriving now at the first part of my West African section. Which contains results from Liberia, Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso, Ghana & Benin. One striking research outcome was the clear distinction between Akan & Ewe results.

I first published my preliminary West African survey findings on 24 February 2018 when I had only 41 AncestryDNA results available for my analysis (see this overview). As my survey has been ongoing I have managed to collect a sample group which has now doubled in size. Consisting of no less than 82 AncestryDNA results from Liberia, Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso, Ghana and Benin! Follow the link below for detailed analysis & new screenshots:

Table 1 (click to enlarge)

Stats (n=82)

Notice the striking difference in group averages for “Ivory Coast/Ghana” and “Benin/Togo” for my Akan and Ewe survey participants. Although actually there was also much underlying individual variation (see this more detailed overview).

***

Aside from my Nigerian survey group (n=87) the sample size of my Ghanaian survey group (n=42) was the biggest within my entire African survey. Although still limited this already provides a rather robust basis. And also crucially I have managed to gather plausible ethnic details for almost all of my Ghanaian survey participants. Allowing for a finer detailed ethnic analysis of Ghanaian genetics. Which is why I think these “old” results may still be useful and are not obsolete yet. Even when I did discontinue this survey after Ancestry’s update in September 2018. Because in my opinion Ancestry’s new version of their ethnicity estimates regrettably has been a downgrade in regards to their African breakdown, overall speaking (see also this blogseries).

I originally singled out three main implications for Afro-Diasporans. All of which can be maintained and have been discussed already in previous blogs. In this blog post I will revisit the question if it is possible to distinguish Akan from Ewe lineage. Furthermore I will briefly touch upon 23andme’s new “Ghanaian, Liberian and Sierra Leonean” category and also how Ancestry might improve things in the near future. Especially in light of their upcoming update.

  1. “Benin/Togo” also describes DNA from Ghana (see this blog post as well)
  2. “Ivory Coast/Ghana” also describes Liberian DNA
  3. “South-Central Hunter-Gatherers” suggestive of remnant West African Pygmy DNA?
  4. Is it possible to determine the most likely ethnic source(s) of your Ghanaian lineage?

Figure 1 (click to enlarge)

Compil GH

The two first results are most illustrative of how AncestryDNA’s 2013-2018 version was able to  clearly distinguish between Akan & Ewe lineage (for Ghanaians themselves!). Obviously there was greater individual variation though. And in no way was either “Ivory Coast/Ghana” or “Benin/Togo” an exclusive marker for any given ethnic group! Ghanaians will usually know of course (even when going back several generations they might also be more multi-ethnic than they are aware of). However for Afro-Diasporans follow-up research is required (DNA matches, historical plausibility, genetic genealogy etc.).

 

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Igbo, Yoruba or Hausa-Fulani? Nigerian AncestryDNA results 2013-2018

Without wanting to rehash things this blog post and following ones will provide a quick recap of my final AncestryDNA survey findings for continental Africans. These results were obtained during 2013-2018 but I had not fully processed all the data up till now. Moving on now to Nigeria, with a special focus on how to distinguish Igbo, Yoruba and Hausa-Fulani lineage.

I first published my preliminary Nigerian survey findings on 22 September 2016 when I had only 15 Nigerian AncestryDNA results available for my analysis (see this overview). As my survey has been ongoing I have managed to collect a sample group which is now five times greater. Consisting of no less than 87 AncestryDNA results of Nigerian persons! Follow the link below for detailed analysis & new screenshots:

Table 1 (click to enlarge)

naija comparison

For all three listed ethnic groups “Nigeria” is the primary regional component. However more differentiation is detectable when zooming into secondary regions. In particular “Senegal” for the Hausa-Fulani clearly stands out when compared with the rest. Less clear-cut distinction between Igbo & Yoruba. However when taking into account relative proportional shares for “Benin/Togo” and “Cameroon/Congo” it is still already detectable.

***

I discontinued this survey after Ancestry’s update in September 2018. Because in my opinion Ancestry’s new version of their ethnicity estimates regrettably has been a downgrade in regards to their African breakdown. In particular Ancestry’s update in 2018 has been disastrous for obtaining reasonable Nigerian DNA results. Generally speaking former “Nigeria” scores have sharply decreased and were replaced by inflated “Benin/Togo” and “Cameroon, Congo, Southern Bantu” scores. Just as a reminder this blog post is NOT dealing with those updated and usually rather misleading results! Instead read this blogseries.

My Nigerian AncestryDNA survey is actually the most extensive and oldest part of my African survey (2013-2018). Such results initially being very difficult to come by. However currently my sample size (n=87) is rather robust. Higher even than Ancestry’s own Nigerian sample size (n=67) during this period! And also crucially I have managed to gather plausible ethnic details for almost all of my Nigerian survey participants. Allowing for a finer detailed ethnic analysis of Nigerian genetics. Which is why I think these “old” results may still be useful and are not obsolete yet. Even when I did already establish in 2016 that “Nigeria” does not not cover the full extent of one’s Nigerian lineage.

I originally singled out three main implications/propositions for Afro-Diasporans. The first two ones have been discussed already in previous blogs. However not so the last one which I will revisit in this blog post. Furthermore I will briefly touch upon 23andme’s new “Nigerian” category and also how Ancestry might improve things in the near future.

  1. “Benin/Togo” also describes DNA from Nigeria (see this blog post as well)
  2. “Cameroon/Congo” can also be partially indicative of southeastern Nigerian lineage (usually to a minor degree though, see this blog post)
  3. Is it possible to determine the most likely ethnic source(s) of your Nigerian lineage?

Figure 2 (click to enlarge)

Compil NG 3x

All three results show a predominant “Nigeria” amount. Indicative of a high degree of shared origins for Nigerians, regardless of ethnic background. Then again there is a major distinction between Hausa-Fulani and southern Nigerian results because of in particular the additional “Senegal” score and absence of “Benin/Togo” & “Cameroon/Congo”. Overlap between Yoruba and Igbo results is much greater but still going by proportional shares for in particular “Cameroon/Congo” still some minor differentiation can be detected.

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Final summary: North & East African AncestryDNA results 2013-2018

Without wanting to rehash things this blog post and following ones will provide a quick recap of my final AncestryDNA survey findings for continental Africans. These results were obtained during 2013-2018 but I had not fully processed all the data up till now. Continuing with my North & East African section. Which I first published on 20 November 2016 when I had only 58 North & East African AncestryDNA results available for my analysis (see this overview). As my survey has been ongoing I have managed to collect a sample group which has now more than doubled in sample size. Consisting of no less than 135 AncestryDNA results of  North & East African persons!  Follow the link below for detailed analysis & new screenshots:

Table 1 (click to enlarge)

Stats (n=135)

***

I discontinued this survey after Ancestry’s update in September 2018. Because in my opinion Ancestry’s new version of their ethnicity estimates regrettably has been a downgrade in regards to their African breakdown, overall speaking (see also this blogseries). Which is why I think these “old” results may still be useful and are not obsolete yet. I originally singled out two main implications for Afro-Diasporans which I still stand by.

  1. Careful follow-up research is required to substantiate any DNA results seemingly suggesting East African lineage.
  2. Careful follow-up research is required to substantiate any DNA results seemingly suggesting North African lineage.

Then again my intention is not only to look backwards but also forwards! In particular I believe that this dataset may provide a helpful baseline to compare with 23andme’s newly updated African breakdown (see this overview). Furthermore my findings may also serve as a benchmark for Ancestry’s upcoming update, which hopefully this time will lead to improvement! I find that currently 23andme is much better equipped to detect Northeast African & North African lineage. While also the distinction made for Southeastern African lineage on 23andme is particularly useful for Afro-Diasporans seeking to validate seemingly East African DNA test results.

From what I have seen (see this page) the new “Eastern Africa” category on Ancestry is much less predictive for actual East Africans. While interpretation for Afro-Diasporans is often tricky. When it comes to the new “Northern Africa” region on Ancestry the record is mixed. With interpretation again being tricky for Afro-descendants. More clarity may be obtained however when you critically assess your North and/or East African DNA matches, if you happen to have them. Taking into account shared segment size and the possibility of population matches and false positives, so that only genuine IBD matches are left over. Scroll down to sections 3 & 4 of this page for how I performed such a task for 50 Cape Verdeans and their 180 North African & 9 East African matches. 

Over all I would say that my African survey findings are pretty much reinforcing the main message I have been trying to get across from day 1: the labeling of ancestral categories in DNA testing is often not be taken too literally. However this does not mean you cannot derive a great deal of informational value from your socalled ethnicity estimates! Proper interpretation is a precondition. And it has been my experience that being aware of the DNA results of native Africans certainly helps in this regard. Even more so when also taking into account your African DNA matches, relevant historical context, (advanced) genetic genealogy and other means of follow-up research.

***(click to enlarge)

Compil NEA

 

Final summary: Central & Southern African AncestryDNA results 2013-2018

Without wanting to rehash things this blog post and following ones will provide a quick recap of my final AncestryDNA survey findings for continental Africans. These results were obtained during 2013-2018 but I had not fully processed all the data up till now. Starting with my Central & Southern African section. Which I first published on 17 February 2017 when I had only 32 Central & Southern African AncestryDNA results available for my analysis (see this overview). As my survey has been ongoing I have managed to collect a sample group which is now three times greater. Consisting of no less than 96 AncestryDNA results of Central & Southern African persons! Follow the link below for detailed analysis & new screenshots:

Table 1 (click to enlarge)

stats (n=92)

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I discontinued this survey after Ancestry’s update in September 2018. Because in my opinion Ancestry’s new version of their ethnicity estimates regrettably has been a downgrade in regards to their African breakdown, overall speaking (see also this blogseries). Which is why I think these “old” results may still be useful and are not obsolete yet. I originally singled out two main implications for Afro-Diasporans or rather propositions which I will briefly revisit in this blog post. Also in order to tie up some loose ends.

  1. Congolese & Angolan ancestry more likely than Cameroonian ancestry?
  2. Southwestern Bantu ancestry much more likely than Southeastern Bantu ancestry?

Then again my intention is not only to look backwards but also forwards! In particular I believe that this dataset may provide a helpful baseline to compare with 23andme’s newly updated African breakdown (see this overview). As well as functioning as a benchmark for Ancestry’s upcoming update, which hopefully this time will lead to improvement!

Over all I would say that my African survey findings are pretty much reinforcing the main message I have been trying to get across from day 1: the labeling of ancestral categories in DNA testing is often not be taken too literally. However this does not mean you cannot derive a great deal of informational value from your socalled ethnicity estimates! Proper interpretation is a precondition. And it has been my experience that being aware of the DNA results of native Africans certainly helps in this regard. Even more so when also taking into account your African DNA matches, relevant historical context, (advanced) genetic genealogy and other means of follow-up research.

***(click to enlarge)

compil CSA3

A selection of some of the new results I have added into my survey. Extending the country range. And finally now also able to showcase Angolan breakdowns. Take notice that one of them has “Cameroon/Congo” as primary region while the other shows so-called “Southeastern Bantu” in first place!

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23andme’s new African breakdown put to the test

My first DNA test ever was with 23andme. Nine years ago already! In January 2010 I was thrilled but soon afterwards also quite underwhelmed to receive my very basic admixture results. The only distinction being made back then was between African, Asian and European DNA. Native American DNA did not even have a separate category yet 🙂 As I am of Cape Verdean descent I was actually most anxious to have my Upper Guinean lineage confirmed. Instead my African score just pointed towards the entire continent! One of my immediate reactions at that time therefore was:

“I hope that one day 23andme’s Ancestry Reports will be helpful in finding out where to locate my ancestry regionally and not just on a continental scale.”

After a (very) long wait it seems that this day has finally arrived! Last month 23andme rolled out an updated version (3.0) of Ancestry Composition to all their customers. Regardless of when they originally took the test. This update has actually been on release since September 2018 for 23andme’s most recent customers. But to its credit 23andme also made this update available to its earliest customers, like myself. Over the years I have been through more than one update on 23andme already. But this is the first time I can say that finally a meaningful African breakdown is being provided! For more details see:

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Figure 1 (click to enlarge)

23andmecompil

Updated 23andme results from across the African continent. A small but representative sample. Highlighting how 23andme’s new African regions appear to be quite predictive, for native Africans themselves. Unrealistic expectations about “100% accuracy” as well as counter-productive obsessing about regional labeling should be avoided. Instead take note of how the expected regions (circled in red by myself) reach levels of over 70% reaching into 98%! Taking a macro-regional perspective (combining overlapping regions from within West Africa versus Central/Southern Africa versus Northeast Africa) these results are usually in line as well. Also the additional ancestral locations appearing below the regional scores are on point!

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I have always believed that the best way to find out about the predictive accuracy of any particular DNA test or update is to look at the results of people who actually know their (recent) origins. In order to improve correct interpretation I have therefore started a survey among African DNA testers (n=173). Using their group averages as some sort of rudimentary benchmarks so to speak. Similar to the survey I conducted among African AncestryDNA testers in previous years (see this page). Of course also some basic knowledge about DNA testing (in particular 23andme’s reference populations and methodology) as well as historical context will remain essential to really get the most out of your admixture results!1

Main topics if you continue reading:

  1. Survey findings for 173 African 23andme testers from 31 countries (incl. 25 Cape Verdeans)
  2. Maps showing the geographical distribution of the new African regions on 23andme (based on my survey findings)
  3. Implications for Afro-Diasporans
  4. Examples to illustrate how regional admixture DOES matter!

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DNA matches reported for 50 Cape Verdeans on AncestryDNA (part 1)

In this two-part blogseries I will analyze the DNA matches being reported by AncestryDNA for 50 of my Cape Verdean survey participants. A follow-up to my previous blog post about 100 Cape Verdean AncestryDNA results (see this link). Because I was kindly given access to their profiles I was able to use my scanning and filtering method of DNA matches in Excel (see this link). Aside from matches with mainland Africans I am also including matches with people of (presumably) fully Portuguese, Jewish, West Asian and South Asian descent.1 Below a statistical overview of my main findings. Going by group averages. For the individual results which do display greater variation follow this link:

Table 1 (click to enlarge)

DNA matches for 50 CV's

This table is based on group averages. Except for the columns mentioning the frequency of close and zero matches. So for example among my 50 survey participants only one single person received a close African match (>20cM). While two persons did not receive any African matches at all (excl. North Africa). But on average 5 African matches were reported of whom 4 were connected to the Upper Guinea area. (Senegal-Sierra Leone). The average admixture amounts are based on the recently updated Ethnicity Estimates on AncestryDNA. This update strongly reduced the trace regions. Especially for North African & West Asian DNA. For a previous version of this table see this link.

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Table 2 (click to enlarge)

African matches

The background column is mostly based on informed speculation (plausible surnames/regional admixture) but at times also confirmed by public family trees. The proportion of Upper Guinean related matches is 88% of all African matches (south of the Sahara). That proportion being equal to 227/257. Excluding North African matches from the total. The high number of Fula matches is quite striking. But this could very well reflect a greater popularity of DNA testing among Fula people when compared with people from for example Guiné Bissau who are greatly underrepresented in Ancestry’s customer database.

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This project was merely intended as an exploratory exercise. Of course my research findings have limitations in several regards. And therefore they should be interpreted carefully in order not to jump to premature or even misleading conclusions. Still I do believe they can reveal relevant tendencies in DNA matching for Cape Verdeans in general. These outcomes may also provide valuable insight into the various ancestral components found within Cape Verdean DNA. In particular when aiming for complementarity by also taking in to account admixture analysis, genealogy and relevant historical context.

Below an overview of the topics I will cover in this blog post:

  1. Considerations when dealing with DNA matches
  2. Upper Guinean matches: as expected African matches (south of Sahara) were overwhelmingly from Upper Guinea (Senegal-Sierra Leone): 88% of the total. In line with the 92% Upper Guinean admixture proportion  (“Senegal” + “Mali” / total African) I found for my survey group.
  3. North African matches: fairly consistent despite minimal shared DNA
  4. Other African matches: unexpected & uncommon. Higher odds of false positives but in some cases to be corroborated by additional clues, such as AncestryDNA’s ethnicity estimates?
  5. Methodology: how I filtered the African DNA matches as well as the decision rules I applied when determining a plausible background for each DNA match.

Part 2 of this blogseries will have the following topics:

  1. Portuguese matches: omnipresent and clearly most numerous as well as often hinting at relatively recent ancestral ties (1800’s-1900’s).
  2. Jewish matches: Sephardi matches more likely to be truly genealogical than Ashkenazi matches?
  3. West Asian matches: quite rare, possibly indicating that West Asian admixture among Cape Verdeans is generally indicative of actual North African or Sephardi lineage.
  4.  South Asian matches: also rare, but on a hit and miss basis still sometimes already seemingly validating trace amounts of South Asian admixture.
  5. Inter-island matching patterns: illustrated by the distribution of the shared DNA segments between myself and my 100 Cape Verdean survey participants.
  6. Methodology: how I filtered the non-African DNA matches as well as the decision rules I applied when determining a plausible background for each DNA match.

Dedicated to all my Cape Verdean primos and primas participating in this survey.And special dedication to my newly born nephew Max!

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Did Ancestry kill their African breakdown? (part 3)

Last month Ancestry finally rolled out the updated version of its Ethnicity Estimates for all its customers. In this three-part blog post I have argued that Ancestry’s pioneering analysis of especially West African DNA has been downgraded rather than upgraded! In the first part I evaluated the accuracy of Ancestry’s new African breakdown by analyzing the before & after results of 130 African customers. I found that in most cases the informational value to be derived from their results is showing a decrease rather than any improvement. For more details see:

In part 2 I had a closer look at the newly added African samples within Ancestry’s Reference Panel as well as its new algorithm. And I found some structural flaws which most likely are responsible for the inflated “Cameroon, Congo & Southern Bantu”, “Benin/Togo” and “Mali” scores showing up for Afro-Diasporans. For more details see:

***(click to enlarge)

maxresdefault

The update experience of the person who made this Youtube video is probably quite typical for other African Americans as well. Her main African region before the update was 21% “Nigeria” After the update only 2% remained. Understandably she assumes that Ancestry’s update has lead to greater accuracy. After all Ancestry’s samples have been increased from 3,000 to 16,000, right? However based on my evaluation in this blogseries I’d say it’s very likely that she’s still part of the Naija club!

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The title of this blogseries was sort of meant to be tongue-in-cheek 😉 . However ultimately I do not see much benefit in taking a demoralizing stance. I do still believe that Ancestry offers opportunities for those wanting to learn more about their African ancestry. As always however it is essential to be fully informed about both strengths and weaknesses for each separate aspect of DNA testing. This particular update by Ancestry has arguably been a failed one for people of African descent. But this does not mean that improvement may still be forthcoming, if not on Ancestry than elsewhere! I am specifically referring to admixture analysis a.k.a. ethnicity estimates. As my previous AncestryDNA survey findings have demonstrated that potentially this tool can be very useful in unlocking the secrets of main African regional lineage for Afro-Diasporans.

In this final part of this blog series I will try to outline some promising developments, both on Ancestry and elsewhere, when wanting to Trace African Roots. I will also look into some common reactions & frequently asked questions about this disheartening update for Afro-Diasporans & Africans. Providing my own perspective. My main advice for achieving optimal insight in regards to your African breakdown can be summed up as follows: stick with your previous AncestryDNA results and combine with follow-up research (DNA matches, genealogy, relevant historical context, other types of DNA testing, etc.).

  1. FAQ / Common Reactions
  2. What’s next?

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Did Ancestry kill their African breakdown? (part 2)

Earlier this month Ancestry finally rolled out the updated version of its Ethnicity Estimates for all its customers. Sadly the concerns I raised in July have become reality. Many people are now left confused by their revised African breakdown as reported by AncestryDNA.1 Understandably so given the often drastic and seemingly incoherent changes compared with the previous set-up. In this three-part blog post I will argue that Ancestry’s pioneering analysis of especially West African DNA has been downgraded rather than upgraded! In the first part I evaluated the accuracy of Ancestry’s new African breakdown by analyzing the before & after results of 130 African customers. I found that in most cases the informational value to be derived from their results is showing a decrease rather than any improvement. In the upcoming last part I will discuss FAQ’s about this update as well as look into promising new developments. See also:

 

Table 1 (click to enlarge)

Updated Reference Panel++

Source: Ancestry’s White Paper 2018. Text in red added by myself. Compare also with this overview of Ancestry’s previous Reference Panel. The number of African samples included in Ancestry’s Reference Panel has increased considerably. However take note that this increase of African samples has been disproportionate. Mostly benefiting the “Benin/Togo”, “Mali” and “Cameroon, Congo & Southern Bantu people” regions.

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The title of this blog series was sort of meant to be tongue-in-cheek 😉 as I do believe that Ancestry still offers opportunities for those wanting to learn more about their African lineage. Nonetheless it seems very clear to me that Ancestry’s update may indeed have “killed it“, but only with their new Asian & European breakdowns! However not so with their African breakdown which has taken a big step backwards instead of forwards. At least in most aspects.

In this part 2 I will explore how the changed composition of Ancestry’s Reference Panel as well as Ancestry’s new algorithm may have contributed to this very disappointing outcome. Main topics:

  1. More is not always better: over-sampling for “Cameroon, Congo & Southern Bantu”, “Benin/Togo” and “Mali” causing inflated scores?
  2. What are the ethnic backgrounds of Ancestry’s African samples?
  3. New algorithm has issues with describing mixed/complex lineage?

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Did Ancestry kill their African breakdown? (part 1)

Last week Ancestry finally rolled out the updated version of its Ethnicity Estimates for all its customers.  Sadly the concerns I raised in July have become reality. Many people are now left confused by their revised African breakdown as reported by AncestryDNA.1 Understandably so given the often drastic and seemingly incoherent changes compared with the previous set-up. In this three-part blog post I will argue that Ancestry’s pioneering analysis of especially West African DNA has been downgraded rather than upgraded!

Establishing the accuracy of AncestryDNA’s African breakdown has been the focal point of my AncestryDNA survey which I started five years ago already. From my experience the best indication of such predictive accuracy is obtained by looking at how Africans themselves are being described when tested by Ancestry.2 Which is why I have performed a before & after analysis of 130 AncestryDNA results of African customers from across the continent. Regrettably it turns out that Ancestry’s African breakdown has indeed taken a turn for the worse. In most cases the informational value to be derived from their results is showing a decrease rather than any improvement. See also this overview which contains all their individual results, before and after the update:

***(click to enlarge)

COMPIL1

This is only a small selection but it illustrates some wider patterns I have observed for other Africans as well. It is not only southern Nigerians who are getting a bad deal from this update! Also people of Senegambian/Guinean descent, people with Akan or Kru lineage, Northeast Africans and also northern Nigerians will see drastic changes in their results. But mostly not for the better…

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I am a guy who prefers to see the glass as half full rather than half empty. Which is why I have been surveying AncestryDNA results for so long despite imperfections. After all when Tracing African Roots most people do not have the luxury to be snobbish about admixture analysis. Instead they will want to maximize informational value from any promising source available, again despite shortcomings. Combining research findings in order to achieve complementarity rather than putting all your eggs in just one basket. But right now after this long awaited update my main feeling is that Ancestry has simply broken the glass 😉 . At least in regards to their African “Ethnicity Estimates“. I find it very regrettable to say that currently I do not see much added value in Ancestry’s updated African breakdown and I will not be surveying it any longer. Nonetheless in this three-part blog series I will attempt to point out some redeeming features as well. As I do still also believe that being overly dismissive may deprive you of valuable insights yet to be gained.

Main topics I will cover in this first part:

  1. African breakdown for African AncestryDNA testers
  2. Implications for Afro-Diasporans
  3. Screenshots of updated African AncestryDNA results

Without wanting to give away the cliffhanger ( 😉 ) these will be the topics for part 2 & 3 of this blog series:

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