Ancestry’s 2019 Update: Back on Track Again?

Backontrack

Map showing all the regions available on Ancestry after its 2019 update. For Trans Atlantic Afro-descendants the most impactful changes seem to be that: “Nigeria” has been brought back to life again! But “Ghana” has been derailed. “Mali” is no longer overpowering “Senegal”, but it does include both Sierra Leone and Liberia now! See this link for a complete list of regions and genetic communities. Photo credits for top picture showing a train passing by a railway station in Ghana.

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Starting in October 2019 Ancestry has been rolling out a new update of their Ethnicity Estimates. As I have said before your DNA results are only as good as the next update. So it is best not to get too attached to them 😉 Given scientific advancements and a greater number of relevant reference samples one always hopes that a greater degree of accuracy may be obtained. But naturally no guarantees are given that this will indeed be the case. After all Ancestry’s update in 2018 arguably was a downgrade rather than providing any meaningful improvement! At least when it comes to the African breakdown. In regards to the European, Asian and Amerindian breakdown Ancestry seems to have made steady progress on most fronts. Continued also with this 2019 update.

From my experience the best indication of predictive accuracy is obtained by looking at how Africans themselves are being described when tested by Ancestry. Which is why I have performed a comprehensive survey among 136 African Ancestry testers from all over the continent to establish a more solid basis for judgement. In addition I have also looked into a representative array of 55 updated results from across the Afro-Diaspora. These findings will be described in greater detail further below. The outcomes are mostly positive for Africans themselves but more ambivalent for Afro-descendants. Probably because Ancestry’s algorithm is less adequate when describing the mixed and therefore more complex African lineage of the Afro-Diaspora. My overall verdict about this 2019 update: a step in the right direction but no substantial improvements for the most part. At least not when compared with the original African breakdown from the 2013-2018 version.

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Table 1 (click to enlarge)

Stats Afro

Based on the updated results for 121 African AncestryDNA testers from 30 countries, across the continent. Take notice that the predictive accuracy in most cases is quite solid. Although in a few cases it is still clearly in need of improvement. This goes especially for “Ghana” and “Eastern Bantu”. Follow this link for my spreadsheet containing all the individual results.

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Due to wild fluctuations in just two years many people might experience update fatigue. Some people will even be tempted to bash their DNA test results and admixture analysis in particular. But an overtly dismissive stance will be self-defeating and deprive you of informational value yet to be gained! As I have always argued that regional admixture DOES matter and Ancestry’s Ethnicity Estimates are of course NOT randomly determined.1 Ancestry’s predictions may not be 100% accurate but still in most cases they are reasonably well-aligned with the known backgrounds of my African survey participants. As can be verified from the overview above.

For those perplexed by all the changes do at least make an attempt to inform your self properly. Given how wrong Ancestry got it in 2018 (see this blog series) it is only natural that some grave flaws had to be rectified. Regrettably it seems in some aspects an over-correction did take place. Still depending on your background this update certainly also can be beneficial. Furthermore when considering your African breakdown in a macro-regional framework the changes have actually not been that drastic. And many things more or less remained consistent as I will discuss in section 3 of this blog post.

It has always been my belief that regional estimates require correct interpretation. And each updated version as well as each separate DNA testing company should therefore be judged on its own terms. Then again these admixture results can only take you that far. My advise is to also look into your African DNA matches, as well as historical plausibility and just plain genetic genealogy for greater combined insight. See also these links:

For those seeking deeper understanding of Ancestry’s 2019 update this blog post will attempt to take things further by having a closer look at:

  1. African breakdown for Africans before and after the 2019 update
  2. Ancestry’s Reference Panel & Algorithm
  3. African breakdown for Afro-descendants before and after the 2019 update
  4. Getting back on track again
  5. Screenshots of African updated results
  6. Poll on whether this update has been an improvement or not, please vote!

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100 Jamaican AncestryDNA Results (2013-2018)

On 9 October 2015 I published my first preliminary findings based on 19 Jamaican AncestryDNA results (see this link). Right now, four years later, I have managed to collect a sample group which is five times greater! Consisting of no less than 100 AncestryDNA results of Jamaican-born or fully Jamaican descended persons.1 Although still limited this data-set already provides a rather robust basis. Allowing for a finer detailed analysis of Jamaican genetics. In the first place with regards to the African regional roots of Jamaicans. But in addition I will also cover the Amerindian, Asian and European admixture scores being reported for Jamaicans on Ancestry. As well as variation in African admixture in general. With a special focus on substructure.

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JAMDNA

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These results were obtained during 2013-2018 but I had not fully processed all the data up till now. Although actually in 2018 I already blogged about this survey group (n=100) in my comparison of various parts of the Afro-Diaspora:

Please keep in mind that AncestryDNA’s ethnicity estimates have been updated several times now! In this blog post I am dealing exclusively with AncestryDNA version 2 which was current between September 2013 and September 2018. All matters being discussed are therefore not pertaining to recently updated results (2018/2019) (unless mentioned so specifically). In my opinion especially version 3 (Sept 2018 – Oct. 2019) has been a downgrade rather than providing any meaningful improvement when wanting to learn more about one’s African origins (see this blogseries). The update which is currently rolled out will be reviewed at a later time.

I will mainly revisit and expand on previous findings. Using new statistics and background information. Furthermore I will present my preliminary 23andme survey findings for 28 Jamaicans. This blog post is also intended to be a prelude for my current research into the African DNA matches being reported for Jamaicans. Which will be featured in a follow-up post to this one. Below an overview of all the topics I will cover:

  1. African regional breakdown in line with expectations?
  2. Variation & substructure in African admixture levels
  3. European breakdown reflecting mostly British ancestry
  4. Asian admixture: more or less widespread than imagined?
  5. Traces of Amerindian admixture is proof of enduring Taino legacy?
  6. Comparison with 23andme results being reported for Jamaicans
  7. Current update of AncestryDNA’s Ethnicity Estimates 
  8. Screenshots of individual results & Youtube videos

Follow these links for my complete survey data & research methodology:

Table 1 (click to enlarge)

Macro

This table features an additional breakdown of my own making into 3 greater macro-regions: “Upper Guinea”, “Lower Guinea” and “Central Africa” (also includes Southeast Africa). I find this distinction useful because it allows certain regional patterns to show up more clearly. In particular it seems apparent that the bulk of Jamaica’s African roots are from the area in between Ghana and Nigeria (=Lower Guinea).

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Table 2 (click to enlarge)

Cont. breakdown JAM

The continental breakdown is often considered to be the most reliable within admixture analysis. Aside from reviewing the group averages it is recommendable to look into other statistical measures as well. As many people tend to have misconceptions on how “typical” their personal results might be. Compare also with my 23andme surveyfindings (n=28), see this table.

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Update: Afro-Diasporan AncestryDNA Survey (part 2)

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)

Continental breakdown

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Update: Afro-Diasporan AncestryDNA Survey (part 1)

In 2013 AncestryDNA updated their Ethnicity Estimates to include a detailed breakdown of West African DNA. Pioneering when compared with other DNA testing companies. Soon afterwards I started collecting AncestryDNA results in an online spreadsheet in order to conduct a survey of the African regional scores being reported by AncestryDNA. At first only for people of the Afro-Diaspora and later on also among Africans. My main research goal has always been to establish how much the AncestryDNA results on an aggregated group level can already (despite limitations of sample size and other shortcomings) be correlated with whatever is known about the documented regional African roots for each nationality. As well as to improve correct interpretation of personal results.

In May 2016 I published my first summary of my Afro-Diasporan survey findings based on 707 results for 7 nationalities (see this blog post). My survey has been ongoing ever since. Right now an update of AncestryDNA’s 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 😉 . Mainly based on 1,264 results for people from 8 nationalities. Although the total number of results and nationalities in my survey is even greater.

A major addition is the inclusion of 45 Brazilian results. Their predominant Central African profiles (as measured by both “Southeastern Bantu” and “Cameroon/Congo”) are quite striking when compared with my other sample groups. This outcome reinforces how the African breakdown on AncestryDNA has been reasonably in alignment with historically documented origins of the Afro-Diaspora. Unlike any other DNA testing platform I’m aware of and therefore not to be lightly dismissed despite inherent imperfections.

In the second part of this blogseries I will also provide an overview of the non-African regions (Amerindian, Asian, Pacific etc.) being reported for Afro-Diasporans. As well as a more detailed analysis of their European breakdown.

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This frequency of regions being ranked #1 (regions with the highest amount in the African breakdown) is perhaps the best indicator of which distinct African lineages may have been preserved the most among my sample groups.”

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Chart 1 (click to enlarge)

Afro piechartsa

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DNA matches reported by 23andme for 75 Africans

Wishing to share the vibranium 😉 I have created a new page featuring the DNA matches reported by 23andme for 75 Africansall across the continent. These results were collected by me in 2015 when 23andme’s Countries of Ancestry (CoA) tool was still available.

My survey results might have limitations in several regards but I do believe these African CoA results can still reveal relevant tendencies in DNA matching. I intend to compare these preliminary matching patterns eventually with my more recent findings for Africans who tested on Ancestry. I provide detailed background info as well as screenshots of the individual results on this page:

(click to enlarge)

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“Benin/Togo” also describes DNA from Ghana & Nigeria

I have created a new page featuring the AncestryDNA results for West Africans from the following countries: Liberia, Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Togo & Benin. I will create a new section for the remaining part of West Africa (Upper Guinea) shortly. The number of results I have collected so far might be minimal but already my survey findings turn out to be quite insightful. I also provide some statistical data, analysis and relevant context. Follow this link to view the page:

In addition I also discuss the implications these findings might have for Afro-Diasporans in an attempt to improve proper interpretation of their West African regional scores, in particular for “Ivory Coast/Ghana” and “Benin/Togo”. One of these implications I will also discuss in greater detail in this blog post:

“Benin/Togo” is also predictive of Ghanaian & Nigerian DNA

The so-called “Benin/Togo” region seems to be quite predictive of Beninese origins (based on two results). However in addition ancestry from eastern Ghana and southern Nigeria might also be described by this region. You will need to perform your own follow-up research in order to find out more specifics.

Map 1 (click to enlarge)

Benin Togo

Source: ancestry.com

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Chart 1 (click to enlarge) 

Stats (GH=22)

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“Ivory Coast/Ghana” also describes Liberian DNA

I have created a new page featuring the AncestryDNA results for West Africans from the following countries: Liberia, Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Togo & Benin. I will create a new section for the remaining part of West Africa (Upper Guinea) shortly. The number of results I have collected so far might be minimal but already my survey findings turn out to be quite insightful. I also provide some statistical data, analysis and relevant context. Follow this link to view the page:

In addition I also discuss the implications these findings might have for Afro-Diasporans in an attempt to improve proper interpretation of their West African regional scores, in particular for “Ivory Coast/Ghana” and “Benin/Togo”. One of these implications I will also discuss in greater detail in this blog post:

“Ivory Coast/Ghana” is also predictive of Liberian & Sierra Leonean DNA

The socalled “Ivory Coast/Ghana” region is indeed quite predictive of both Ghanaian and Ivorian origins. However in addition ancestry from Liberia and to a lesser degree (southern) Sierra Leone might also be described by this region. You will need to perform your own follow-up research in order to find out more specifics.

Map 1 (click to enlarge)

IvcGhana region

Source: ancestry.com. (text in red added by myself)

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Chart 1 (click to enlarge) 

Stats (GH=22)

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African DNA Cousins reported for people across the Diaspora

This blog post features the AncestryDNA results of 8 persons from 7 different countries. In particular i will list the (most likely) African DNA matches i was able to find for each profile. Using the tutorial i blogged about in my previous blog post:

Naturally this overview is not meant to be representative per se because these persons are in the first place individuals with unique family trees. It is mainly to show the variation across the Afro-Diaspora. Nonetheless I strongly suspect that many patterns to be observed will still be valid as well for other people of the same nationality or ethnic (sub)group.

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Diaspora Overview

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For this overview I specifically chose people with one single predominant African regional score on AncestryDNA. In order to see how Ancestry’s “Ethnicity Estimate” lines up with predicted African DNA matches. More detailed analysis will follow in this blog post. If you continue reading you will also come across a section featuring inspiring stories of people who were able to reconnect with their African kin through DNA testing.

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AncestryDNA Results Across the Diaspora

In 2013 AncestryDNA updated their Ethnicity Estimates to include a very detailed breakdown of West African ancestry (see this article). Soon afterwards I started collecting AncestryDNA results in an online spreadsheet in order to conduct a survey of the African regions being reported by AncestryDNA, among both African Americans as well as other Afro-descended nationalities. Attempting to establish how much the AncestryDNA results on an aggregated group level can already (despite limitations of sample size) be correlated with whatever is known about the documented regional African roots for each nationality.

Rumour has it that AncestryDNA will shortly start rolling out a new update of their Ethnicity Estimates. So it seems the time is right to finalize my survey. The sample size for most groups appears to be suffciently robust now to allow a meaningful intercomparison. In the AncestryDNA section of my blog (see the menubar) you can find a detailed summary of my survey findings based on 707 results for 7 nationalities:

Gathering all the results was a great learning experience. It has been a very satisfactory project! My survey report merely represents my personal attempt at identifying generalized, preliminary and indicative patterns on a group level inspite of individual variation. Everyone has a unique family tree of course first of all.

I would like to thank again all my survey participants for sharing their results with me. I am truly grateful for it!

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This frequency of regions being ranked #1 (regions with the highest amount in the African breakdown) is perhaps the best indicator of which distinct African lineages may have been preserved the most among my sample groups.”

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FREQ #1 regions

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Specifying the African Origins of the Afro Diasporan Genome (part 1)

Montinaro (2015) - Fig. 1 Samplegroups & Clusters

Unravelling the hidden ancestry of American admixed populations (Montinaro et al., 2015)

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Montinaro (2015) - Supplement - 3way Breakdown

Own calculations based on “Unravelling the hidden ancestry of American admixed populations” (Montinaro et al., 2015)

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“Although our sampling of Africans is incomplete, we see variation among groups in similarity to present-day populations from different parts of Africa. In all groups, the Yorubans from West Africa are the largest contributor, confirming this region [Lower Guinea] as the major component of African slaves” (Montinaro et al., 2015, p.3)

“In addition, more than 30% of the total slaves arriving in mainland Spanish America up to the 1630s came from Senegambia, and we accordingly find that the relative contribution from the Mandenka is higher in all areas historically under the Spanish rule.(Montinaro et al., 2015, p.4)

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