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

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

Table 1 (click to enlarge)

Stats, SEN, n=34

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

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Table 2 (click to enlarge)

Stats Fula

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Figure 1 (click to enlarge)

COMPILUG

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

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23andme’s new African breakdown put to the test

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

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

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

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Figure 1 (click to enlarge)

23andmecompil

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

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

Main topics if you continue reading:

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

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

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

Table 1 (click to enlarge)

DNA matches for 50 CV's

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

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Table 2 (click to enlarge)

African matches

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

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

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

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

Part 2 of this blogseries will have the following topics:

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

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

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100 Cape Verdean AncestryDNA results

In October 2015 I published my first preliminary survey findings based on 23 Cape Verdean AncestryDNA results (see this link). Right now, almost three years later, I have managed to collect a sample group which is four times greater. Consisting of no less than 100 AncestryDNA results of fully Cape Verdean-descended persons! Even though this quadrupled sample size is obviously still limited it will most likely provide a greater insight in the various ways how “Caboverdeanidade” can be described. Genetically speaking that is. And obviously when applying the regional AncestryDNA format, with all its enhanced features as well as its inherent shortcomings  😉

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capeverdednalogo2

Click on this banner to reach Cape Verde DNA, Inc: the biggest online community of Cape Verdean Genealogy & DNA enthusiasts! On Augustus 4 & 5 a pioneering Cape Verde DNA and Genealogy Conference will be held! See this link for more details.

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In this blog post I will discuss the main differences with my previous findings from 2015, which were focused on the African breakdown solely. And in addition I will also present some new statistics and background information on the European and other non-African origins of Cape Verdeans as reported by AncestryDNABelow an overview of all the topics I will cover:

  1. Background details of my 100 Cape Verdean survey participants
  2. To be Cape Verdean is to be mixed?
  3. Upper Guinean roots = “Senegal” + “Mali”
  4. Beyond Upper Guinea: valid outcomes or misreading by AncestryDNA?
  5. European breakdown reflecting mostly Portuguese ancestry?
  6. “Africa North”, “Middle East”, “European Jewish” and other minor regional scores
  7. Upcoming update of AncestryDNA’s Ethnicity Estimates

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

Table 1 (click to enlarge)

cvstats

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Chart 1 (click to enlarge)

Primary regions

This frequency of regions being ranked #1 (regions with the highest amount in either the African or European breakdown) is perhaps the best indicator of the main ancestral components for my Cape Verdean survey group. However only in an extra pronounced degree. For more nuance see the group averages in the next sections.

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Screenshots of individual results (rightclick and open in new tab to enlarge; island origins shown below)

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More charts and analysis when you continue reading!

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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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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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