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.

***

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.

***

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.

***

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!

Continue reading

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.

***

JAMDNA

***

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).

***

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.

***

Continue reading

Akan or Ewe? West African AncestryDNA results 2013-2018

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

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

Table 1 (click to enlarge)

Stats (n=82)

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

***

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

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

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

Figure 1 (click to enlarge)

Compil GH

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

 

Continue reading

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:

***

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!

***

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!

Continue reading

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)

Continue reading

“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

***

Chart 1 (click to enlarge) 

Stats (GH=22)

***

Continue reading

“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)

***

Chart 1 (click to enlarge) 

Stats (GH=22)

***

Continue reading

ROOTS.NL (S1E3) – True Colours (Dutch Race Relations)

2408_CoverGen_7-1

Cover of Dutch Genealogy magazine in which Annemieke’s research was featured in 2015. The portrait is of a Dutch Countess with her African servant named Cocquamar Crenequie.

____________________

“ The exhibition “From the Shadows, new light on African servants at Weesper notables,” opened at the Weesp Museum to a small crowd of townspeople on March 25, fittingly one day before the International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade. It aims to confront Dutch people with the possibility that their history contains more nuances than they are probably aware of.” […]

Another prominent figure who appears in the exhibition is Christiaan van der Vegt, servant in the 18th century to Weesp mayor Abraham D’Arrest. What Christiaan’s African name was and how he ended up in the town is unknown, but he had married a girl from Weesp and they had ten children. “Imagine the surprise of (white) Dutch woman Annemieke van der Vegt when she in 2013 – 250 years later – unsuspectedly decided to research her past and came to find that she is a direct descendant of this African servant.” (Daily Herald Sint Maarten, april 4th 2017)

____________________

In the previous parts of my blogseries about Annemieke van der Vegt and her search for her West African forefather (Christiaan van der Vegt, ca.1750-1825) I have already discussed the following topics:

In this third part i will attempt to shed more light on the following question: how does Christiaan’s life story fit in the currentday discussions on race relations within Dutch society? I will also include other known cases of African or Afro-descended persons living in the Netherlands before the 1900’s. Specifically i will deal with the hotly debated “Zwarte Piet” topic and the origins of this increasingly contested figure of Dutch folklore. Lastly i will describe the potential role DNA testing might play in uncovering the genetic legacy of the colonial past of the Netherlands. Not only for Dutch people but also across the Afro-Diaspora and even within Africa.

Continue reading

ROOTS.NL (S1E2) – Searching for Gold

This is the second post in my blogseries about a Dutch woman (Annemieke van der Vegt) who is in an ongoing search for her West African forefather (named Christiaan van der Vegt after his baptization in 1777). In the first post i discussed how AncestryDNA can be very helpful when trying to trace African ancestry. It provided Annemieke with conclusive evidence of her African genetic inheritance. Furthermore i gave an overview of Annemiekes astonishing archival research findings sofar. Follow these links for more details:

Many fascinating details about Christiaan’s life have been uncovered by Annemieke already. The one thing she is still very eager to discover though is his original name given to him by his parents. And also his ethnic identity before getting caught up in the slave trade as a child and being forcibly relocated to the Netherlands. This blog post will therefore be centered around the question facing not only Annemieke but many Afro-descendants in the Diaspora: Is it possible to pinpoint a plausible ethnic origin for one’s African bloodline?

***Map 1 (click to enlarge)

Nsoko

Man from Ivory Coast (source) & map of Ghana showing locations of historical gold trading cities of Nsoko and Begho.

Continue reading

ROOTS.NL (S1E1) – Dutch woman in search for West African forefather

OP

AncestryDNA results of a Dutch person with one single African ancestor, Christiaan van der Vegt, possibly depicted in the drawing (c. 1760) to the left.

____________________

“Christiaan was born around 1743. This I know by his letter from 1815: (translated from Dutch)

“Letting you gratefully know Christiaan van der Vecht, born at the Coast of Guinea, 73 years of age and living in Weesp.”

Where at the Coast of Guinea he was born I don’t know and also how he came to the Netherlands is unknown to me.”

My name is Annemieke van der Vegt and I am a grand-, grand-, grand-, granddaughter (his grand-, grandson is my grand-, grandfather) of Christiaan van der Vegt”

For the complete story see: What was Christiaan’s name?

____________________

In this blog post and two following ones i will feature the highly remarkable research findings of a Dutch woman who is in an ongoing search for her West African forefather. By simply googling her surname in 1998 she discovered that she had a West African ancestor she was previously unaware of!  She found out eventually by way of archival research that her West African forefather had been a personal servant of several members of the Dutch royal family of Orange-Nassau (at the time of his employment the Netherlands were still a Republic though). And later on (c. 1765) he was also a servant of the mayor of Weesp, a small town near Amsterdam. Most likely he had been only a child when he was brought to the Netherlands. As an adult he had several other jobs and married a Dutch woman with whom he had 10 children. He was baptized as Christiaan van der Vegt in 1777. His original African name and African ethnic identity remain unknown for now but his Dutch ggg-granddaughter, Annemieke van der Vegt, is determined to find out.

The strongly personal motivation of this sixth generation Dutch descendant to uncover the life story of her West African forefather is very inspirational. At the same time her astoundingly diligent research is proving to also have great relevance for many other people. Her work has been put in the spotlight in several Dutch media articles already, incl. the national newspaper Volkskrant, as well as a national genealogy journal. The Weesp museum has recently held a special exposition about Christiaan and three other Dutch Africans who are known to have lived in Weesp around the same time (mid 1700’s). Also historians (both within the Netherlands and internationally) are eager to tap into her specialized field of knowledge which she has been steadily compiling on her amazing blog since 2013. This was the year that marked the 150th anniversary of Dutch abolition of slavery in 1863.

If you continue reading i will discuss the following topics:

  1. What can be learnt from AncestryDNA when trying to trace African ancestry? (ROOTS.NL, part 1)
  2. Is it possible to find a plausible ethnic background for Christiaan? (ROOTS.NL, part 2, Searching for Gold)
  3. How does Christiaan’s life story relate to the currentday discussions on racism within Dutch society? (ROOTS.NL, part 3, True Colours) Continue reading