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 relevantreference 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)
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:
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.
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 thereforenot 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:
African regional breakdown in line with expectations?
Variation & substructure in African admixture levels
European breakdown reflecting mostly British ancestry
Asian admixture: more or less widespread than imagined?
Traces of Amerindian admixture is proof of enduring Taino legacy?
Comparison with 23andme results being reported for Jamaicans
Current update of AncestryDNA’s Ethnicity Estimates
Screenshots of individual results & Youtube videos
Follow these links for my complete survey data & research methodology:
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)
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.
Without wanting to rehash things this blog post and following ones 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. Moving on now to Nigeria, with a special focus on how to distinguish Igbo, Yoruba and Hausa-Fulani lineage.
I first published my preliminary Nigerian survey findings on 22 September 2016 when I had only 15 Nigerian AncestryDNA results available for my analysis (see this overview). As my survey has been ongoing I have managed to collect a sample group which is now five times greater. Consisting of no less than 87 AncestryDNA results of Nigerian persons! Follow the link below for detailed analysis & new screenshots:
For all three listed ethnic groups “Nigeria” is the primary regional component. However more differentiation is detectable when zooming into secondary regions. In particular “Senegal” for the Hausa-Fulani clearly stands out when compared with the rest. Less clear-cut distinction between Igbo & Yoruba. However when taking into account relative proportional shares for “Benin/Togo” and “Cameroon/Congo” it is still already detectable.
I discontinued 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. In particular Ancestry’s update in 2018 has been disastrous for obtaining reasonable Nigerian DNA results. Generally speaking former “Nigeria” scores have sharply decreased and were replaced by inflated “Benin/Togo” and “Cameroon, Congo, Southern Bantu” scores. Just as a reminder this blog post is NOT dealing with those updated and usually rather misleading results! Instead read this blogseries.
My Nigerian AncestryDNA survey is actually the most extensive and oldest part of my African survey (2013-2018). Such results initially being very difficult to come by. However currently my sample size (n=87) is rather robust. Higher even than Ancestry’s own Nigerian sample size (n=67) during this period! And also crucially I have managed to gather plausible ethnic details for almost all of my Nigerian survey participants. Allowing for a finer detailed ethnic analysis of Nigerian genetics. Which is why I think these “old” results may still be useful and are not obsolete yet. Even when I did already establish in 2016 that “Nigeria” does not not cover the full extent of one’s Nigerian lineage.
I originally singled out three main implications/propositions for Afro-Diasporans. The first two ones have been discussed already in previous blogs. However not so the last one which I will revisit in this blog post. Furthermore I will briefly touch upon 23andme’s new “Nigerian” category and also how Ancestry might improve things in the near future.
“Cameroon/Congo” can also be partially indicative of southeastern Nigerian lineage (usually to a minor degree though, see this blog post)
Is it possible to determine the most likely ethnic source(s) of your Nigerian lineage?
Figure 2 (click to enlarge)
All three results show a predominant “Nigeria” amount. Indicative of a high degree of shared origins for Nigerians, regardless of ethnic background. Then again there is a major distinction between Hausa-Fulani and southern Nigerian results because of in particular the additional “Senegal” score and absence of “Benin/Togo” & “Cameroon/Congo”. Overlap between Yoruba and Igbo results is much greater but still going by proportional shares for in particular “Cameroon/Congo” still some minor differentiation can be detected.
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 behelpful 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:
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:
Survey findings for 173 African 23andme testers from 31 countries (incl. 25 Cape Verdeans)
Maps showing the geographical distribution of the new African regions on 23andme (based on my survey findings)
Implications for Afro-Diasporans
Examples to illustrate how regional admixture DOES matter!
Wishing to share the vibranium 😉 I have created a new page featuring the DNA matches reported by 23andme for 75 Africans, all 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:
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.
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!
“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.”