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!

Twelve new African regions on 23andme

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Figure 2 (click to enlarge)

AC-33-Africa.001

Nine specific regions and 3 broadly macro-regions are now available on 23andme’s Ancestry Composition to describe your origins across the African continent (aside from “Broadly Sub-Saharan African” and “North African & Arabian”). The country name labeling is not to be taken too literally, as always. But it is actually quite indicative if you simply take it as a proxy and also take into account surrounding countries. Despite being less specific it will still also be helpful to distinguish between macro-regional areas within Africa: “West African” versus “Central & Southern East Africa” versus “Northern East Africa

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In the past I have been quite critical about how 23andme neglected its customers who tested to learn more about their ancestry rather than for 23andme’s health reports.2 Despite announcements being made already in 2013 (over FIVE years ago! see this link) the promised specification of African DNA kept being postponed. Seemingly as a low priority on 23andme’s list. Even when AncestryDNA demonstrated that such an endeavour was perfectly feasible in that very same year of 2013 (see this link).

The former African breakdown (2013-2018) on 23andme consisted of a mere three regions: “West African”, “Central & South African” and “East African”. Arguably only the distinction being made between Northeast African DNA and Niger-Congo DNA could be considered useful. The misleadingly labeled “Central & South African” region only serving to single out Hunter-Gatherer DNA (Pygmy & San). Which is usually minimal for Afro-Diasporans, except South African Coloureds. Otherwise this former African breakdown on 23andme was utterly uninformative for Afro-Diasporans. And in fact also for many Africans seeking a regional specification of their origins. Going beyond any bland “West African” score. Which to add insult to injury was actually also measuring Bantu origins from Central & Southern Africa! For more detailed discussion see:

But I have to admit that several exciting developments have been taking place on 23andme since 2018. Improvements in 23andme’s admixture reports as well as new features such as recent ancestral locations could very well be beneficial to anyone wanting to learn more about their ancestry. In upcoming blog posts I intend to explore in greater detail these new opportunities arising on 23andme. To keep things focused this blog post will however only deal with the following question: how well does 23andme’s describe the ancestry of native Africans after its recent update? 

As shown above in figures 1 & 2 the number of African regions in 23andme’s Ancestry Composition has increased significantly. From only three to twelve (leaving aside “broadly Sub-Saharan African” and “North African & Arabian”). With all main areas of Africa (south of the Sahara) being represented. In my evaluation below I will disregard unrealistic expectations about “100% accuracy”. Also counter-productive obsessing about regional labeling should be avoided. Instead I will focus on the informational value to be gained despite shortcomings. There is much to be learnt from the updated 23andme results being reported for native Africans. Despite being less specific it will still also be helpful to distinguish between macro-regional areas within Africa: “West African” versus “Central & Southern East Africa” versus “Northern East Africa”. This is actually an additional regional framework I also applied during this survey3.

Some people might object against the inclusion of the “broadly West African”, “broadly Northern East African” and “broadly Congolese & Southern East African” categories in 23andme’s new African breakdown. As many people (unrealistically) prefer to have their origins specified from A to Z. Only being content with a seemingly exact ethnic designation. But personally I think it is a more honest approach for DNA testing companies to not be more specific than their data supports. As after all unspecified or “broadly” results will ultimately be better than false results. You simply cannot always have clear delineation on all fronts. Things are bound to get blurry at some point. Due to recombination your genetic make-up wil often not fully align with genealogy. Also the impact of ancient migrations, inter-ethnic intermingling etc. is too often underestimated as a primary cause of widespread genetic similarity between neighbouring populations.

This (inevitable) circumstance should however not prevent you from taking advantage of the major improvements carried out by 23andme! West Africa now has 3 more specific sub-regions: “Senegambian & Guinean”, “Ghanaian, Liberian and Sierra Leonean” (initially labeled “Coastal West African”) and “Nigerian”. A very useful start in narrowing down West African ancestry to more meaningful areas. For the first time 23andme is also making a genuine attempt to distinguish between West African & Central African DNA. A crucial pre-condition to understand the African roots of Atlantic Afro-Diasporans! Central & Southern East Africa now consisting of three sub-regions. No longer only the marginal “Hunter-Gatherer” region but also “Congolese” and “Southern East African”. Northeast African DNA was already well defined in the previous version. And amazingly it is now being further refined into: “Ethiopian & Eritrean”, “Somali” and “Sudanese”.

African breakdown for 173 African 23andme testers from 31 countries

Table 1 (click to enlarge)

African Group Averages

This table contains my main survey findings: the group averages for 173 Africans from 31 countries. It illustrates how 23andme’s new African breakdown is performing for people of known background. Click on this link for an expanded & up-to-date version of this table. Also including group averages for “Broadly West African”, “Broadly Congolese & Southern East African” and “Broadly Northern East African”. These scores have been left out of this overview merely because of lack of space.

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Over 170 samples with backgrounds from at least 31 different African countries have been used for my main survey findings featured above.This seems like a reasonably robust number and a wide enough array to pick up on some preliminary patterns. Even when for most of the separate nationalities I was only able to obtain a minimal sample size. Obviously these findings are not intended to reflect any fictional national or ethnic averages! The main purpose of this overview is to give an approximate idea of what to expect when wondering about how 23andme’s update has affected the results of their African customers. See also this spreadsheet which contains all the individual results I used for my survey findings:

For screenshots of the individual results and more detailed discussion see also:

I should first of all point out that due to space restrictions I did not include group averages for “Broadly West African”, “Broadly Congolese & Southern East African” and “Broadly Northern East African” in Table 1 (follow this link to see these scores specified as well). However you can combine all colour-coded regions (either green, yellow or red) for additional insight. You will obtain the total West African, total Central & Southern African and total Northeast African scores (labeled “subtotal + broadly”). And despite being less specific I find that this macro-regional framework actually reinforces the predictive accuracy of 23andme’s new African breakdown!

As one might reasonably expect West Africans (from Senegal to Nigeria) are described by 23andme as being around 95% “West African”. Central & Southeast Africans (from Congo to Mozambique to Kenya) are now (for the first time!) correctly described as being predominantly “Congolese & South Eastern African”, around 80%. And most impressively Northeast Africans (from Sudan to Somalia) are around 98-99% “North Eastern African” according to 23andme. Admittedly countries from intermediate zones (like Mali, Cameroon, Ruanda, Uganda etc.) fall somewhat in between. But such outcomes still make sense if you keep in mind overlapping geography & genetics and ancient migrations across the continent.

One of my main qualms about 23andme in the past has been the lack of clarifying context. They certainly have made some attempts to improve themselves in this regard. But overall I have to say the information provided on their website to help you make more sense of your results is still inadequate. In particular the potentially misleading country name labeling of most of the new regions is not being rectified by mentioning how these regions are in fact almost always also descriptive of DNA found across borders!

This is why I will provide self-made maps below displaying the wider geographic distribution of each region, according to my preliminary survey findings. I will only leave out the “Hunter-Gatherer” region because basically it was hardly showing up among my survey participants. Including also for Central Africans and Southern Africans, who previously received much more noticeable scores for this region.5

It is much to take in and therefore I will only focus on the main tendencies for each part of the continent. At times I will draw comparisons with the former African breakdown on AncestryDNA. Unless stated otherwise I will always be referring to the old version of AncestryDNA, current between 2013-2018! As I believe that Ancestry’s last update of September 2018, unlike 23andme’s current update, has not been beneficial for Africans and Afro-descendants. See also:

“Senegambian & Guinean”: good proxy for Upper Guinean DNA 

Map 1 (click to enlarge)

Senegambian & Guinean

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Quite accurate indicator of Upper Guinean DNA. Including also for Cape Verdeans! I will publish a separate page with my Cape Verdean survey findings eventually. Similar to the “Senegal” region on AncestryDNA (prior to the 2018 update!). But probably somewhat more predictive, especially for Guineans. Extending also into northern Sierra Leone and western Mali.

Not shown in the map but actually all my survey participants of Fula descent in Nigeria, Niger and Sudan also received significant “Senegambian & Guinean” scores. Confirming their western origins, from the historical Fula heartlands of Futa Tooro in Senegal & Futa Djallon in Guinea Conakry (see this page for several maps on Fula migrations).

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“Ghanaian, Liberian & Sierra Leonean”: less predictive for eastern Ghanaians?

Map 2 (click to enlarge)

Ghanaian, Liberian & Sierra Leonean

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Seems to be somewhat less accurate for Ghanaians than for Sierra Leoneans and Liberians, sofar. Which might be correlated with ethnic background. Still many times quite impressive predictions, also for Ghanaians of Akan descent. Especially when combined with the ancestral location feature. Goes beyond the three countries mentioned in the labeling. As in fact this region is also very descriptive of DNA found in Burkina Faso and naturally the Ivory Coast. Because of the inclusion of Sierra Leonean samples overlapping into Upper Guinea as well. But also to the east reaching considerable scores in Benin (30%) and even among two of my northern Nigerian samples (17%). Somewhat unsatisfactory grouping therefore. Especially given the need of distinction between origins from the Gold Coast, Wind Coast and Bight of Benin for Afro-Diasporans. When properly interpreted still useful though.

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“Nigerian” region also covers Ghana, Benin and Cameroon

Map 3 (click to enlarge)

NIGERIAN

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Impressive coverage of southern Nigerian DNA for Nigerians themselves. Group averages of around 90% for my Bini/Edo, Yoruba and Igbo samples! With little variation in between. Only northern Nigerians clearly receiving lower “Nigerian” scores. Much better than on AncestryDNA! However considerable overlap also with DNA found to the west and the east of Nigeria. Native Ghanaians and Cameroonians without any recent Nigerian lineage will still often show “Nigeria” scores in excess of 30%. Ironically reversing the situation on Ancestry. Not a perfect outcome therefore. But it might be preferable for many Afro-Diasporans to have their Nigerian lineage overestimated rather than confusingly mislabeled by Ancestry’s “Benin/Togo” and “Cameroon/Congo” regions.

Not shown in this map but during my survey I found that substantial amounts of “Nigeria” can be useful also to indicate Krio and Americo-Liberian background. As well as related Aku lineage among Gambians. Due to the absorption of Recaptive Africans from southern Nigeria but also other places (such as the Congo) leaving a distinctive genetic imprint among certain population segments of Sierra Leone, Liberia and Gambia.

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“Congolese” region describes DNA across Central & Southern Africa

Map 4 (click to enlarge)

Congolese

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The new socalled “Congolese region is quite predictive, but not restricted to Congolese origins only! In reality it is measuring genetic similarity among Bantu-speaking populations who are dispersed over a far greater territory! As my survey findings clearly demonstrate this “Congolese” region can be found as far south as Mozambique and South Africa! To the north it also has a substantial presence in Cameroon. But more so among certain ethnic groups closely related to Bantu populations. Given the absence of Cameroonian samples on 23andme (unlike Ancestry!) this creates considerable genetic overlap with “Nigerian”, for understandable reasons. To the east there is also some overlap with “Southern East African”. Especially among Bantu populations of Kenya and Tanzania which have a lower degree of additional Nilo-Saharan or Cushitic lineage. Not unlike how the former “Cameroon/Congo” region on AncestryDNA also expanded further south than expected (based on the labeling).

Leaving terminology aside I do think it counts as a true improvement that almost all of my survey participants from this part of Africa (excl. Cameroon, Madagascar & South African Coloureds) are indeed showing up as above 80% Central & Southeast African (combining “Congolese” with “Southern East Africa”, “Hunter-Gatherer” & “Broadly C. & SEA” scores, see this table)

“Southern East African” centered in Swahili countries 

Map 5 (click to enlarge)

Southern East Africana

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Good prediction accuracy for Kenyans and to a lesser degree Tanzanians, but otherwise quite variable. The labeling of this region may be referring to the southeast of Africa. But the real focus is on DNA from the Swahili countries: Tanzania, Kenya, Ruanda and Uganda. The reference populations used by 23andme are also from these countries (see this link). The Swahili countries are actually located more so in the central part of East Africa. A bit confusing but 23andme probably just wanted to make a distinction with their Northeast African regions, based on the socalled Horn countries.

For Afro-Diasporans it is worthwhile to know that Malagasy DNA is also described by this region. But not convincingly so (23.4% on average sofar and 20.3% for “Congolese”). The same goes for South African Coloureds, among whom I found a group average of 40%.  Among my survey participants from Zimbabwe and Zambia “Southern East African” scores are mostly in between 10-20%. But it can get as low as 4% for one of my Mozambican samples! Not an equivalent of the former “Southeast Bantu” region on Ancestry therefore. Perhaps more similar in scope to Ancestry’s new “Eastern African” region. Except it does not really go northwards beyond Kenya and Uganda.

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“Sudanese” also proxy of Nilotic DNA further south? 

Map 6 (click to enlarge)

SUDANESE

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Very predictive of Sudanese origins. Going by the results of my survey participants from both South Sudan & Sudan around 90%! Impressive also the near lack of overlap with neighbouring regions of “Ethiopian & Eritrean” and “Somali”. Still descriptive as well of possibly Nilotic(-like) lineage among a selected group of people in Uganda, Kenya and Ruanda.

Not shown in the map but small amounts of “Sudanese” (<5%) have also been appearing in other parts of Africa. In particular for northern Nigerians. Given Nigeria’s geographical location as well as ancient migrations (Chadic) quite understandable. But still good to be aware that these genetic components have been native to Nigeria for centuries or even millennia already. In particular for Afro-Diasporans wondering about a minuscule score (<1%) of “Sudanese” for example. If truly genuine, it will most likely have been inherited by way of a Sahelian West African ancestor!

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“Ethiopian & Eritrean” also proxy of Cushitic DNA further south? 

Map 7 (click to enlarge)

Ethiopian & Eritrean

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Very predictive of Ethiopian & Eritrean origins. Going by the results of my survey participants from both these countries around 96%! Impressive also the near lack of overlap with the neighbouring region of “Somali”.  But still additionally appearing in minor amounts among my Sudanese results (around 5%) and for my Kenyan survey group (max. score so far 16%). Even more pronounced “Ethiopian & Eritrean” scores were reported for my Ugandan and Ruandan samples (max. scores around 30%). Obviously the country name labeling is not to be taken literally in these cases! Interesting that sofar this region seems to be appearing as a primary indicator of South Cushitic lineage and not “Somali”. Possibly to do with the more diverse composition of the Ethiopian and Eritrean customer samples as compared with the Somali ones?

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“Somali” most exclusive ethnic region? 

Map 8 (click to enlarge)

SOMALIan

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Very predictive of ethnic Somali origins. Going by the results of my Somali survey participants around 97%! Impressive also the near lack of overlap with the neighbouring regions of “Ethiopian & Eritrean” and “Sudanese”.  Unlike these two latter regions I have not yet found any noticeable reporting (>2%) of “Somali” for my survey participants from other East African countries. Safe for one person of possibly Bajuni descent, an ethnic minority from southern Somalia. His rather subdued score of only 23.1% “Somali” seemingly confirming the quite exclusive character of this region. Probably caused by 23andme’s selection of ethnic Somali customer samples as Reference Populations with a high degree of genetic homogeneity. Should be interesting to see how 23andme handles describing the origins of mixed Somali persons with known lineage. For example a half Somali, half Eritrean person or a Somali with 1 known great-grandparent from Yemen.

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 Implications for Afro-Diasporans

money-poker-full-house-10783594

Overall speaking 23andme did a decent job with its newly updated African breakdown in my opinion. Perhaps not a perfect analogy 😉 But imagine your African breakdown (scaled to 100%) being worth $100. Each regional score of 1% being $1, a dime representing a mere 0.1% of your African DNA. You will get more added value from focusing on the bills rather than the coins, no matter how shiny they may appear! Keep your eye on the main prize and don’t get distracted by the small change! In my upcoming surveys for various Afro-Diasporan groups I will once again focus on group averages and the primary regional scores. As these can be considered to have the highest reliability at this stage and might also be confirmed independently by historical sources. Of course this is not to deny the potential value to be gained from smaller regional scores. However you do run a greater risk then of only obtaining virtual bitcoins 😉

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As always customers should really invest more time in informing themselves properly about this update on 23andme. In order to avoid being left confused or mislead by their new results. Sadly I do not believe that 23andme currently puts in enough effort at providing helpful sections/pages offering guidance and context. Which is why I have conducted this survey and also posted the regional maps above. In the past I have attempted to extract general lessons to be learnt from the AncestryDNA results being reported for Africans (see this page for an overview). Wishing to improve correct interpretation of AncestryDNA’s African breakdown for Afro-Diasporans as well as Africans themselves. I intend to do the same based on this newly updated African breakdown on 23andme.

In this blogpost the following has already been established, based on my survey findings for 173 Africans from 31 countries:

  • Regional admixture DOES matter! Given correct interpretation it can be very useful indeed in many cases. The 12 new African regions on 23andme are reasonably predictive for Africans themselves. Many times even impressively so! With group averages for expected main regions surpassing the 90% level even! At times the results do require some additional reasoning. Especially for countries which have not been included within 23andme’s Reference Populations. Given a future expansion of 23andme’s African sample database this should eventually be remedied though (hopefully not taking another five years…)
  • Labeling of ancestral categories should not be taken too literally. Rather regard them as proxies. My survey findings and regional maps may be used as guidance for greater understanding. This circumstance of blurry & mislabeled regional categories is not restricted to 23andme btw. But seems to be inherent to admixture analysis (at this stage). It will be self-defeating to allow such imperfections to deprive yourself of valuable insight! The way I see it the glass is certainly more than half full right now 😉
  • Minimal trace regions are often least informative (when <5%) or even liable to be mere “noise” (when<1%). During this African survey I came across many seemingly outlandish regional scores.6 For example minor “Sudanese”  and “Southern East African” scores being reported for northern Nigerians or minor West African scores for South Africans. Given either geography or historical plausibility they did not make much sense. However being aware of genetic overlap, imperfect algorithms and known bugs I have concluded that usually these trivial scores can safely be disregarded. Unless you have additional clues and corroborating evidence it will usually not be worth your time to investigate any further. Which is not say that small regional amounts are per definition without informational value! However time spent in backing up your primary regional scores (DNA matches, historical context, genealogy etc.)  might often deliver greater and more reliable results.

 

Additional survey findings for Afro-Diasporans are needed however to see if 23andme’s new African breakdown has truly passed the test. Although based only on my African survey findings 23andme certainly did a good job already! For a follow-up evaluation such Afro-Diasporan survey findings need to then also be contrasted with historical plausibility. In particular slave trade patterns which can be verified from the invaluable Slave Voyages Database (which incidentally also had an update very recently!).

For Cape Verdeans, admittedly a special case of Afro-Diasporans, I am already quite confident that the new “Senegambian & Guinean” region is a HUGE improvement! I find it very reassuring to see how this region is not being reported above trace amounts for any of my African survey participants beyond West Africa. Unless there is a historically plausible reason for it (Fula migrations). I have already seen several other hopeful results from across the Afro-Diaspora. For Brazilians for example. Featuring a predominant “Congolese” score, as expected given their greater Central African lineage, on average.  Also many Hispanic results featuring a primary “Senegambian & Guinean” score. In line with the Upper Guinean founding effect I already uncovered during my AncestryDNA survey. I am curious to see how much 23andme’s new African breakdown will prove to be in alignment for Jamaicans and Haitians as well.

For African Americans it seems that sofar “Nigerian” will very frequently (but not always!) turn up as primary region. More consistently so than during my AncestryDNA survey for African Americans (n=350) in 2015. But back then I already speculated that the true proportion of Nigerian lineage among African Americans was underestimated on AncestryDNA, due to regional overlap with “Benin/Togo” and “Cameroon/Congo” (see section 4). Ironically it appears a reversed situation may now be at hand on 23andme.  This is something I aim to investigate further.  Also in light of some questionable statements made by 23andme, claiming that “As much as two thirds of African-Americans’ Sub-Saharan DNA may trace back to Nigerian ancestors” and ” Today, around 20% of African American ancestry is from this regio [“Senegambian & Guinean”]

At this moment I am naturally not able yet to determine the accuracy of  the current “Nigerian” scores on 23andme for African Americans and other Afro-Diasporans. Perhaps an over-correction has indeed taken place. Given the potential overlap with DNA from (eastern) Ghana, Togo and Benin to the west and Cameroon to the east. With quite likely “Congolese” also being underestimated to some degree. This will all be context-dependent though. To be judged on a case-by case basis. Also involving additional clues such as African DNA matches, local historical context etc..

Regardless of how this may turn out to be, based on my African survey findings one thing may already be fairly certain. Given a predominant “Nigerian” score (let’s say >50% of your scaled African breakdown) the odds of such a big amount being mistaken for “Senegambian & Guinean” or any of the non-West African regions are negligible. In such cases it may already be ruled out that a majority of your African DNA hails from either Upper Guinea or Central, Southern or East Africa. Instead the likelihood of a majority Lower Guinean background is very big. Even when there might indeed be some unknown overlap with “Ghanaian, Liberian & Sierra Leonean” and “Congolese” a genuinely significant ancestral connection with Nigeria will usually be very plausible.

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A few examples to illustrate the informational value of regional admixture

According to many pundits only continental admixture is to be taken seriously in DNA testing. Sub-continental, a.k.a. ethnicity estimates, a.k.a. regional admixture only being fit for entertainment purposes… I myself have never taken this stance, preferring to judge each case on its own merits. Attempting to maximize informational value despite imperfections and avoiding source snobbery. Which is why I have conducted my AncestryDNA surveys among Africans and Afro-descendants in the past. Applying an additional macro-regional framework for extra insight (Upper Guinea, Lower Guinea, Central/Southeast Africa). Based on my promising African survey findings described above I will perform something similar now also for 23andme.

Below are some examples which I find particularly illustrative of the informational value to be gained from regional admixture analysis on 23andme. I will also feature screenshots of survey participants of recently mixed background.7 Because I actually find that especially in these mixed cases 23andme’s update really shows it added value. And such outcomes may also (cautiously) be seen as encouraging for Afro-Diasporans. Although naturally their multi-generationally mixed African origins are much more complex and probably also more tricky to disentangle in DNA testing. Obviously it is a mere selection and I am not implying that such accuracy is obtained in all cases! I have tried to outline several limitations of 23andme’s analysis already in this blog post and I will continue to do so in future blog posts.

For more screenshots of the individual results as well as more detailed discussion see:

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CAPE VERDE (Santiago)

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CV

These are the updated results of a DNA cousin of mine. My 25 Cape Verdean samples are over 70% “Senegambian & Guinean”, on average. As usual I have applied a scaling formula in my survey whereby the African breakdown of mixed persons counts as 100%. This outcome is once more confirming the overwhelmingly Upper Guinean roots for Cape Verdeans! I intend to expand my Cape Verdean survey group to 100 samples at which time I will publish my findings in greater detail. Follow this link to see my spreadsheet with the individual Cape Verdean 23andme results. As well as this link to my previous analysis based on 100 Ancestry results (group average of 62% “Senegal” & 13% “Mali”). Also take note of how “Cabo Verde” is accurately pinpointed as ancestral location. However a far more fitting place would be below “Senegambian & Guinean” rather than under “Broadly West African”!

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GUINÉ BISSAU (1/2 Russian)

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GB - halvie

Very impressive result for this person with one parent from Guinea Bissau and one parent from Russia. Perfect illustration of how regional admixture CAN be very useful both for the African and European breakdown. Notice also the correct ancestral location of Russia being assigned! Hopefully with greater expansion of 23andme’s database eventually also Guiné Bissau will be specified for this person’s African side.

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SUDAN (Fulani a.k.a. Fellatah)

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SUDAN - Felatta

Very special results. Awesome testimony of how 23andme’s new African breakdown is indeed able to disentangle the intricate regional origins of this Sudanese Fulani person, a.k.a. Fellata. The new “Senegambian & Guinean” region is clearly functioning as a marker of Fula lineage for him as well as Nigerian Hausa-Fulani. An outcome which was formerly also obtained on Ancestry (see this spreadsheet). Confirmation of eastbound Fula migrations from Guinea across the Sahel into northern Nigeria and then onwards to Sudan! Along the way inter-ethnic unions did occur as reflected by the substantial “Sudanese” as well minor “Nigerian” scores. Even more amazing how this is further corroborated by the appearance of “Guinea” and “Nigeria” as ancestral locations! For more details on the distinctive genetics of Sudanese Fula see also this fascinating study.

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1/2 NIGERIA (Igbo) & 1/2  LIBERIAN

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NAIJA & LIBERIAN

Extraordinary how well this person’s mixed African background is described by 23andme! As can be seen from his own profile details this person is half Nigerian (Igbo going by his surname) and half Liberian. And amazingly this is also pretty much confirmed by his regional scores which are >45% for both “Nigerian” and “Ghanaian, Liberian & Siera Leonean”. The minor remaining scores may be disregarded as irrelevant. This outcome for a mixed person from different parts of West Africa can be seen as encouraging also for Afro-Diasporans. Although naturally their multi-generationally mixed African origins are much more complex and probably also more tricky to disentangle in DNA testing.

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1/2 NIGERIAN (Yoruba & 1/2 Ashkenazi)

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NG (Yoruba) & Askenazi

Very impressive result for this person with one Yoruba parent from Nigeria and one Ashkenazi Jewish parent. Perfect illustration of how regional admixture CAN be very useful both for the African and European breakdown. Imagine this person had been adopted and was not aware of his origins. Surely such results would help him tremendously in his ancestral quest!

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ANGOLA (Mestiço)

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ANG

The “Congolese” region also describes Angolan DNA. As clearly demonstrated by this result for an Angolan of mixed background (=Mestiço). Taking his African breakdown as 100% his scaled “Congolese” score is nearly 80%! (51/64.4=79.2%). Take note also btw how 23andme correctly assigns “Portugal” as ancestral location. If this person also had been of partial Cape Verdean descent most likely “Cabo Verde” would have appeared as ancestral location as well. Plus “Senegambian & Guinean” would have been much more elevated. I actually have several Angolan DNA cousins who have partial Cape Verdean background on Ancestry. And they likewise receive considerable “Senegal” amounts as well as the “Portuguese Islander” migration, as indication of their partial Cape Verdean lineage.

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 1/2 KENYAN? (& 1/2 English?)

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KEN or TAN halvie

Very impressive result for this person who has been adopted and therefore has no certainty about her birth parents. A few years ago she was contemplating that she might have an African American or West Indian parent! However this breakdown makes that practically impossible. And instead either a Kenyan or Tanzanian parent seems very likely (based also on her DNA matches!). Taking her African breakdown as 100%, her scaled score for “South Eastern Africa” is 93% (46.4/4), the second-highest such score in my survey! Perfect illustration of how regional admixture CAN be very useful and certainly is not only fit for entertainment…

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1/2 ETHIOPIAN & 1/2 AFRICAN AMERICAN

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ETHIO & AA

Fascinating composition for this person with one parent from Ethiopia and one African American parent. The “Ethiopian & Eritrean” score is practically 50%, as expected. Illustrating how 23andme is able to accurately distinguish between East African and Trans-Atlantic Afro-Diasporan origins. The latter being more varied of course. Indicated in this screenshot by several West African regions and also an additional minor European component.

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Notes

1) Sometimes it almost seems that admixture analysis is being considered mere guessology by its fiercest critics. Or only fit for cocktail parties as the saying goes 😉 This has however not been my experience. I do agree that performance among the various DNA testing companies and third party websites is very variable. And obviously even more so going back in time. I have myself only tested with 23andme and Ancestry and I found that with correct interpretation and knowledge of their methodology you can indeed derive useful information from admixture/ethnicity results. Which were of course not just pulled out of a hat.

I strongly believe that 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, despite shortcomings. Combining with other research findings (DNA matches, genealogy, relevant historical context, other types of DNA testing, etc.). in order to achieve complementarity rather than putting all your eggs in just one basket.

I know of many people who made important discoveries about their genetic ancestry by using their admixture results a.k.a. ethnicity estimates. For example I have heard several stories by West Indians who had unexpected Asian admixture, minor but still substantial (>10%). And this information was really useful to them as it lead them to previously unknown Asian contract labourer ancestors. There are plenty of other ancestral scenarios for Afro-Diasporans which can be illuminated by way of the continental breakdown which is usually quite accurate.

The regional or subcontinental percentages are indeed not to be taken all too literally. But again I know several persons who did rely on distinctive regional scores to make a breakthrough in their ancestral quest For example I have been told about at least three instances of NPE being confirmed whereby the father turned out to be East African instead of African American or West Indian. In one case indicated by the very predictive “East African” category on 23andme (pre-update) but also by a singular combination of “Southeastern Bantu” and “Middle Eastern” regional scores on AncestryDNA. Many times I have also seen how unexpected partial Cape Verdean lineage could quite reliably be corroborated by  “Senegal” scores on AncestryDNA. Not only for African Americans, but also for Hawaiians (due to whaling connections, see upcoming blog post)!

Such cases are bound to increase now that 23andme’s regional granularity has been significantly improved. All the more reason to resist being overly dismissive about admixture analysis, as this may deprive you of valuable insights! Although naturally this does not imply you should stop informing your self about any inherent limitations or imperfections. Reviewing the results of native Africans provides a good independent measure in my opinion to evaluate the usefulness of 23andme’s newly updated African breakdown. For more discussion see also:

2) In fact my strong disappointment about 23andme’s lack of progress and context given in regards to African DNA test results is one of the main reasons which prompted me to start with this blog in December 2014! For example see my discussion of 23andme’s former version of its Ancestry Composition which I originally published in February 2015:

For a more recent take on 23andme’s track record see also the section “Appeal for true commitment“, in this blog post:

3) In my AncestryDNA survey for Africans & Afro-Diasporans I have also made good use of a macro-regional format. Which is still sub-continental. Basically combining interrelated & neighbouring genetic regions in order to allow certain regional patterns to show up more clearly. This turned out to be particularly helpful when wanting to explore any rough correlation between aggregated AncestryDNA results and slave trade patterns. Which I indeed established for the most part. But also for European DNA I found that this approach works quite well. For example by making a distinction between Northwest European DNA ((“Great Britain”, “Ireland”, “Europe West” and “Scandinavia”) versus Southwest European DNA (“Iberian Peninsula” and “Europe South”) and East European DNA (“Europe East”, “Finland/Northwest Russia”, “European Jewish”). For more details see:

4) Almost all African 23andme results included in my survey have been shared with me by the DNA testers themselves. Some results were also kindly shared with me by friends. And a few results were collected by me from social media. Naturally I verified the background of each sample to the best of my capabilities but I did not have absolute certainty in all cases. I like to thank all my African survey participants for having tested on 23andme and sharing their results with me so that it may benefit other people as well!

I have been gathering African testresults on 23andme for many years already. Originally to gain a greater understanding of the African categories included in 23andme’s old version of Ancestry Composition when it was being updated in 2012/2013. Thanks to the kind willingness of people to share their results I was able then to compile some sketchy “population averages” in 2013 which I shared on 23andme’s online community at that time. And which can still be seen in this online spreadsheet. The individual results can be seen by clicking on the tabs on the bottom of the sheet. The screenshots of their results have also been featured on these blog pages:

Actually my very first survey efforts date back even earlier to 2011 :-). Based on the pioneering African Ancestry Project by Razib Khan.  I shared these findings also on 23andme’s online community at that time. They can still be seen in this online spreadsheet.

In 2018 I blogged about the former Country of Ancestry results being reported for Africans on 23andme (in 2015):

5) Quite ironically it seems that after this update 23andme is no longer able to properly distinguish “Hunter-Gatherer” DNA. The scores for this region have sharply decreased for my survey participants. Especially for Central Africans hardly any Pygmy lineage seems to be picked up anymore. Which might not really be a big loss. Given that in most cases such connections date back to ancient times anyways. And therefore not really relevant for a genealogical time frame (let’s say 500 years).

However the severe underestimation of Khoi-San lineage for South Africans is a more serious flaw. As this type of ancestry is usually to be traced back to more recent times.  It is known from several DNA studies as well as my own previous survey findings that this is a very important and often even principal ancestral component (within the African breakdown) for South African Coloureds especially. However for some reason this is no longer showing up. Similar I guess to how Pygmy ancestry is now mostly submerged for Central Africans and also how North African(-like) DNA has almost disappeared for Fula people as well as Portuguese and Spaniards! See also:

6) These unexpected or even outlandish regional scores can generally be divided in very small trace amounts (<1%) and more noticeable amounts of around let’s say <5%. Both within the African breakdown as well as non-African regional scores. They can be verified from within my spreadsheet. Most of my survey participants did not have a fully 100% African breakdown for example. Due to a known bug (already before this update) causing minuscule amounts (0.1%) of non-African admixture. At times the more noticeable amounts may still make more or less sense after some reasoning. But this will require deeper knowledge of population genetics as well as ancient migrations. The average layman will tend to be just confused by these scores though or mesmerized in case they are exotic ancestry seekers 😉 Hence my analogy about resisting the temptation to be distracted by shiny coins! In my opinion it is best to just regard such scores as unavoidable imperfections and instead focus on the main regional breakdown. Unless you come across a clear deviation from the group averages I have calculated. Minor non-African scores being more worthy of follow-up research in my experience. Even when smaller than 1% in some cases.

7) My survey features several people of mixed-race background, aside from Cape Verdeans. Usually 1 parent being from a specific African country and 1 parent being from Europe. But also Africans with 1 European great-grandparent etc.. In order to make the African composition results inter-comparable between all my survey participants I have scaled the African part of 23andme’s breakdown to 100% for people of mixed background. Basically I applied the following formula:

  • Scaled amount = % for a given African region divided by % of total African amount

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 can also be verified in this same way.

30 thoughts on “23andme’s new African breakdown put to the test

  1. I have not had time to read the entire post, but just from from Table #1 I can already tell that their breakdown for West Africans is FAR superior to Ancestry DNA’s. I think this may push me to test with them. It seems, however, that the deeper into the continent you go south that the numbers aren’t really any better than Ancestry’s. I think it starts out good showing that Cameroon is a largely even mix between Bantu and Nigerian, but Mozambique’s affinity to Congo and not Southeast Africa is confusing. I’d expect them to be much more close with Tanzaniza, but I guess I’ll have to look up historical migration patterns for the settling. Maybe they were more settled from the west than the north.

    In any case, the additiona of Senegambia and Liberia and Sierra Leone is a HUGE improvement over AncestryDNA, and it confuses me to this day why Ancestry continues to skip over Sierra Leone and Liberia as a region, or rather give them such short shrift. There are a huge amount of people between the Akan in Ivory Coast/Ghana and the Senegambia, and many of them are hugely relevant to the disapora.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Okay, red the rest of the post. Thoughts:

      To me, it’s not much confusing why eastern Ghanaians may score less of the “Ghana, Liberia & Sierra Leone” region than other Ghanaians populations. It seems that at least for Ghana and the Ivory Coast 23andMe is clearly picking up the majority/plurality Akan groups. Well, I’ve found in my personal matches with AncestryDNA that this area of the country is populated by the Ewe, particularly the southeast corner. The Ewe cross that border and pour into souther Togo and parts of southern Benin. I’m guessing for 23andMe that if there are many Ewe tested, then, that they are probably grouped with the “Nigeria” region.

      And speaking of Nigeria, I would bet money 23andMe will pick up my significant (southern) Nigerian ancestry that AncestryDNA COMPLETELY misses. I’ve shared before, but most of my full African matches are Igbos, yet AncestryDNA had me at 1% in their previous version and absolutely none in the most recent update. This new change will be huge for the African dispora, particularly in the United States, in properly identifying their ancestry. This change in particular has me really excited, since AncestryDNA’s update was so bad (from the diaspora’s perspective) in centering “Nigeria” in the north of the country.

      Poor little Benin and Togo! lol I’ve often argued with AncestryDNA that perhaps they didn’t need their own region, but when seeing this actually play out, I’m a bit torn. There are nearly 7 million Ewe, alone, who will get pulled into other regions, to not even speak of the millions of others split between these two countries and southeast Ghana and southwest Nigeria. So, while these new regions will solve a lot of the problems when only having three regions, it might actually confuse people from this particular area even more. Though, with that said, maybe this is better for them the old regions as Togo is more culturally related to Ghana and Benin more to Nigeria. It’ll be interesting to see with more people testing from these two countries if that cultural split plays out genetically, too.

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      • I’m guessing for 23andMe that if there are many Ewe tested, then, that they are probably grouped with the “Nigeria” region.

        They will show some variation but most likely be similar to the one single sample from Benin I have included already. High “Nigeria” but still also substantial “Ghanaian, Liberian, and Sierra Leonean”

        And speaking of Nigeria, I would bet money 23andMe will pick up my significant (southern) Nigerian ancestry that AncestryDNA COMPLETELY misses.

        Yeah Ancestry really messed this up with the last update. As I said before almost all AA results I have seen have “Nigeria” in first place. Because this pattern has been so consistent so far some people have wondered if it’s just due to 23andme’s algorithm. I think we need to see more results from more genetically distinctive segments from within the AA population to be really sure. From South Carolina and especially Gullah results and also Louisiana Creoles. I have already seen a few results with “Ghanaian, Liberian and Sierra Leonean” in first place. Still waiting though to see someone with “Congolese” in first place. I do suspect both of these regions are somewhat underestimated in favour of “Nigeria”.

        But otherwise i think a predominant “Nigeria” score for most AA’s is quite plausible in light of the greater weight of Virginia’s African origins (tending towards Bight of Biafra based on Trans-Atlantic slave trade) versus South Carolina’s African Origins (tending towards Central Africa & Upper Guinea, based on Trans Atlantic slave trade). Testimony I suppose of how the question of African lineage within the AA population is complex and cannot be reduced to simply going by known Trans Atlantic slave trade records when Domestic Slave Trade as well the crucial demographic development of natural growth occurring first in Virginia and surrounding states has been so important as well.

        “Poor little Benin and Togo! lol I’ve often argued with AncestryDNA that perhaps they didn’t need their own region, but when seeing this actually play out, I’m a bit torn.”

        Haha be careful what you ask for! I’ll say it definitely had its issues, already prior to the update. But more so for AA’s and West Indians. For Brazilians and Haitians this used to be a pretty good indicator of their historically plausible Bight of Benin connections. But yeah after Ancestry’s update this completely blew up.. With these things you sometimes have to make compromises I guess. But like I said in this post it might be preferable for many Afro-Diasporans to have their Nigerian lineage slightly overestimated rather than confusingly mislabeled by Ancestry’s “Benin/Togo” and “Cameroon/Congo” regions.

        Btw. not sure what happened with your paragraphs, maybe just a temporary hick-up on WordPress, i’ll edit manually when needed 😉

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    • It seems, however, that the deeper into the continent you go south that the numbers aren’t really any better than Ancestry’s. I think it starts out good showing that Cameroon is a largely even mix between Bantu and Nigerian, but Mozambique’s affinity to Congo and not Southeast Africa is confusing. I’d expect them to be much more close with Tanzaniza, but I guess I’ll have to look up historical migration patterns for the settling. Maybe they were more settled from the west than the north.

      Yes it’s confusing I agree. That’s why I am also not completely ok with the labeling of “Southern East Africa”. But most likely that region is defined especially by Kenyan samples, incl. also Bantu speakers who might still have minor Nilotic or Custhic DNA absorbed. I’m looking forward to the day Mozambican and Angolan samples will be more freely available in DNA testing. They are much more relevant, at least for the Trans-Atlantic Diaspora.

      For what it’s worth I just looked up a Mozambican profile on Ancestry, thanks to the compare feature I can now actually see his complete breakdown 🙂 He has 4 grandparents from Maputo (which is in the south, near the border with South Africa) and he scores 55% “SE Bantu” and 45% “Cameroon/Congo” (he has not updated his results yet luckily!) The one single Mozambican sample in my 23andme survey is however from the north and if i remember correctly he also had family across the border in Malawi. So there may yet be more variation. Leaving aside terminology I guess such outcomes are still interesting in light of the Bantu migration patterns you mentioned possibly coming from the west rather then the north.

      ” it confuses me to this day why Ancestry continues to skip over Sierra Leone and Liberia as a region

      Although Ancestry still provides more West African granularity (5 regions versus 3 on 23andme) this inclusion of samples from Sierra Leone & Liberia does count as an improvement indeed! But I’m not sure the current grouping with Ghanaian samples as well is ideal. As discussed last year I think these samples should preferably be sorted out on ethno-linguistic background (Atlantic, Southwest Mandé, Kru, Akan etc.) in order to creater sharper regional delineation.

      If you indeed decide to test with 23andme it will be interesting to see how high your “Ghanaian, Liberian & Sierra Leonean” might get. Most AA compositions I have seen have “Nigeria” in first place, overwhelmingly so in fact. But I have already seen several which instead have “Ghanaian, Liberian & Sierra Leonean” as primary region. Possibly it might correlate with SC origins.

      About the European breakdown on 23andme, i find it quite good. But you do need to be aware again of overlap at times between related and neighbouring regions. However if you look at it from a macro-regional perspective (NW Europe vs Southern Europe vs Eastern Europe) things do fall in place as expected for the most part. See for example the Cape Verdean, Angolan, Guinean and Nigerian result featured above. I have more screenshots of mixed results on the separate pages for West Africa, Central/Southeast Africa and East Africa. Also the ancestral location is usually on point. Something which on Ancestry rarely occurs from what I’ve seen (Afro-Diasporans receiving European migrations).

      Again I have no regrets for having tested with either Ancestry or 23andme. I think both Ancestry and 23andme offer good products. Choosing between either one of them would depend on what exactly you’re looking for. It used to be the case that Ancestry offered a far better analysis of especially West & Central African DNA. But yeah… perhaps again after another update 😉

      Ancestry may have the upperhand still when considering their customer database which is over 10 million now and still growing. This should increase the odds of receiving African and other relevant DNA matches. Generally speaking they are also more specialized in family tree research and offering services/tools to assist you in such endeavours.

      23and me on the other hand has the advantage of providing chromosome paintings, phasing with parents, haplogroups (if you’re interested in tracing a male European family line this could be very useful!), and known ancestor birthplaces of your DNA matches. Aside from their health reports of course.

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  2. There was a rather drastic difference between by AncestryDNA and 23andme results mainly in two areas (with results in the other areas being roughly similar): Central African/Bantu dna and Upper Guinea/Senegambian (I am half Ashkenazi Jewish and about half African American from the Upper South/Virginia/Upper North Carolina and Louisiana/South Mississippi—genetically I am about 43% subsaharan African). AncestryDNA gave me 12% Cameroon/Congo (likely Congo/Angolan) and 5% “Southern African Bantu”, latter of which seems likely to be Angolan also (17% “Cameroon, Congo and Southern Bantu peoples” after the update), and it gave me about 11-12% Upper Guinea (9% Senegal, 2% Mali pre-update; and 11% Mali post-update).

    Surprisingly 23andMe has given me drastically less Central African/Bantu and Upper Guinea: only 2% Congolese (plus .9% broadly Conglolese and south East African) and 2.9% Senegambian and Guinean. The reduction in Central African especially surprises me given the evidence for significant Central African influence (genetically and culturally) in African Americans as well as in the New World African diaspora in general. One though I had was that perhaps some of my Central African ancestry was being represented by 23andMe’s “Broadly West African category (thinking that since the categories were new they might not yet discriminate precisely), but this seems perhaps tenuous I’m not sure.

    I would be interested too see the 23andMe scores of other Afro-diasporans and whether this phenomenon is common (the fact that 23andme’s categories seem to predict well for Africans only makes it more confusing). I’m not sure which of the two dna companies to trust more on these two issues (of my central African and Upper Guinea Ancestry), though I expect African matches would help some.

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    • There was a rather drastic difference between by AncestryDNA and 23andme results mainly in two areas (with results in the other areas being roughly similar): Central African/Bantu dna and Upper Guinea/Senegambian

      From what I have seen sofar this goes for many African Americans. In regards to any Upper Guinean connection, keep in mind that on 23andme this might also be (partially) covered by “Ghanaian, Liberian and Sierra Leonean”. Because 23andme currently does not have a “Mali” like region. Plus I suspect many of 23andme’s Reference Populations from Sierra Leone and perhaps also Liberia might have been either Mande or Atlantic speakers (such as the Temne).Given your two most likely Liberian matches, I suppose your Upper Guinean connection might have ended up more so in this region on 23andme.

      One thought I had was that perhaps some of my Central African ancestry was being represented by 23andMe’s “Broadly West African category (thinking that since the categories were new they might not yet discriminate precisely), but this seems perhaps tenuous I’m not sure.

      I actually also had the same idea! It might also have ended up in the “Broadly SSA” category. If you look into my African survey findings you will see that most of them have subdued level of “Broadly” scores, except for nationalities which are absent or poorly represented in 23andme’s current Reference Populations (such as Benin, Northern Nigeria, Cameroon, South Africa and Madagascar). For Afro-Diasporans however I often see higher “Broadly” scores. I need to have a greater sample size though to know for sure.

      Either way it does seem to me that “Congolese” might be somewhat understated for African Americans given historical evidence of significant Central African influence. But I did already see convincing “Congolese” scores for Brazilians and also Dominicans. Perhaps in your particular case it might also be that your former “Cameroon/Congo” score on Ancestry was really more so Cameroon / Bight of Biafra related. And this part of your ancestry is now more strongly covered by “Nigerian” on 23andme.

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      • In regards to any Upper Guinean connection, keep in mind that on 23andme this might also be (partially) covered by “Ghanaian, Liberian and Sierra Leonean”. Because 23andme currently does not have a “Mali” like region.”

        I suspected this too, seems that Malians get significant “Ghanaian, Liberian and Sierra Leonean” scores on 23andme as your table shows (which might suggests that my upper Guinean ancestry could be more Mande/Malian (as per the update) than Senegalese after all.

        Perhaps in your particular case it might also be that your former “Cameroon/Congo” score on Ancestry was really more so Cameroon / Bight of Biafra related. And this part of your ancestry is now more strongly covered by “Nigerian” on 23andme.

        Perhaps. I’m not sure. I’m somewhat skeptical of this, as the Nigerian score I got on pre-update Ancestry (which post-update was relabeled—most likely mislabelled—”Benin/Togo”) was roughly the same as my 23andme Nigerian score. (significant) Cameroonian ancestry seems unlikely (since that, as far as I know, is rare in Afro-diasporians), but perhaps. My best guess would currently be/it seems to me that most of my Congolese/Central African ancestry in 23andme is likely currently under “Broadly West African”.

        One guess might be that my Central African ancestry could be shifted towards/mostly from the NorthWestern Congo region (maybe around what is now the nation of “the Republic of the Congo—where many ethnically BaKongo people also live—, perhaps also bordering on/into/also including parts of Gabon), this could contribute to giving it enough of an ambiguously/generally “greater/broadly West African” character to cause 23andme to assign most of it to that category (as it apparently does with, as you mentioned, a significant portion of the ancestry of people from neighboring Cameroon).

        It would, of course, help to know where most of their Central African samples come from (they map suggests the “Democratic republic of Congo”, as opposed to the “Republic of the Congo” to the north west, but this may not be representative of their sample base. If their “Congo” samples are at all southern-shifted (centered in the western part of the “Democratic republic of Congo” or even toward northern Angola), perhaps that would help explain the labelling of North central African ancestry as “broadly West African” (if that is in fact what is happening).

        This might also explain why you have found “Congo” scores to be higher in Brazilians and Dominicans than in African-Americans; from what I have read, Central Africans brought to South America and the Spanish colonies tended to come (or more of them came) from more southerly regions of West Central Africa (like North Angola and the S.W. Congo region) relative to the group of Central Africans that were brought to North America (and perhaps also to certain parts of the Caribbean) who instead came mostly from the northern and central Kongo with much fewer coming from from Angola. But I would be interesting and informative to see more African-American (and other Afro-diasporian) results.

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        • Cameroonian ancestry seems unlikely (since that, as far as I know, is rare in Afro-diasporians), but perhaps”

          I wouldn’t say it’s rare per se. Just generally speaking clearly less common than either Nigerian or Central African origins. However for places which happen to have had pronounced slave trade with Bight of Biafra it will be more likely. This goes for Virginia and also Jamaica for example. See these quotes from a previous blog post about how to interpret “Cameroon/Congo”:

          the relative importance of either Bight of Biafra (incl. Cameroon but only to a minor degree) or West Central Africa (mainly Congo & Angola) varies a lot for each particular destination within the Americas.

          Reviewing the chart below it seems generally speaking that only for Virginia and Jamaica a good case might be made to suspect an increased probability of genuine origins from Cameroon or southeastern Nigeria based on a socalled “Cameroon/Congo” score. In this light the socalled Moco or Moko people from the Anglo-Carribean Slave registers seem especially research worthy. This was a commonly used ethnic label to refer to captives from the borderlands of Nigeria/Cameroon. Often thought to refer to either the Efik or Ibibio but quite likely also including other ethnic groups. Also Puerto Rico and Cuba show quite balanced Biafra versus Central Africa proportions. And in fact there is also plentiful evidence of southeastern Nigerian (“Carabali”) and even Cameroonian presence in the Hispanic Caribbean.

          It would, of course, help to know where most of their Central African samples come from (their map suggests the “Democratic republic of Congo”, as opposed to the “Republic of the Congo” to the north west, but this may not be representative of their sample base.

          Indeed! I find the details given by 23andme about their Reference Populations quite minimal. I have not been able yet even to find the subtotals of each region! I find that Ancestry still clearly does a better job at providing context and technical details in their white paper and website (although it used to be better).

          This might also explain why you have found “Congo” scores to be higher in Brazilians and Dominicans than in African-Americans; from what I have read, Central Africans brought to South America and the Spanish colonies tended to come (or more of them came) from more southerly regions of West Central Africa (like North Angola and the S.W. Congo region) relative to the group of Central Africans that were brought to North America (and perhaps also to certain parts of the Caribbean) who instead came mostly from the northern and central Kongo with much fewer coming from from Angola

          Good point! I will need to have more data but this could possibly explain such patterns.

          “But I would be interesting and informative to see more African-American (and other Afro-diasporian) results.”

          I will be working on this. But it will be a very gradual process as I have too much on my hands right now. My AncestryDNA survey took several years to complete actually, haha. But back then it was much more difficult to collect results. I have already created several tabs in my online spreadsheet for African American, West Indian and Brazilian results. Other tabs for other parts of the Diaspora will be added eventually. And probably (not sure yet) I will also keep track of the European and otherwise non-African breakdown. See this link for the African American tab:

          https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1KpSzfMggWiV_9cy5ZKh1hDqSlIRbthfYkz6dvwX-Mts/edit#gid=743710999

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  3. Also, interestingly, my 23andMe scores include very small amounts of Native American and South East Asian, but both are absent in the AncestryDNA results (though they do show up on GedMatch in many calculators with both sets of raw dna data). Native American ancestry is sometimes overestimated in the family lore of some people in the US” (perhaps underestimated in other cases)—the likeliest local tribes (on the North Carolina side) would be Siouan ones like the Saponi/Tutelo and Catawba, and I assume the South East Asian is likely Indonesian ancestry from Malagasy ancestors brought in the slave trade (there are records of some, particularly in North Carolina where some, before the Civil war, joined the free “Colored” communities in the north of the state from some of which my grandmother’s mother’s side came.).

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    • I assume the South East Asian is likely Indonesian ancestry from Malagasy ancestors brought in the slave trade

      How much was it exactly? Interesting that 23andme managed to pick this up and Ancestry didn’t. But still you have a Malagasy match on Ancestry to corroborate this ancestral connection!

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          • It is indeed, but Justin meant to say 0.4% 😉 I have however seen such scores (around 5%) being reported for a few African Americans on 23andme. They also performed thorough follow-research which enabled them to establish a confirmed Malagasy connection. See also this great blog post:
            Part I: The DNA Trail from Madagascar to Manhattan

            Quite atypical though such scores from what I have seen. Much more common are scores inbetween 0-1%. Usually such trace amounts are of course to be taken with a grain of salt. However because it is a distinctive continental score and also because 23andme is rather good at picking up minimal admixture I tend to believe that in many cases such SE Asian scores might still be valid. It would play well into a scenario of largely diluted Malagasy DNA, mostly to be traced back to the early 1700’s and northern states as well as Virginia. Consequently due to Domestic Slave trade this small genetic component became widespread within the AA population also further South.

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            • Did you change his post, or did I read it incorrectly? I seem to remember that post saying “South Asian” and “4%.” Because both of these would be quite a change, which is why I was confused. Southeast Asian could definitely point to Malagasy ancestry. South Asian? Nope.

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  4. Interesting! From the African results you got for 23&me, do you know any who also tested with AncestryDNA? It would be interesting to compare results from the old, updated ancestrydna, and updated 23&me for the same individuals.

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    • It is indeed useful to compare! I only know about tree persons though who featured in both surveys, one from Uganda, one from DRC Congo and one Yoruba Nigerian. See below for this last person’s results. Ancestry breakdown is of course the old one 😉 I would say the 23andme breakdown is clearly preferable. Although of course also not to be taken too literally. The minor “Congolese” is interesting because it is a slight shift towards the more elevated level of this region being reported for Igbo’s. His “Cameroon/Congo” score on Ancestry also used to be somewhat higher than the Yoruba group average. And this person actually suspects he may have some distant Igbo lineage.

      Btw in case you like to see some Ivorian results go this page:
      https://tracingafricanroots.com/west-africa/

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  5. I wanted to see if there was a disctinction between 23andme’s Congolese and ancestry dna’s Cameroon, Congo, and Southern Bantu Peoples.
    Ancestry DNA first gave me 14% Cameroon/Congo; after update its 52% Cameroon, Congo and Southern Bantu Peoples.
    23andme gave me:

    39.7% Nigerian
    14.1% Congolese
    10.8% Ghanaian, Liberian and Sierra Leonan
    5.6% Senegambian & Guinean
    13.7% Broadly West African
    1.5% Broadly Congolese & Southern East African
    0.6% African Hunter-Gathererer
    3.6% Broadly Sub-Suharan African

    2.5% British&Irish
    4.7% Broadly Northwestern Europe
    0.5% Southern Europe
    1.0% Broadly European

    1.2% Native American
    0.1% Indonesian, Thai, Khmer, & Myanma

    What do you think about it?

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    • Hi Joshua,

      So your pre-update “Cameroon/Congo” score on Ancestry is pretty much the same as your “Congolese” score on 23andme, around 14%? This is obviously not going to give you an exact prediction of how much Central African DNA you have. But I would say this amount is much more likely to be a decent approximation rather than the clearly inflated “Cameroon, Congo, and Southern Bantu Peoples” score you got on Ancestry after they did their update.

      Frankly I think it usually is a waste of time trying to figure out what the updated breakdown on Ancestry may imply. Most of the basic groundwork behind Ancestry’s update African breakdown is just flawed. As also mentioned in this blog post I believe that Ancestry’s last update of September 2018, unlike 23andme’s current update, has not been beneficial for Africans and Afro-descendants. See also:

      Did Ancestry kill their African breakdown? (part 1)
      https://tracingafricanroots.wordpress.com/2018/09/22/did-ancestry-kill-their-african-breakdown-part-1/

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      • So would you say that my Congolese score is more affiliated with Angola/Congo or Semi-Bantu groups such as the Bamum, Tikar or Bamileke?

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        • It is a possibility yes. But you will have to do your own research to find corroborating clues (DNA matches, local historical context, family tree research going back to your earliest American-born ancestors etc.)

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  6. “how North African(-like) DNA has almost disappeared for Fula people as well as Portuguese and Spaniards!”

    Oh, is that why my .1% North African from before is now being classified as East Asian/Native American? It makes a lot more sense for it to be North African, because it’s clustered with my small amount of Iberian ancestry and my father’s ancestry is from Belgium, which was ruled by Spain for a while. I can easily imagine how a Spaniard with a bit of Moorish ancestry could have been an ancestor of mine, so I’m more inclined to believe that it’s North African than East Asian/Native American.

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    • That’s one possibility, among several others I would assume. Including also that it’s just a case of 23andme not being able to properly read this very small part of your DNA. And perhaps also that it’s merely a “noise” reporting.

      As mentioned in this blog post one of the main implications of the African results I have seen (which at times also showed HIGHLY unlikely scores of 0.1% “East Asian/Native American”) is:

      Keep your eye on the main prize and don’t get distracted by the small change!

      Minimal trace regions are often least informative (when <5%) or even liable to be mere “noise” (when<1%). During this African survey I came across many seemingly outlandish regional scores. For example minor “Sudanese” and “Southern East African” scores being reported for northern Nigerians or minor West African scores for South Africans. Given either geography or historical plausibility they did not make much sense. However being aware of genetic overlap, imperfect algorithms and known bugs I have concluded that usually these trivial scores can safely be disregarded. Unless you have additional clues and corroborating evidence it will usually not be worth your time to investigate any further. Which is not say that small regional amounts are per definition without informational value! However time spent in backing up your primary regional scores (DNA matches, historical context, genealogy etc.) might often deliver greater and more reliable results.”

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  7. I found an African match on 23andme. His surname is Sanogo and he’s from Ivory Coast.

    On his paternal side, his grandparents are from west Ivory Coast bordering guinea. But his maternal side his grandparents are from northern Ivory Coast.

    The other birthplaces listed were Mali.
    The other surnames he has listed is Coulibaly (which is a Bambara surname)
    Given his close affinity with Mali I wonder if my 10.8% Ghana, Sierra Leone and Liberia score includes Mali.

    My 5.6% Senegambia I’m sure is strictly Sénégal/Gambian.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Congratz! Are you able to see the breakdown of this match? I would love to include it in my survey.

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  8. Thanks for your work. It is outstanding. I am sorry about the length of this post, but I have a comment and then a question. My comment is that I am think that you are correct about Nigerian results on 23andme, including the results of people from Cameroon. I saw a video on Youtube for an actual Cameroonian with Cameroonian parents and grandparents; who took the DNA test and he came back with high results to Nigeria and lower results to Congo. However, there was nothing for Cameroon because I presume that there was no Cameroon region.

    My question is about a results of Ancestry DNA. Why are their results so wildly different from the other testing services? I realize that all the testing services have differences based upon samples and region labeling, but to be honest with you; I think that most of them are at least in the ballpark to point that I am pretty sure of their accuracy.

    Just a little background here. I took tests for FamilyTreeDNA, National Geographic Genome Project, 23andme, AncestryDNA, African Ancestry. I even GedMatched the results AncestryDNA. I realize that African Ancestry does not give autosomal results, but I did find their testing of my genetic lines to be quite informative; as I learned that my maternal line is Mende from Sierra Leone and paternal line is Bissa from Burkina Faso, both groups of which you know are Mande or Mandenka people who are originally from Mali. In any event my maternal result of Mende supports my family history of my grandmother’s family being in slavery by the Ocean in an area on the North Carolina/South Carolina border. Moreover, my paternal results of Bissa lines up with family story of my grandfather or great grandfather having a different diet and personal habits than other people that lived near him, which led me to conclude that he was likely Muslim even though I did not know that to be a fact.

    In any event FamilyTreeDNA, National Geographic and 23andme all pretty much nailed that I am roughly 84.1%-84.8% African, with almost all of it being Sub-Saharan. FamilyTreeDNA and National Geographic did show a 3% North African component and 2% Sephardi Jewish component, which was was supported by the GedMatched results of my AncestryDNA. While 23andme did not show show the same thing, it did show that I have 2.5% Spanish/Portuguese and Southern Europe DNA, which I assume could be that Sephardi Jewish or North African component that shows up in FamilyTreeDNA and National Geographic. Moreover, 23andme pretty much nailed the fact that I have highly likely matches in Ghana and that I have recent ancestry from there within the last 200 years; which I presume is likely from my paternal line (60% of Bissa people are in Burkina Faso, 35% are in Ghana, and the remaining amount are in Togo and Benin). So it looks like those folks are pretty accurate.

    Then there is AncestryDNA. I don’t even know what to say about them. They have me as 87% African which is in line with the other groups, but they are way off on the regions; including Ghana, which I know that I have ancestry in. Before the update they seemed closer to the other groups, but afterwards they seem to be way different. What is the story with Ancestry DNA?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi there, thanks a lot for your comment and appreciation!

      However, there was nothing for Cameroon because I presume that there was no Cameroon region.

      Interesting Youtube video, thanks for sharing! I actually already included this person’s results in my survey. You are right to say that due to the absence of a “Cameroon” region, almost by default people from that country will have their ancestry described by neighbouring regions. The best fitting ones available in 23andme’s new framework nearly always being a combination of “Nigerian” and “Congolese”. The actual balance depending on one’s specific ethnic background. I do think that 23andme’s African breakdown has improved a great deal. But obviously it still also has its limitations. And as I will continue to say the country name labeling in DNA testing is NOT to be taken too literally!

      Even when Cameroon would have its own category, the actual ethnic background of the samples being used would be crucial. Cameroon being VERY ethnically diverse. So let’s say if the samples being used were to hail exclusively from northwestern Cameroon (as these ones tend to be available already in academic databases) then a Cameroonian 23andme tester from let’s say southern Cameroon might still end up with a rather high “Congolese” score. Simply because of genetic similarity being greater for the samples being used for that latter category.

      ” Moreover, my paternal results of Bissa lines up with family story of my grandfather or great grandfather having a different diet and personal habits than other people that lived near him, which led me to conclude that he was likely Muslim even though I did not know that to be a fact.”

      Very fascinating! I always enjoy when people share such family stories!

      “I realize that all the testing services have differences based upon samples and region labeling,

      Indeed these are key factors to understand the variability in admixture results! Another crucial one being the algorithm which is being applied to determine genetic similarity to the samples contained in their reference databases and how this is then translated in actual regional scores. As well as the resolution of the genotyping.

      Having a basic knowledge about these aspects will certainly improve the interpretation of your DNA test results. You have obtained an impressive array of DNA test results. So I’m sure you are already aware that what they provide are estimates by default and should not be taken too literally. In particular the time framing being implied is something to always keep in mind whenever confronted with seemingly puzzling or outlandish outcomes. On the other hand each case should be judged on its own merits. At this very moment I would rate 23andme’s African breakdown above the rest. It certainly has its imperfections. But based on how it performs for actual Africans (described in this blog post) I think it does a quite decent job. In my follow-up surveys for Afro-descended nationalities I will try to find out how predictive it may be when comparing also with historical plausibility (slave trade patterns).

      ” What is the story with Ancestry DNA?”

      Haha, short version: their update in September 2018 has been a downgrade rather than bringing any substantial improvement (at least for the African breakdown). My advise is to stick with your previous Ancestry results and attempt to find African DNA matches to corroborate & specify your regional scores (from before September 2018). For much more detailed discussion:

      Did Ancestry kill their African breakdown? (part 1)
      Did Ancestry kill their African breakdown? (part 2)
      Did Ancestry kill their African breakdown? (part 3)

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  9. Thank you so much for this. I just wanted also to share what I’ve noticed from Rwandans, Burundians and Eastern Congolese Tutsis. On the relatives section of 23andme, There is this guy from D.R.Congo( Munyamulenge) who scored 40% Ethiopia/Eritrea and I myself scores 35% Ethio/Eritrea and my brother 37%. There is also a tendency for Burundians Tutsis to score high Sudanese. One guy is actually 41% Sudanese, with many others scoring in 30s

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for your comment! If you provide me with the full details of their breakdown (preferably a screenshot or viewing link) I can add these results into my survey. You can see a few results from Ruanda as well as similar breakdown from a possibly Hema person from Uganda on this page:

      https://tracingafricanroots.com/north-east-africa/

      Very fascinating indeed, already before the update Tutsis were getting very noticeable amounts of “East African”. However at that time it was not clear if such scores were obtained due to genetic similarity with Masaai samples or rather customer samples from Ethiopia, Eritrea or Somalia. This issue has now been cleared up mostly although it still leaves some questions in place I suppose. See also the comment section of this pre-update page:

      https://tracingafricanroots.com/east-africa/

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