In May 2016 I published the first summary of my Afro-Diasporan survey findings based on 707 results for 7 nationalities (see this blog page). My survey has been ongoing ever since. Right now an update of AncestryDNA Ethnicity Estimates seems even more imminent than it was in 2016 (when it was canceled in the beta phase). So that’s why I will yet again provide a “final” overview of my survey findings 😉 See this link for the first part of my findings which is focused solely on the African breakdown:
In order to provide a broader perspective on the complete DNA make-up of Afro-Diasporans I have this time also analyzed the non-African regional scores on AncestryDNA. Enabling a continental breakdown for my 8 sample groups. Mainly based on 860 results for people from 8 nationalities1. Although the total number of results and nationalities in my survey is even greater.
Generally speaking also the non-African group averages seem to be reasonably in line with historical plausibility. Amerindian, Asian and Pacific trace-amounts are not being left out. These scores are often labeled as low confidence regions and dismissed as just “noise”. Rightfully so in some cases. But given correct interpretation and proper follow-up research at times these scores can still potentially lead you to distinctive ancestors. Furthermore my survey results are now also allowing for a more detailed discussion of the European breakdown as being reported for Afro-Diasporans.
I would like to underline right from the start that my findings are not intended to represent any fictional national averages! The group averages I have calculated for my sample groups are neither absolute or conclusive but rather to be seen as indicative. Obviously several shortcomings may apply. One main aspect to take to heart is that there will always be individual variation around the mean. Given correct interpretation I do believe these group averages suggest insightful tendencies though for each of my 8 sample groups. They also mostly comply with the findings of admixture studies published in peer reviewed journals, or at least the ones I am aware of.2
Chart 1 (click to enlarge)
Given the theme of this blog my survey has naturally been focused on Tracing the African Roots of my sample groups. However most Afro-descendants are not exclusively of African descent. As shown in chart 1 they show variable amounts of non-African admixture as well. Amerindian lineage is significantly present for practically all of my Hispanic American as well as Brazilian survey participants. But Native American DNA was usually absent or greatly diluted (<1%) for my African American, Haitian, Jamaican and Cape Verdean sample groups. Asian ancestry is again usually only reported in trace amounts for almost all my sample groups. Jamaica being a notable exception. Minor but still substantial amounts (>5%) of “Asia South” and “Asia East” are frequently appearing for my Jamaican survey participants. Even if many other Jamaicans may not show any Asian admixture at all. I will discuss these continental scores as well as from West Asia & the Pacific further below.
However by far the most common type of non-African admixture involves European DNA. For several of my sample groups it even represents the biggest part of their ancestry. I fully understand and respect that given the brutal history of the Slavery Period as well as continued racism afterwards many Afro-Diasporans might not be inclined to learn more about their minor European origins. Even if the possibility of this European ancestry (partially) dating from the Post-Slavery Period cannot be ruled out in advance. Muhammad Ali’s Irish great-grandfather makes for an intriguing example.
Still other Afro-Diasporans will be more curious about their complete genetic make-up and how this might define them. Despite shared experiences one must also be careful to respect the localized context and different historical trajectories across the Afro-Diaspora. Instead of just letting one single perspective on inter-racial relationships overcloud things. In fact there can be several valid reasons to also explore the European origins of Afro-Diasporans in a pragmatic and open-minded manner. Ironically in the process you might often also acquire valuable details about African ancestors linked to your European ancestors as well as their biracial offspring.
European Breakdown (scaled to 100%)
Chart 2 (click to enlarge)
Many people are confused and often also mislead by their European DNA results. This happens because they tend to take the country name labeling too literally. Ignoring the geographical & genetic overlap of AncestryDNA’s regions. However in most cases receiving a multitude of European (trace) regions does not imply that you have a confusingly diverse European background! Rather it suggests that your European ancestors were themselves genetically diverse. But still these ancestors could have been from just one or two ethnic groups only.
Because of ancient migrations and ongoing ethnogenesis it can be said that European DNA is also a melting pot if you go back far enough in time. For correct interpretation it is essential to be aware of how native Europeans themselves are described by AncestryDNA. The same principle is valid of course for a better understanding of African and other continental scores as well. Unlike other DNA testing companies AncestryDDA actually provides very useful information in this regard (see this link). However I have chosen to also insert my own findings from a survey among actual Europeans which I have been conducting specifically for this purpose. For more details see:
In chart 2 I have calculated how the scaled3 European breakdowns of each of my 8 Afro-descended sample groups compare with the group averages of several European sample groups. The European countries I selected in chart 2 represent the most likely source candidates for the European DNA detected among my survey participants. Based on the colonial history for each of my sample groups. Of course this is not to deny or rule out any additional and also post-colonial European migrant lineage from other countries. In individual and documented cases this may be very relevant even. I am however principally concerned with finding more generalized tendencies.4
Despite obvious sample size limitations I find it remarkable how closely my Afro-Diasporan sample groups resemble their historically plausible European source populations already. The following is mostly (informed) speculation from my side. But based on this (preliminary) data I would assume that for my Brazilian, Cape Verdean and Hispanic survey participants for the most part the “Europe South” (a.k.a. “Italy/Greece”) scores are being inherited from either Portuguese or Spanish ancestors. In fact this also goes for much of the “Great Britain”, “Ireland” and “Europe West” scores. Unless reported in an atypically high degree or in accordance with known family history involving non-Iberian lineage. For more details see:
Likewise for my Haitian sample group I strongly suspect that despite their European composition seemingly being very diverse it is still mostly French DNA which is being reported for them on AncestryDNA. However only by mislabeled proxies because of a lack of fitting French samples as well as probably a great deal of genetic diversity to be found within France. Therefore French DNA is compatible with several regions on AncestryDNA, incl. “Iberian Peninsula” and “Great Britain”. But also “Ireland”, “Europe South” and even “Scandinavia”. Aside from “Europe West” which is probably only designed to pick up on the Germanic parts of French genetics. It is however well known that the ancestral make-up of France also includes strong Celtic and Mediterranean influences. For more discussion see:
For my African American and Jamaican sample groups it must be kept in mind that in the current version of AncestryDNA British ancestry is being described as a composite of “Great Britain”, “Ireland”, “Europe West” and “Scandinavia”. This may be confusing when the regional labeling is taken at face value. However these are all still basically Northwest European regions and given Great Britain’s more ancient history not really surprising at all. For more information on how to correctly interpret these regional scores associated with British DNA:
- Recent University of Oxford study sheds light on estimating Great Britain ethnicity (ancestry.com, 2015)
- What does our DNA tell us about being Irish? (ancestry.com, 2015)
- AncestryDNA – The Viking in the room (ancestry.com, 2015)
- How British are YOU? Genetic study reveals Yorkshire is most Anglo-Saxon part of UK, while East Midlands is most Scandinavian (Daily Mail, 2016)
Chart 3 (click to enlarge)
As I have been proposing also for my African survey (see this chart) it seems to be worthwhile to focus on the primary regions for my sample groups. As an extra pronounced indicator if you like. In chart 3 this is measured by the frequency of regions being ranked #1 (regions with the highest amount in the European breakdown).5 I have ranked the outcomes from highest to lowest frequency for “Iberian Peninsula”. And in order to highlight their genetic/geographical overlap I have used green colouring for Southwest European regions and a blue/grey palette for interrelated Northwest European regions.
As such it becomes more apparent how my Brazilian, Cape Verdean and Hispanic sample groups are overwhelmingly receiving Southwestern European top regions (“Iberian Peninsula” and “Europe South”). While the primary European regions being reported for African Americans and Jamaicans tend to be predominantly Northwest European (“Great Britain”, “Ireland”, “Europe West” and “Scandinavia”). Again all of this is more or less in agreement with historical plausibility. The Haitian pie chart is most diverse and appears to be bewilderingly random. This is however due to the inadequate coverage of French origins on AncestryDNA. As well as a logical result of France being intermediate between Northwest and Southwest Europe. The upcoming update of AncestryDNA will hopefully resolve this unsatisfying matter.
Several things are to be taken into consideration. First of all as already demonstrated in chart 2 the “Iberian Peninsula” region is not unique to any specific country. However it seems to be descriptive of Spanish origins most of all. Especially northern Spain. While Portuguese DNA more often requires the additional inclusion of “Europe South” (see this page for more details). Which seems to validate the ranking of my findings in chart 3. After all my Hispanic sample groups are showing the highest degree of top ranking “Iberian Peninsula” scores. While my Brazilian and even more so Cape Verdean sample groups are showing a more pronounced “Europe South” frequency. Again other ancestral scenarios are not to be ruled out (genuine Italian or Sephardi Jewish lineage). However just based on how actual Portuguese DNA is being described by AncestryDNA this outcome already makes much sense within itself.
Despite the labeling French DNA is also often (but to a lesser degree) described by the “Iberian Peninsula” region. Which most likely is the main explanation for the significant frequency of “Iberian Peninsula” as European top region among my Haitian survey participants. In fact it may also be the reason why several (12/191) of my African American (incl. Louisiana Creoles!) received this region as top region. Among my Jamaican samples at least one person had actual known Portuguese/Madeiran lineage. Not that uncommon for the West Indies I suppose (see this link).
This might be a redundant disclaimer. But whenever the biggest region within the European breakdown is being described as low confidence it already follows we are dealing with increased chances that the European regional designation will be inconsistent for trace regions. This occurred most frequently for my Haitian, Jamaican and African American sample groups. Who generally only showed minor amounts of European admixture. Due to “quirky” recombination it might be that some unexpected trace regions for them have been disproportionately inherited merely by chance.6 A less blurry picture would probably have materialized when focusing only on the results of my survey participants with above average European ancestry and/or featuring at least one European region above trace level.
I strongly suspect this explains for example the minor but still rather peculiar frequency of “Finland/Northwest Russia” top scores which were practically always only reported as trace regions within my survey (max. score 5%). This outcome most likely represents mislabeled DNA which may not be verified by either genealogy or corroborated by other DNA test results (such as 23andme which seems to be more reliable with trace amounts). This does not imply by the way that these small trace segments would not be unmistakably European in origin! Continental assignment can be performed much more reliably than subcontinental assignment. Rather it means that AncestryDNA cannot rule out that several European regions could qualify at the same time when describing these small DNA patches.
Less reliable trace region reporting probably also explains part of the unexpected Northwest European top scores for my Brazilian, Cape Verdean and Hispanic sample groups. Because this often occurred whenever the overall European amount was low and therefore only described in trace regions. Even when in selected cases genuine Northwest European lineage might be hinted at as well. This seems to be true especially for my Cape Verdean sample group. Historically attested settling and inter-marriage of Dutch, English and French sailors with Cape Verdean women goes back to atleast the 1600’s/1700’s (see this link). Also during a previous survey I performed among Cape Verdean 23andme results I came across a similar finding of somewhat increased Northwest European scores when compared with Latin Americans. Follow this link for more details:
Last but not least there were also a few intriguing top ranking scores for “Europe East” and “European Jewish”. Admittedly often when reported as trace region, but not always. Furthermore given the distinctive nature of especially Jewish genetics perhaps such scores could be more solid. It bears reminding though that the “European Jewish” region is first most describing genetic similarity with Ashkenazi Jews. I have only seen very few Sephardi Jewish results on AncestryDNA. However based on my limited observation sofar it seems that they are described on AncestryDNA more so by “Europe South” and “Middle East”. This is a crucial issue as it is the Sephardi Jews rather than the Ashkenazi Jews who have historically been most involved with the Afro-Diaspora.7 Follow the link below for more details on how to interpret Jewish scores as well as “European East”, which might often imply German origins for Afro-Diasporans.
***(click to enlarge)
***(click to enlarge)
***(click to enlarge)
***(click to enlarge)
As demonstrated by chart 1 as well as the above screenshots Afro-Diasporans may sometimes receive regional scores on AncestryDNA which go beyond just Africa, Europe or the Americas. Some of these scores will be in line with historically plausible migration/admixture patterns. In particular the “Asia East” and “Asia South” scores reported for Jamaicans seem to be very straightforward. Because these are in accordance with Jamaica’s history of Indian contract labourers as well as Chinese migrants arriving after Slavery had been abolished. Many of these people consequently were absorbed by the mainstream Jamaican population through inter-ethnic unions. Even when the existence of such Asian ancestors is apparently not always known by their mixed descendants.
The same holds true for some of the prominent West Asian scores which might either signal quite recent Lebanese migrant origins (late 1800’s/1900’s, see this link), as shown for the Brazilian and Haitian examples above. The Brazilian screenshot also featuring a corroborating “Syrian/Lebanese” migration. Even when this person was actually not aware of such lineage before DNA testing! In other cases these elevated West Asian scores could also suggest older lineage derived from the earliest settlers of Latin America as well as Cape Verde. Among whom people of both recently converted Moorish and Sephardi Jewish descent are very likely to have been present. Other (less likely) scenarios (i.e. Fula people from Sahelian Africa) might apply as well in individual cases. As shown in chart 2 the original West Asian as well as Jewish and North African scores for my Latin American and Cape Verdean sample groups are minor but still quite noticeable. Such scores are also being reported for the Spanish and Portuguese results I have collected. However to a lesser degree. Intriguingly the only exception being “Africa North” which peaks for my Portuguese sample group.
Other continental regions however seem less historically plausible at first sight. Especially “Asia Central”, “Polynesia” and “Melanesia” seem quite outlandish. These latter scores are usually only reported as a trace region with reduced confidence level. And therefore automatically to be taken with the proverbial grain of salt! I would however argue against complete dismissal at first hand. Because such outcomes do usually make sense when genetic similarities & ancient migrations are taken into consideration. As shown by the two Jamaican screenshots above “Pacific Islander” scores are almost always combined with “Asia East” or “Asia South” amounts (when these latter regions are reported with substantial amounts >10%). And therefore they can safely be considered as merely mislabeled regions to be added to the Asian amounts indicating either Chinese or Indian lineage. In other cases Pacific Islander scores (especially “Polynesia”) might also suggest Southeast Asian lineage. Which in turn could tie in with a possible Malagasy connection! This might be especially relevant for African Americans.
The rather subdued “Native American” scores for African Americans seem to be caused first of all by inevitable dilution of such bloodlines across the generations. Something many Americans may have underestimated due to inexact family lore (see this link). Even though less than anticipated this could imply that even minuscule trace amounts of <1% could still be valid. Suggesting one Native American ancestor from the 1700’s or earlier rather than from the 1800’s/1900’s. However that’s not the end of it. As illustrated by the Mexican and African American examples above, “Asia Central” is often being reported as part of someone’s Amerindian lineage. This can be explained by the close genetic similarities between Central Asians and Amerindians from especially North America due to shared ancient origins from Siberia (see this link).
During my survey I have also observed how “Asia East” is showing up as a mislabeled region to describe actual Native American lineage (see these Native American results from the US). A statistical implication could therefore be that the rather elevated “Asian” group average (1.8%) for my Mexican sample group could actually mostly indicate Amerindian DNA. Albeit that a minor degree of diluted but still genuine Asian admixture (i.e. Filipino) for Mexico could also be historically possible. Furthermore the actual Native American group average for my African African sample group might then be 1.0% instead of 0.6% (adding in group averages of 0.3% “Asia Central” and 0.1% for “Asia East”, see this link). In fact this also goes for the Amerindian group averages I calculated for my Dominican, Puerto Rican and Brazilian sample groups. Which are to be slightly increased by including the most likely mislabeled Asian trace amounts for “Asia Central” and “Asia East”.
it’s worth repeating again that without additional clues and corroborating evidence your attempts to trace back trace regions to specific ancestors or ethnic groups could very well lead to a dead end. Conjecture and unfounded speculation can then quickly turn to self deception. To improve correct interpretation of your unexpected results learn more about how other people of such background tend to be described by AncestryDNA. You will also reach a deeper understanding when you stop fixating on the regional labeling too much. You can still obtain insightful information, even from trace regions, as long as you adopt a broader perspective on genetics and resist jumping to premature conclusions. Follow these links for more details:
- Asian, Pacific & Native American AncestryDNA results
- East Asian & Polynesian AncestryDNA results
- South Asian & Melanesian AncestryDNA results
***(click to enlarge)
It is sometimes said that your DNA results are only as good as the next update. So it’s best not to get too attached to them 😉 Given scientific advancements and a greater number of relevant reference samples hopefully a greater degree of accuracy may be obtained in the near future. But naturally no guarantees are given that this will indeed be the case. As shown above AncestryDNA’s update promises to create several new regions. Especially for Europe & Asia, but also Native American DNA is now being further subdivided. At the moment of writing this blog post there is still quite some uncertainty if AncestryDNA’s intended update will indeed be implemented or remain stuck in beta phase (as happened in 2016). I will therefore refrain from any in-depth judgement for now. For more details about the update:
My survey has been based on the current version of AncestryDNA’s Ethnicity Estimates. It remains to be seen how well my present findings will correspond with any newly calculated AncestryDNA results. Will they be rendered completely obsolete or may they still contain lasting insights about the approximate ancestral composition for my survey groups? I expect that the continental breakdown is bound to remain quite steady. As these scores tend to be most reliable in admixture analysis. Except for some of the least reliable trace region reporting. Especially the mislabeled “Pacific Islander” trace amounts may disappear for many people due to the refining of the Asian breakdown. Possibly also the “West Asian” and “Africa North” scores will diminish. The European breakdown could very well see some major improvement. Either way I intend to once again contrast Ancestry’s updated results with historical plausibility as well as the results of actual Africans, Asians, Europeans, Native Americans etc.. As I will keep aiming for combining insights from various fields. Always looking for correct interpretation. Critical but also staying open-minded and careful not to be dismissive when informational value can still be obtained.
Distinctive Results Across the Diaspora
“Still it is possible that people of two different nationalities but with the same total African amount will obtain the exact same African breakdown or nearly so. Also for individuals of two different nationalities and with different levels of total African ancestry the regional scores in their African breakdown might still come very close, both proportionally speaking and in ranking. Implying that in individual cases it will actually be the non-African regions which might prove to be most useful to identify each separate Afro-descended group based on their DNA results.” (Tracing African Roots, May 2016)
During my survey I found it striking that Afro-descended populations often seem more distinctive and recognizable in their non-African components rather than their usually overlapping African breakdowns. Implying that based on group averages it will actually be the non-African regions which might prove to be most useful to distinguish each of my 8 sample groups based on their DNA results.
Below screenshots have been selected to illustrate seemingly distinctive non-African regional compositions among my sample groups for persons with a similar level of African ancestry as well as featuring the same African top region. Obviously these individual results will not always be the most typical ones for their nationality. And naturally there will also still be a great deal of overlapping and similar results across the board (both African and non-African breakdowns). From what I have seen this is especially true for Jamaican & African American results as well as Dominican & Puerto Rican results.
*** (click to enlarge)
*** (click to enlarge)
*** (click to enlarge)
*** (click to enlarge)
***(click to enlarge)
*** (click to enlarge)
*** (click to enlarge)
Links to source data & methodology
The survey findings featured in this blog post merely represent my personal attempt at finding generalized, preliminary and indicative patterns on a group level inspite of individual variation. Everyone has a unique family tree of course first of all. For a deeper understanding of your personal results my advice therefore is to perform follow-up research (DNA matches, genealogy, relevant historical context etc.) and aim for complementarity of your findings (see also this blog post). I would like to thank again all my survey participants for sharing their results with me. I am truly grateful for it!
For a detailed discussion of my methodology & research read these blog sections:
- Afro-Diaspora AncestryDNA results: A Comparison (2016)
- Asian, Pacific & Native American AncestryDNA results (2017)
- European AncestryDNA results (2017)
- Survey of AncestryDNA results for Africans & Afro-Diasporans (main overview)
For the direct links to the source data follow these links. All of which are tabs of the same online spreadsheet. Calculations can be checked by verifying the formula’s. The non-African scores are generally to be seen by scrolling to the far right of the sheets:
- Afro-Diaspora AncestryDNA results: African breakdown
- Afro-Diaspora AncestryDNA results: Continental breakdown
- Afro-Diaspora AncestryDNA results: European breakdown
- African American AncestryDNA results (n=200)
- Brazilian AncestryDNA results
- Cape Verdean AncestryDNA results
- Dominican AncestryDNA results
- Haitian AncestryDNA results
- Jamaican AncestryDNA results
- Mexican AncestryDNA results
- Puerto Rican AncestryDNA results
1). This number of 860 results among 8 sample groups is less than the 1,264 results for the same 8 sample groups I was able to use for my African breakdown survey (see first part of this blogseries). This is because I did not always have complete results available for all of my survey participants. The number of 860 results being the total number of results mentioned in chart 1. In turn the sample sizes in chart 1 represent the number of results for which I had at least both African and European amounts available. Even so in many cases the breakdown would still not be fully complete because of missing scores for other continents or unspecified trace regions. This goes especially for the Puerto Rican results. My African American, Brazilian, Jamaican and Haitian data-sets are practically fully complete.
2). Just to name a few studies providing admixture proportions for the same nationalities as also included in my survey:
- Reconstructing the Population Genetic History of the Caribbean (Moreno-Estrada et al., 2013)
- Unravelling the hidden ancestry of American admixed populations (Montinaro et al., 2015)
- The Genetic Ancestry of African Americans, Latinos, and European Americans across the United States (Bryc et al. (2015) (based on 23andme results).
- The Great Migration and African-American genomic diversity (Baharian et al., 2015)
- A continuum of admixture in the Western Hemisphere revealed by the African Diaspora genome (Mathias et al, 2016)
3) In order to make the European compositions for my sample groups inter-comparable I have scaled the European part of the AncestryDNA breakdown to 100%. This also enables a comparison with plausible European source populations. I have done the same for the African breakdown throughout my survey. Basically I applied the following formula:
- Scaled amount = % for a given European region divided by % of total European amount (all based on group averages)
The scaling formula I used is very simple therefore and can be verified from within the spreadsheet by clicking on any cell featuring a regional score and then viewing the calculation in the function bar (fx) in the upper left corner. All other Excel formulas I used throughout the sheet and especially in the tab “Stats” can also be verified in this same way.
4) The whole set-up of my European AncestryDNA survey is merely intended as an exploratory exercise. AncestryDNA’s regional framework is not best equipped to learn about specific ethnic details. Even when still insightful in itself, given correct interpretation. And hopefully to be improved by the upcoming update. In order to learn more about possible ethnic lineage on your European side I would recommend dedicated family tree research and a close analysis of your DNA matches. In order to zoom in to possibly European DNA matches you can use my filtering method as discussed in this blog post and apply an European filter rather than the African ones (4 & 5 in this sheet).
5) The sample size being mentioned in chart 3 for African Americans, Haitians and Jamaicans is less than the sample size being mentioned in chart 2. This is mostly because results which did not show any European amount at all were not included in chart 3.
6) To add to the reservations arising from Trace Region reporting. Especially when labeled as “Finland/Northwest Russia” or any other seemingly implausible region this type of DNA might speculatingly be representing the remnants of a very ancient prehistorical European bloodline or socalled “cold spot” DNA segments. Which are least likely to be affected by recombination.
7) I have included both the scaled and original group averages for “European Jewish” in chart 2. I should point out though that based on the scaled %’s you might get a wrong impression that it shows up most prominently among my Haitian sample group (5.9%). This however only represents a scaled proportion of their 10.9% total European amount (on average). Because their overall European admixture is quite minor it results in some distortion when scaling. The Haitian group average for “European Jewish” based on original scores is 0.6%.