Ethnicity summary of my most likely Gambian DNA match on Ancestry.com
A couple of months ago I found my very first mainland West African DNA cousin on Ancestry.com. Judging from his name and ethnicity preview he is a Mandinga from Gambia. I was exhilarated! I had never been able to find a mainland West African match before. Even when I took my first DNA test with 23andme already in 2010! In other words I had to wait seven years for it! Inspite that I haven’t had any meaningful contact yet this genetic connection is still very valuable to me. As I am of Cape Verdean descent this finding seems very appropriate and in line with my primary Upper Guinean roots (see Top 20 Ethnic Roots for Cape Verdeans).
Many people seeking to trace back their African ancestors are very eager to be connected to a specific place and person within Africa. They hope to achieve this by finding a DNA match from the continent. But just like me they are having a hard time to do so. In the beginning this was mostly because only very few Africans were included in the customer databases of companies such as 23andme or Ancestry.com. Fortunately this has been changing lately because a quickly growing number of Africans or rather African migrants and their children are taking a DNA test. This increases the likelihood of receiving African DNA matches. However many people still find it difficult and/or tedious to sort out their DNA matches. In this blog post I will therefore describe a method which enables a systematic, comprehensive and time saving detection of your “100% African” DNA matches on Ancestry.com.
If you continue reading you will find:
- Some considerations on how to interpret your African DNA matches
- A step by step tutorial on how to sort out your African DNA matches
Notes of Caution
It is probably no exaggeration to say that for many Afro-Diasporans getting connected with an African DNA cousin represents nothing less than a dream come true. It is considered a highly prized outcome. As a genealogical research reward in itself but often also on an emotional or even spiritual level. Understandably this sometimes leads to wishful thinking and tunnel vision whereby DNA results are not critically assessed. Without wanting to rain on anybody’s parade I will list some considerations which might be helpful to improve the interpretation of receiving African DNA matches. Naturally this section is not meant to be exhaustive.
- Don’t jump to conclusions. The first thing to take into consideration is establishing whether your African match is indeed genuine or “identical by descent” (IBD) and not just a socalled false positive or random “identical by state” (IBS) match. Getting your parents tested or any other relatives of older generations will increase your ability to be more certain about any given reported DNA match. Also the size of the shared DNA segment will be indicative. It is well advised to carefully read the Predicted Relationship Info given by Ancestry.com and especially the confidence score they will assign to your African DNA match.
- Don’t be misled by the myth of “single tribe origin”! This is a line of thought which seems to be psychologically comforting for many people. It is however not based on historical reality. Practically all Afro-Diasporans will have dozens if not hundreds of relocated African-born ancestors. Depending on your background these ancestors would have been born mostly in the 1700’s but in some cases also in the early 1800’s, 1600’s or even 1500’s. Statistically speaking it is nearly impossible for all those people to have been from just 1 or even just a handful of ethnic groups. Instead, on average an Afro-Diasporan will have various ethnic origins from several places in between Senegal and Mozambique. The particular mix and proportions will vary per individual but not so the fact that a Diasporan’s DNA is basically a melting pot of many different ethnic lineages. It will never reflect just one single ancestral “tribe”. Still your best bet to confirm one particular ethnic lineage (out of many others) is by finding an African DNA cousin with verifiable background.
- The MRCA (most recent common ancestor) shared between you and your African DNA cousin will not per se be of the same ethnic background as your African DNA match. Without any 100% complete and accurate paper trail in place (or oral traditions to the same effect) you should not be surprised that your African match might also be ethnically mixed further down the line. If not recently than perhaps several generations ago and even beyond family recollection. The extent of inter-ethnic unions taking place within Africa itself is often ignored. There are almost always several possible ancestral scenario’s to consider when you get “matched” with someone. None of them to be ruled out in advance. Careful interpretation is therefore essential.
- Due to dilution of shared DNA segments across the generations there might be a higher likelihood of African MRCA’s from the early 1800’s and late 1700’s among your DNA matches. While there might be a built-in bias against African ancestry which is to be traced back to the early 1700’s, 1600’s or even 1500’s. After all due to Ancestry’s matching threshold DNA matches with smaller shared segments will not be shown. I am actually in favour of such a conservative approach as I believe that it’s best to avoid IBS matches and the false hope they may evoke. It is of course always a blessing to connect with any family line certified in a robust manner. But for those Afro-Diasporans who happen to have relatively more distant African roots this circumstance might very well lead to a distorted overview of their African heritage. Especially when the regional origins of their African ancestors born in the 1700’s/1800’s were markedly different from their African ancestors born in the 1500’s/1600’s.
- Certain African countries will tend to be overrepresented in Ancestry’s customer database. Notably English speaking countries such as Nigeria and Ghana. While Portuguese or French speaking countries such as Angola and Benin are underrepresented for the most part. This is mostly due to these countries’ migrant presence in the US/UK (see this graph for biggest groups in USA in 2015). Although by now I actually have personally seen African Ancestry profiles from almost all countries on the continent. So overall the coverage in Ancestry’s customer database is still already quite impressive. But just not so proportionally speaking. This situation creates more chances of being matched with for example your Nigerian lineage but doesn’t potentially invalidate that you might still also have Beninese or Angolan ancestry in addition.
- Eventhough the wait might seem to take forever Big Data will eventually also be available for African DNA. Whether provided by paying customers of African migrant descent or through academic sampling within Africa itself. Because of upcoming scientific advances your outlook on your African origins might very well be modified a few years from now. Instead of receiving just one single African DNA match (if you’re lucky) you will then be guaranteed to get many pages containing perhaps hundreds of African DNA matches! Comparable to the situation of people of European descent right now. This could actually create initial confusion as you are bound to get DNA matches from a myriad of African countries. From personal observation on 23andme’s former CoA (Countries of Ancestry) tool Europeans typically received DNA matches from allover their continent (to their great surprise). For the most part not due to any genuine links within a genealogical timeframe but rather due to IBS and very ancient shared origins from thousands of years ago. Hopefully promising new features such as the Genetic Communities will be further developed to aid in solidly analyzing any of the arising patterns.
- Look at the bigger picture! Admixture analysis (based on your autosomal DNA) is often misunderstood or even mocked. Unjustly so as I have found AncestryDNA’s Ethnicity Estimates to be very insightful as long as you know how to correctly interpret them and are aware of inherent limitations. My assessment is based on the many AncestryDNA results of native Africans I have seen. Which were usually in alignment (broadly) with their verifiable background (see this overview). Also my survey of Afro-Diaspora results was largely a confirmation of historically documented African origins for each nationality.
- Your ethnicity results will always be relevant to put things in perspective. If only to be able to (roughly) distinguish between major sources of ancestral origins versus minor lineage. Finding one single African DNA match can of course be very valuable but it will still represent only one isolated connection with Africa out of potentially hundreds others. Individual DNA matches – no matter how insightful – will not be able to fill in all the missing pieces of your entire ancestry. Therefore don’t put all your eggs in just one basket. If you want your research to be all encompassing you will want to rely on the complementarity of admixture analysis and DNA matches. The truth has many angles. Explore them all!
For more detailed discussion follow these links:
- “African Autosomal DNA Matching: A Feeling I Can’t Describe” (Roots Revealed)
- “Identical by descent ” (International Society of Genetic Genealogy Wiki)
- “Legitimate and False Matches” (DNA Explained)
- “Guidelines for Determining IBS vs IBD” (DNA Explained)
- “Finding Genetic Cousins – Separating Fact from Fiction” (The Genetic Genealogist)
- “New Roots” (The Guardian, 2006)
- “What Tribe Am I? ” (Tracing African Roots)
- “Fictional Family Tree incl. African Born Ancestors” (Tracing African Roots)
- Survey on the African Breakdown as reported by AncestryDNA for both Africans and Afro-Diasporans. (Tracing African Roots)
- Historical Demography of Cape Verde (Cabo Verde Raizes na Africa)
Up till recently it was extremely difficult to find African DNA matches as there were simply very few native Africans available to get matched with in Ancestry’s customer database. It is a true blessing that this is rapidly changing as more and more Africans are starting to get DNA tested themselves. This presents a unique opportunity to learn more about your African roots (at least along a few selected family lines) and connect with your African DNA cousins.
For some people the following tutorial might be redundant as they were already aware of advanced filtering on Excel or because they have devised other effective ways to detect African DNA matches. This blog post is however aimed at people who are currently missing out on African DNA matches because they simply don’t know where to start. Or because they feel over-awed about scanning through all their DNA matches or unsure on what exactly to pay attention to.
So how does it work and what do you need?
- Install the DNAGedcom Client
- Some basic Excel skills (for first-timers: google is your friend!)
- Follow this step by step tutorial
- Advanced Excel Filter Settings (link to my googlesheet containing the needed advanced filter criteria)
And basically you are all set! Of course no guarantees given that this will automatically result in finding African DNA matches 😉 This method is merely meant to ensure African matches do not remain undetected. However many people will find that Ancestry’s customer database is still lacking in Africans to be matched with. Don’t despair! Just regularly check your DNA matches according to this filtering method and eventually your efforts will be rewarded.
Just as a p.s. the screenshots used for this tutorial are obviously a reflection of my personal system settings. The display might be slightly different depending on your own settings. For privacy reasons I have cut out the names of my matches.
This tutorial has been modified several times since I first published it in 2017. In order to ensure a continued or even improved detection of African DNA matches. Mostly triggered by updates on Ancestry but also through helpful tips from the comment section. Scroll all the way down for a log of all the changes made.
As an alternative you can also watch this demonstration video I made for Rootstech 2021:
Do a fully automated scan of your DNA matches by using DNAGedcom.
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- Open the DNAGedcom Client and click on the “Gather” tab, displayed above
- Choose Ancestry
- Type in your Ancestry login name and password
- Click on “Login”
- Make sure that you only tick the box next to “Gather Ethnicity”. Leave everything else unticked. The other options are not needed for this purpose.
- Select the desired profile and click “Gather DNA Data”
- Downloading the DNA matches will take a while but should still be pretty fast. Personally I must have scanned more than a 100 profiles shared with me by now. And the scanning is almost always finished within an hour.
- For any troubleshooting consult the DNAGedcom webpage or join its Facebook group
Open the file of your DNA matches when the scan is completed. You will be able to find the file in the export folder designated in Options on the first view of the DNAGedcom Client. The original file will be in CSV format (Comma Separated Values). You will need to save the file in Excel (Workbook) format to proceed with the next steps.
- Go to “File”
- Select “Save As” and choose your preferred Excel format
- With my system settings the columns are shown separately right away after saving the file in Excel format. If for some reason this should not be the case for you:
- Apply “Text to Columns” to your DNA matches data. See step 4 in the first version of this tutorial.
- For any troubleshooting just google: “convert CSV into Excel” or “Text to Columns”
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Change the display of your DNA matches data. This will be done by only leaving in the most relevant columns. The other columns will be hidden from view. Because you are not deleting these columns you can always decide to unhide them at a later stage when required.
- First check if the scanning has indeed been fully complete. Scroll down to the last row and check if all rows are filled in with data from columns A to X. If not repeat step 1.
- Select all columns you like to be hidden from view
- Right-click and select “hide”
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The purpose of this step is to keep things manageable and obtain a less data crowded overview. It will be up to your own preference and research purposes to decide which columns you like to keep in and which ones to leave out. I personally have found it convenient to:
- Only display column D (admin), column H (shared cM), and columns V, W and X (ethnicregions; ethnictraceregions; matchurl).
- I changed the column width when needed.
- Also I changed the display format for column H (shared cM) from “general” into “number” (right-click entire column; select “format cells”; choose category “number”).
- The end result looks like this (column D/admin is blank because of privacy reasons):
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Initially your matches appear to be sorted on the amount of shared DNA as measured in centimorgans in column H (shared cM). It is however advisable to sort your DNA matches according to Ethnic Regions (column V). This is very helpful for your first manual browsing through your DNA matches. It will enable you to zoom in on DNA matches with a particular regional profile. Because they are sorted on primary region they are already grouped together.
For example as I am of Cape Verdean descent it makes it very easy to single out my most likely Cape Verdean DNA matches (I literally have hundreds of them!). Due to their distinctive profiles Cape Verdeans will almost always have “Senegal” mentioned as biggest region in their African breakdown. For other parts of the Afro-Diaspora it is however more complex. Because their African breakdowns tend to be far more diverse and not consistent at all when it comes to the primary region. But let’s say you yourself happen to have a prominent “Africa Southeastern Bantu” or “Mali” score then it might be a rewarding avenue of research to get in contact with your DNA matches who likewise have these not so commonly appearing regions in first place.
In fact this sorting on ethnic region can potentially also be useful to research any of your non-African lineage, such as Asian, Native American or European. You might also want to use text filtering to zoom into one particular region. Do keep in mind though that there are always several ways you could be connected to people of mixed background. For example just because you happen to have a DNA match who is primarily Asian doesn’t per se mean you both have an Asian ancestor in common. It could also be the other way around and your MRCA actually is connected with the minor non-Asian origins of your DNA match. Plausibility rather than wishful thinking will be the best guideline as always.
- Go to Tab “Data”
- Select the entire worksheet. Either by pressing Ctrl+A or by clicking the select all button in the upper left corner
- Click on Filter, which should result in each column getting its own filtering menu
- Click on the filter button for column V (ethnicregions)
- Choose “Sort A to Z” or if you prefer the other way around “Sort Z to A”
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It should be noted that the labeling of the ethnic regions is sometimes different from the labeling on AncestryDNA. Scanning with DNAGedcom will alter the regional labeling in most cases (AncestryDNA Helper maintains the original labeling). Perhaps a bit confusing at first but once you’re aware of it the labeling still makes sense.
The overview below is also including the new regions which have been added as of the update in September 2018! Because not all of Ancestry’s customers have actually updated their results the scanning will currently result in an overview including both updated and unrevised ethnic regions. The appearance of brackets […] also being indicative in this regard.
- “AfricaBantu” = “Africa Southeastern Bantu” (only appearing for profiles which have not been updated since September 2018)
- “AfricaN” = “Northern Africa” (“Africa North” before the update)
- “AfricaSanPygmy” = “Africa South-Central Hunter-Gatherers”
- “America” = “Native American” (only appearing for profiles which have not been updated since September 2018)
- “AmericaN” = “Native American—North, Central, South”
- “AmericaS” = “Native American—Andean”
- “AngloSaxon” = “England, Wales & Northwestern Europe” (“Great Britain” before the update)
- “AsiaC” = “Asia Central” (only appearing for profiles which have not been updated since September 2018)
- “AsiaE” = “Asia East” (only appearing for profiles which have not been updated since September 2018)
- “AsiaNE” = “Central and Northern Asia”
- “AsiaS” = “Southern Asia” (“Asia South” before the update)
- “Balochistan” = “Balochistan”
- “Baltic” = “Baltic States”
- “Basque” = “Basque”
- “Burusho” = “Burusho”
- “Celtic” = “Ireland and Scotland” (“Ireland/Scotland/Wales” before the update)
- “Dai” = “Southeast Asia—Dai (Tai)”
- “EuropeE” = “Europe East” (only appearing for profiles which have not been updated since September 2018)
- “EuropeIb” = “Iberian Peninsula” (only appearing for profiles which have not been updated since September 2018)
- “EuropeJe” = “European Jewish”
- “EuropeN” = “Scandinavia” (only appearing for profiles which have not been updated since September 2018)
- “EuropeS” = “Europe South” (only appearing for profiles which have not been updated since September 2018)
- “EuropeW” = “Europe West” (only appearing for profiles which have not been updated since September 2018)
- “Germany” = “Germanic Europe”
- “GreeceAlbania” = “Greece and the Balkans”
- “Gujarati” = “Western and Central India”
- “Korea” = “Korea and Northern China”
- “Luhya” = “Eastern Africa”
- “NearEast” = “Middle East”
- “Slavic” = “Eastern Europe and Russia”
- “TurkeyArmenia”: = “Turkey and the Caucasus”
- “Vietnam” = “Southeast Asia—Vietnam”
- “UralVolga” = “Finland” (“Finland/Northwest Russia” before the update)
Apply advanced filter criteria in order to leave in only “100% African” profiles among your DNA matches. These advanced filter criteria are defined in such a way that only DNA matches with exclusively African AncestryDNA regions will remain in your overview. This is probably going to be the most important step to see if you have any native African DNA cousins. However this advanced filtering method can actually also be used to zoom into DNA matches who are “100% Asian”, “100% European” etc. (see filters 4 & 5 in my google spreadsheet). This is all to be done at your own discretion.
Below instructions are based on my trial & error experience. I have learnt the hard way that you really need to be very precise if you want to make these advanced filter criteria work. So be patient and don’t despair if it doesn’t work at once. Then again depending on your system settings/Excel version it might very well be that there are several roads leading to Wakanda 😉
- Enter the advanced filter criteria into your Excel sheet
- Copy the advanced filter criteria which I have already prepared from this google spreadsheet. They can be found under the heading “Strictly “100% African” filter (A8:AQ9).
- You can also devise these criteria yourself (use this tutorial)
- Or just copy them manually from the screenshots below [keep in mind that the criteria have been expanded because of the update in September 2018! The new regions are however not included in the screenshots on this page]
- Go to Tab “Data” in your own Excel sheet
- Make sure to enter the criteria horizontally and not vertically
- Also there should be at least one blank column in between the criteria and the last column of your DNA matches data (at least this is the only way how it worked for me)
- If your last column is X (matchurl) then for example rightclick on cell AA1 and paste the copied criteria from my googlesheet. (A8:AQ9). When needed you can also do one row at the time.
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Apply the advanced filter criteria on your DNA matches data
- Click on Advanced filter
- Define the range of your DNA matches data (“list range”)
- If the filter buttons from Step 4 are still in place and you first click on any given cell within the range this will be done automatically
- Make sure that all of your matches are included in the range by checking the last row number which should equal the total amount of your matches (minus 1, in my case 5,846)
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- Define the range of your advanced filter criteria (“criteria range”)
- The easiest way to do this is to
- first click on the upperleft cell (in my case AA1)
- keep the SHIFT key pressed
- scroll all the way right
- and then click on the bottom-right cell (in my case AT2)
- or else just type it in manually
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- For the finishing touch just click on Enter or OK and voilá only your “100% African” DNA matches will be left over (if you have any). In my case my most likely Gambian DNA cousin shows up as the only profile among my 5,846 matches who is exclusively African (genetically speaking).
- Obviously “100% African” DNA profiles could also very well belong to a Afro-Diasporan rather than be a native African. In STEP 7 I will list some tips on how to make the distinction. But just like for this step there are no guarantees that this will enable you to single out each and every native African profile. In the next step I will first discuss the matter of native African DNA cousins who aren’t “100% African”.
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Apply less stringent advanced filter criteria to also include native Africans who are not “100% African”. Afterall many native Africans are “mixed” according to AncestryDNA’s format because they also have additional regions appearing such as Middle East, Asia, Europe or even the Pacific. These native (atleast for more than a thousand years or so) Africans would be North & East Africans, the Malagasy from Madagascar, and also the Fula and related people from across Sahellian West Africa. This complicates finding adequate advanced filter criteria because naturally you wouldn’t want to miss out on any possible DNA matches from these areas. Even when especially North & East African matches will for the most part be quite unusual and uncommon for Trans Atlantic Afro-Diasporans.
In my googlesheet I have included additional sets of advanced filter criteria which might function as a workaround. Naturally this less stringent filtering method does also increase the number of DNA matches who are actually Afro-Diasporan. In the next step I will discuss some tips on how to make the distinction. But first:
- Undo the filter from the previous step by simply clicking on Filter.
- Make sure that all your (sorted) DNA matches have reappeared again
- Enter the less stringent advanced filter criteria into your Excel sheet.
- Copy the advanced filter criteria which I have already prepared from this google spreadsheet. They can be found under the heading “More inclusive African filter” (A14:AB15).
- Actually in my googlesheet I have also defined a third set of criteria which should ensure that only matches without any European regions are left over: to be used at your own discretion.
- You might also want to tweak around with these criteria yourself (use this tutorial). Please leave a comment if you think you have found any improvements!
- Or just copy them manually from the first screenshot below [keep in mind that the criteria have been expanded as of the update in September 2018! The new regions are not included in the screenshots on this page]
- Follow all the remaining instructions from STEP 5
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In my case 12 matches are appearing when applying this filter. But going by their ethnic regions as well as profile details I could verify that no additional native African matches were among them. I have also used these less stringent criteria on several other profiles I have access to. And for some of these people I did manage to find additional native African matches (in particular Fula but also Kenyans). The second screenshot is showing the DNA matches of a woman who is half African American and half Senegalese Fula. You will notice many of her matches even have European trace regions (low confidence) aside from Middle East scores. I would consider this to be merely a consequence of genetic overlap between North Africa/West Asia and Southern Europe. And not any robust indication of genuine minor European lineage. Column D with the most likely background details was filled in by myself.
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Determine if your filtered DNA matches are native African or Afro-Diasporan. Of course getting in contact with your DNA match will provide the best answers. Otherwise basically you will want to go by every possible clue available. Obviously this list is not meant to be exhaustive and the results will also reflect your own research skills 😉
- Check if your match has a public family tree and look for the birth places. This information will not always be conclusive though due to adoption, migration etc. Also from my experience this information is regrettably not filled in by the greater majority of native Africans on Ancestry (as well as Afro-Diasporans actually).
- Pay attention to the profile name. If it seems “African” google for it, even if it’s just a nickname! You might also want to search for the name on forebears.io or on Facebook. Often you will be able to zoom into most likely nationality or even ethnic group. Although many African names are in fact widespread across several countries. Also be careful because sometimes Afro-Diasporans adopt African names (due to conversion to Islam, marriage or as an Afro-pride statement).
- Check the profile details of your DNA match (by clicking on his or her name). Usually the member profile is left blank but sometimes spoken languages, research interests etc. are mentioned, which could provide a useful hint.
- Click on “shared matches” to see if you and your match have any mutual DNA matches. This will usually not be the case for native Africans. While especially for people of your own nationality the likelihood will naturally be much greater.
- Do a check on plausibility for the ethnic regions mentioned for your “100% African” matches. Native Africans tested on AncestryDNA will usually also show several regions in their breakdowns. However most of the time results of native Africans can easily be distinguished for having a much narrower regional scope on average than Afro-Diasporans, even if the latter happen to be “100% African”! The regions reported for native Africans will almost always be:
- geographically adjacent
- generally fewer in number
- and often with only one single predominant region
- Of course in some cases the above aspects will also be seen on a profile for a “100% African” Afro-Diasporan. But from my experience this will be uncommon. Just for illustration see below screenshots as well as these blogpages featuring results of native Africans:
- Even if your “100% African” DNA match turns out to be an Afro-Diasporan it might still be very helpful to contact them as they might yet somehow clarify parts of your African lineage. Otherwise it will simply be interesting to find out how you both are related.
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I have applied this advanced filtering method not only for myself but also already for over a hundred other people who have shared their profiles with me. I am therefore confident that this method works! Up till recently I actually used a much less thorough method based on simply browsing through my list of matches on Ancestry’s website and paying close attention especially to the profile names which appeared to be African. And then checking if the preview of their ethnicity estimates would indeed be “100% African”. That’s how I discovered my most likely Gambian DNA cousin. Another method I used was performing a search on birth location by typing in various African country names.
Eventhough these latter methods do also deliver results I have found that there are added benefits to this filtering method:
- It is more systematic and comprehensive. Because of the automated scan performed by either DNAGedcom or AncestryDNA Helper and the automated filtering performed by Excel. In principle it should show you all “100% African” DNA matches (if you have them). Including those profiles without African names or family tree! Which from my experience is actually the case for a majority of native Africans on Ancestry.com. In other words if you are merely browsing through your matches based on name or birth location you are potentially missing out on native African DNA matches!
- Furthermore it is timesaving. I have heard some people open the profiles of each and every match in their list to check the preview ethnicity estimates for “100% African” DNA matches. Again this can also be effective. However it is also tedious and especially if you have over a 100 pages of DNA matches it can take up a LOT of your time! Naturally such a manual proces will also be prone to inadvertently overlooking native African DNA matches.
All of this is not to say this advanced filtering method will be flawless 😉
- Not all native Africans are going to be “100% African” genetically speaking. And Afro-Diasporans can of course also be “100% African”. I already dealed with this matter in STEP 6 & 7. However it could also be that one of your DNA matches happens to have one parent who is native African and one parent who is from somewhere else. These DNA matches could also provide you with valuable clues as long as you can ascertain that your MRCA is indeed along the native African parent’s side.
- Some of your 100% African matches might actually not be 100% African at all! In fact based on my experience in scanning other people’s matches a greater majority of filtered matches may turn out to be false positives! This will involve a greater effort on your part to sort out the native Africans from Afro-Diasporans (see STEP 7). If not by some glitch on part of either DNAGedcom or Ancestry this outcome will usually be due to an incomplete summary of the ethnicity estimates for your matches. In most cases these filtered matches actually will have some non-African admixture as well. These would be people who opted out of the so-called full “Ethnicity Profile Display”. Seemingly a default setting and applied to most of your DNA matches. But in some cases it might happen that someone chooses to un-check this box and then “your DNA matches will only see the portion of your ethnicity estimate that they share in common with you“. (see DNA settings on ancestry.com).
- Even if this method will provide you with the contact details of your African DNA matches, don’t be surprised if the response rate will generally speaking not be very high. This is a general complaint on Ancestry.com and actually due to several reasons and not per se a sign of disinterest. Instead of being judgmental or disappointed just lower your expectation level and be thankful for every reply message that you do receive from your newly found cousins!
- Registering with GED-Match will enable you to “fish in a bigger pond”. As the database of this free of charge website will include DNA tested Africans from other companies as well (such as 23andme and FTDNA). You can upload your raw data from Ancestry.com by following these instructions:
- Best of luck in your ancestral quest!
Please Leave a Comment!
I wrote this tutorial because I was not able to find one aimed specifically at Afro-Diasporans. And I strongly feel this kind of information can potentially be very beneficial for people seeking to connect with their African DNA cousins. To be honest it was my first time writing a tutorial and therefore I found it quite challenging. If you have read this blog post all the way down to this section I would really appreciate any kind of feedback! Anyone who knows how to improve on this tutorial or has any additional tips/methods please share and let me and the readers of this blog know so we can all mutually learn! Also if you have any questions feel free to ask them (do keep in mind that I am no IT genius so I won’t be able to answer all of your technically related questions 😉 ). Did this filtering method result in any new African DNA matches for you that you weren’t aware of before? If so how many? I am really excited about this method so I would love to hear how it works out for other people!
This tutorial has been modified several times since I first published it in 2017. In order to ensure a continued or even improved detection of African DNA matches. Mostly triggered by updates on Ancestry but also through helpful tips from the comment section.
This method for detecting African matches revolves around scanning and then filtering all of your DNA matches. When I first published this blogpost I was only aware of AncestryDNA Helper as a suitable tool for scanning Ancestry’s DNA matches. However in the meanwhile it has been brought to my attention by a helpful commenter that the DNAGedcom Client is a very efficient tool for scanning DNA matches on Ancestry. For many if not most people this tool will probably be much faster and overall less bothersome than AncestryDNA Helper.
I have therefore replaced the screenshots in my tutorial to reflect the process while using DNAGedcom instead of AncestryDNA Helper. From my personal experience with DNAGedcom I can indeed confirm the scanning is much faster. And furthermore it runs very smoothly in the background without interfering with your possibly other PC/laptop activities. It should be pointed out though that AncestryDNA Helper is a free service while DNAGedcom requires a monthly subscription fee of $5,-. This monthly subscription can however be canceled immediately so you might choose to pay it only once. In any case I would advise everyone to do your own research to find out if this tool might be appropriate. These sites might be useful to decide:
- DNAGedcom User Group on Facebook
- Downloading Data from AncestryDNA
- I’ve received my AncestryDNA results – NOW WHAT??
The steps of my tutorial essentially remain the same however there are some minor display changes when using DNAGedcom instead of AncestryDNA Helper. If you like to use AncestryDNA Helper instead of DNAGedcom please follow this link to the old version of this blog post:
AncestryDNA’s ethnicity estimates have been updated as of September 2018. Because Ancestry now provides 43 global regions instead of 26 global regions in the previous version this has impacted my filtering methodology. I have expanded my advanced filter criteria in my online spreadsheet to reflect the new situation (only for DNAGedcom). I have however not changed the screenshots nor the main text further below! All references to Ancestry’s ethnicity estimates are therefore pertaining to AncestryDNA version 2 which was current between September 2013 and September 2018. Unless specified otherwise.
In my opinion the new AncestryDNA version regrettably has been a downgrade rather than providing any meaningful improvement in regards to the African breakdown. This means it has become more difficult to distinguish African DNA matches based solely on their regional admixture scores. Another complicating factor is that Ancestry has discontinued the usage of trace regions a.k.a. “low confidence” regions. For my scanning/filtering method this implies many finer distinctions can no longer be made. At least not for any profiles which have been updated. For more details on the update see:
As of October 2018 Ancestry has enabled an Ethnicity Comparison feature for all customers and not just USA-based smartphone users. With this very useful tool you can actually verify the exact regional percentages of your DNA matches! Unless they have disabled the complete ethnicity profile display (see above). This greatly enhances your chances of verifying your possibly African DNA matches!
Compare ethnicity results between Cape Verdean and her Senegalese match
***(click to enlarge)
For those who do not have Excel installed you might want to try out this alternative filtering software called OpenOffice. It has very graciously been suggested by a helpful commenter who also provides instructions on how to use it. I have not tried it out myself yet. So I cannot offer any assistance or guidance. Nor can I guarantee its well functioning. As always do your own research to find out if this tool might be appropriate. See this link for more details.
The alternative option of scanning by way of AncestryDNA Helper is sadly no longer available. Due to Ancestry’s change in the display of DNA matches. Which is why I have removed this possibility from the main text. Ancestry is also (gradually) rolling out a new update of their Ethnicity Estimates (see this link). This will likely impact the filtering criteria. But for now I do not have a complete oversight. The current filtering criteria should still work though. Possibly only leading to more matches to manually browse through after filtering.
The screenshots for Step 1 (scanning with DNAGedcom) have been replaced. DNAGedcom regularly updates its software. Also the display is changed quite frequently. The current screenshots are taken from client version 126.96.36.199
I created a demonstration video for Rootstech 2021. Which can still be seen by way of Youtube: