Why even small African matches matter!

On 14 July Ancestry announced that they will pull the plug on the smaller matches they have been reporting for years now. In particular distant matches which show a shared DNA amount within the range of 6cM – 8cM. For many people this may effectively wipe out more than half of their total matches. Furthermore for Afro-descendants this could mean the loss of many invaluable African matches! Overall I would estimate that on average in between 50-75% of all African matches might be erased by Ancestry’s update.1 In one big drastic operation… and with just a few weeks notice…

An alarming situation for anyone who is reliant on their DNA matches (incl. smaller ones) for their research. Fortunately there are some strategies to preserve your smaller matches. Especially by contacting them, grouping them, starring them or adding notes. For more details see this overview of various helpful blog articles:

An artisanal miner holds an uncut diamond in her hand in Kimberley

A South African woman is holding an uncut diamond in her hand (photo credits) African DNA matches can be as illuminating as diamonds. Even when small in size they can still be priceless! However carefull assessment is a MUST when dealing with potentially false matches because otherwise you’ll only end up chasing fool’s gold 😉


In this blog post I will focus on the importance of smaller African matches. Something which has been revealed to me in my ongoing research on African DNA matches since 2017.2 Even when indeed many of them will be false matches. Precious informational value may still often be obtained. But it seems that this importance has not really sunk in yet with Ancestry or perhaps they have other priorities… Either way Ancestry’s announcement has been brutally abrupt and will catch many people by surprise. 

I hold no illusions about a complete reconsideration of this update (I love to be proven wrong though!). However I do hope the main arguments listed below may at the very least persuade Ancestry to delay their intended update. Even more so I wish that they wisen up and instead will implement tailor-made solutions which take into full account the diversity of their customer needs! If you agree please forward this blog post to Ancestry! For example in this suggestion box. See also the last part of this blogpost.

  1. Added value of small African matches
  2. Dangers of small African matches
  3. Appeal for true committment


Why even small African matches matter!

  • Afro-descendants face exceptional challenges when Tracing African Roots. Given the lack of a paper trail for the most part they have to go by any clues given! Out of sheer necessity the net has to be cast wide. An openminded and creative research approach is required. Both including but also going beyond genetic genealogy. All the while avoiding source snobbery in order to maximize any potential informational value.
  • Ancestry offers the biggest pond of African matches by far, when compared with other DNA testing companies. In great part because of its lower matching threshold which starts at 6 cM. This has been a precious resource for many which cannot be found elsewhere. It will be a tremendous loss when this pool of African matches will no longer be available or shrunk to a mere shadow of its former size!
  • Smaller matches may serve to reinforce more solid ancestral clues provided by related bigger matches (for example sharing the same meta-ethnic background). When combined with associated regional admixture and insights from other fields possibly leading to fruitful complementarity. See for example my survey of African DNA matches reported for 30 Jamaicans.
  • Small matches will indeed often be false matches or genealogically irrelevant but they may still be historically relevant (given correct interpretation). Leading to more insight of one’s African heritage within a greater timeframe. In particular when appearing with increased frequency. See for example my survey of African DNA matches reported for 50 Cape Verdeans.


1) Added value of small African matches


Similar to diamonds small African matches are precious because it is so hard to find even a handful of them. Not all matches will turn out to be the real thing indeed. However beggars cannot be choosers! With carefull assessment & follow-up research you can still obtain polished gems from what used to be only uncut pieces of rock laying within seas of sand.  (photo credits)


The very low odds of tracing back to Africa for African Americans were highlighted in 2017 during an episode of Finding Your Roots by Henry Louis Gates Jr.. The guest of his show, musician and producer Questlove, was found to be descended from one of the last enslaved Africans to arrive in the US on a slave ship.


“The discovery of ancestors on the Clotilda isn’t just an interesting genealogical fact. As Gates says, it means that Questlove is the only African-American he knows who can answer a question that many have asked: not only where in Africa his ancestors came from, but how exactly they got to the U.S. in the first place.” (Time, 2017)


This certainly was a very remarkable finding! But such a verifiable paper trail leading all the way back to Africa must be extremely difficult to reproduce for ordinary African Americans. For one thing they will not be assisted by professional teams of historians and genealogists. Furthermore this finding only concerns one particular family line (relatively recent) among possibly hundreds of others. All individually to be traced back to several parts of Africa! How is a layman expected to ever uncover a majority of these lines, let alone one single one?  This (near) impossibility of the genealogical route for me underlines once more how there is a lot more at stake for African Americans and other Afro-descendants when taking a DNA test than for people with plentiful documented knowledge about their ancestral origins.

With nothing concrete to go by it should be obvious that small African matches represent very valuable leads for anyone wanting to Trace African Roots! Due to lack of viable alternative Afro-Diasporans cannot afford to be too picky about the imperfections of DNA matching. It may perhaps be true that small African matches will almost never be fully validated with all the scientific rigour required. And many of them will indeed prove to be false or random matches (IBS= Identical by State). And even when inherited from your parents (IBD= Identical by Descent) these small matches may still be traced back further in time than imagined. That is more than a thousand years ago rather than within a genealogically meaningful time frame of let’s say 500 years. Such matches are also sometimes termed population matches (IBP= Identical by Population). 

Either way there will always be valid matches among these small African matches as well. Even while representing a minor share they will still hold incredible value because of their rarity! Merely being able to reach out to any African DNA match at all is of immeasurable significance to many people already! In principle I would agree that a cautious research approach is called for because it is so difficult or even impossible to make the distinction with false matches. But instead of treating all small matches as poison to be avoided at all costs I think the more fitting analogy for Afro-descendants would be that we are searching for diamonds by sifting through the sand, when Tracing African Roots. The risks of possibly “contaminated” research outcomes to be preferred over no research outcomes at all. I will deal with the dangers of small African matches further below in section 2.

It has been a true blessing in the last couple of years that Ancestry’s huge customer database (18 million at latest count!) has been including an ever growing number of Africans to get matched with. Combined with the lower matching threshold (6 cM) the odds of finding African matches were getting better every year. From my observation the chances of finding African matches were still very low in 2017. Probably within a range of 0-10 with smaller matches (6-8cM) representing a share of atleast 50% or greater. 

However from my current findings I would say that African Americans will typically receive around 20-30 African DNA matches! Among thousands of other matches. More than half of these African matches will again tend to be below 8cM. These estimates are based on having analyzed the DNA matches for about a hundred African Americans by now, using my filtering & scanning method. See also this blogpost for detailed overviews of African DNA matches I found for 2 African Americans in 2017:

A very different situation arises when being tested by 23andme or MyHeritage from my experience. These DNA testing companies already apply a more stringent matching threshold (see this overview). And in the case of 23andme also apply a restrictive cap on the total number of DNA matches. This might be beneficial for those people who are only interested in their closest matches. Because they have plentiful other resources to fuel their research. However for Afro-descendants it is simply a MUST to also have access to their distant matches. Otherwise in many cases they will just not be able to perform any kind of research at all, when wanting to Trace African Roots.

I have only occasionally looked for African DNA matches on either 23andme or MyHeritage. Basing myself on about a dozen observations for Afro-Diasporans I would say the odds of finding native/unmixed African matches on those two platforms are very low. In fact often you will not not find any African match at all. The highest number I have personally seen only being 2 African matches. All the more adding to the great value of Ancestry’s pool of African DNA matches. Up till now that is. See also:


Reinforcing other more solid ancestral clues

Table 1 (click here to enlarge)


This table is showing the West African subset of all the 861 African DNA matches I managed to find for 30 Jamaicans tested by Ancestry. Nigerian & Ghanaian predominance is clearly reflected in their DNA matches. This goes both for the smallest matches (<7cM) as well as the matches greater than 10cM. The overall matching patterns serving to corroborate other ancestral clues such as regional admixture, slave trade history,  cultural retention and maternal haplogroups.

This section and the following one are not meant to be exhaustive. But rather to illustrate the main arguments I have listed in the beginning of this blog post. Based on my own research on African DNA matches, performed since 2017.3 To start with my most recent survey of African DNA matches being reported by Ancestry for 30 Jamaicans. Among many other findings from that survey the most significant outcome probably was a predominance of Nigerian & Ghanaian DNA matches in line with prior expectations. Both among the smaller matches (<7cM: 172 + 58) as well as the more solid matches (>10 cM: 82 + 37).4 Serving to corroborate other ancestral clues hinting towards Nigeria and Ghana being the most important places of African origins for Jamaicans. Such indications derived from regional admixture, slave trade history,  cultural retention and maternal haplogroups. For more details see also:

For the group as a whole I suppose the bigger matches (> 10cM) would already suffice to make this point. However on an individual level it was not always the case that my survey participants received either Ghanaian or Nigerian matches greater than 8 cM! The mere fact that there should be so many small matches from Ghana and Nigeria as well is surely no coincidence. As this would be in line with expected dilution from ancestors to be traced back mostly to the 1700’s (see this chart taken from the Slave Voyages Database).

Even when false matches may very well be among them the geographical distribution of these smaller matches was not randomized across Africa at all. But rather focused on the so-called Lower Guinea area within West Africa. In particular Ghana and Nigeria. Do also notice from Table 1 that so-called close matches (>20 cM) were very rare. Only 5 out of a total of 861 matches, which is a share of less than 1%. In order to reach a higher level of robustness really the entire dataset, incl. smaller matches, was indispensable for my research purposes. Combined findings being indicative of overall matching strength.5

Let alone for the average DNA tester for whom it may be much more difficult to obtain a complete overview of African DNA matches on Ancestry. And therefore any match from Ghana and Nigeria, either small or big, would be very valuable. The smaller matches may not always have been genealogically relevant indeed. I suspect many of them could be population matches especially. But even so they still point in the right direction of identifying the modernday country associated with one or more family lines. Backed up by historical plausibility, regional admixture and other ancestral clues pertaining to Jamaicans as a group.

Table 2 (click here to enlarge)

DNA matches1

This overview  shows the Nigerian DNA matches I found for 1 single Jamaican. It is highly illustrative of how your Nigerian DNA matching patterns may enable further ethnic specification of your Nigerian lineage. Take notice how the abundance of most likely Igbo matches (going by surname) is reflected among both bigger and smaller matches. I have left out name details for privacy reasons. While the regional summaries are reflecting Ancestry’s flawed update in September 2018. Currently all these matches will show a much more convincing “Nigeria” score. Often showing up as only region (see this blogpost).


The frequency of smaller matches (< 7cM) also proved useful when drilling down to plausible ethnic background of these African DNA matches. As the smaller matches usually were in strong correlation with the bigger matches. Adding to overall coherence. Actually my research goal was not to find a “certified” basis for ethnic identification. Something which I believe is wrought with all sorts of complexities.6 Instead I was attempting to get a general idea by processing the data on a best effort basis. And to atleast make plausible inferences on a broader meta-ethnic level.

Keeping in mind the disclaimers I discuss in greater detail in my original blogpost it was still very striking to see a high number of especially Nigerian Igbo matches. Most likely due to substantial ancestral connections with the Bight of Biafra. As supported by plentiful historical evidence for Jamaica. Then again most people did have Nigerian DNA matches from other ethnic groups as well. In particular Yoruba ones. Some of these matches were quite small though (<7 cM). And therefore presenting greater chances of being mere population matches (IBP) or even just false positives. Still in most cases they should be indicative of generic roots hailing from southern Nigeria.

The intriguing thing was that during my survey I was actually able to establish increased odds for three of my individual survey participants having substantial Yoruba lineage in addition to more prevailing Igbo lineage. First of all by taking into account their entire matching patterns (incl. smaller matches) and by comparing what was typical for the survey group as a whole. But also then looking into other clues provided by regional admixture, parish origins etc. Naturally more follow-up research would be required to build a more solid case. But still these smaller matches provided very promising leads which are hard to come by and therefore not to be discarded! For more details:


Illuminating wider historical context

Table 3 (click here to enlarge)

This table is showing the North African subset of the 437 African matches I managed to find for 50 Cape Verdeans tested by Ancestry. Notice that the greater part of these 180 North African matches (64%) is below 7cM. It may reasonably be expected that a large part of these small matches are either IBS or population matches (IBP). Therefore not genealogically relevant. However from a historical perspective this increased frequency of North African matches does make sense. And also serves to corroborate minor but distinctive North African admixture scores reported for Cape Verdeans.


As already noted small matches will indeed often be false matches or genealogically irrelevant (within a timeframe of around 500 years). However especially so-called population matches (IBP) may still be historically relevant. Leading to more insight of one’s African heritage within a greater timeframe. In particular when appearing with increased frequency. However this does require very careful interpretation and a solid basis of historical knowledge. Mere wishful thinking will lead to random speculation and self-deceipt!

In my survey of African DNA matches being reported by Ancestry for 50 Cape Verdeans one very remarkable outcome was the increased frequency of North African matches. North African matches were reported for 80% (40/50) of my survey participants. Also the total number (180) is surprisingly high. Representing a share of 41% (180/437) of the total number of African DNA matches. While in my Jamaican survey only 3 North African matches turned up out of a total of 861 matches. Representing a minimal share of less than 1% (3/861=0.3%, see this overview). So clearly this outcome was not just some fluke but quite consistent already. However the average size of these matches was minimal at around 7cM. A majority of these matches (64%) actually being even smaller than 7cM!  

Correct interpretation of these matching patterns is crucial. First of all it needs to be realized that this relatively high number of North African matches is clearly in contradiction with actual ancestral proportions. Reviewing the associated regional admixture levels for my survey group (on average 46% for “Senegal” +”Mali” versus 0.5% for “Northern Africa”) is particularly useful in this regard to get a proper sense of proportions. On the other hand the occurrence of these North African matches is certainly not unexpected for Cape Verde! As historical evidence does back up actual North African ancestry for Cape Verdeans. Take note also in Table 3 that the geographical distribution within North Africa is clearly gravitating towards the western Maghreb and is not randomly spread towards Egypt.

Again many if not most of these smaller matches may very well not be traced back within a genealogical timeframe of 500 years. However I suppose for population matches mutual ancestry may be indicated going back further in time. Let’s say 1000 years when most of Portugal was still under Moorish occupation. And also the Fula ancestors of Cape Verdeans might have intermingled with Berber North Africans to some degree around that time. Of course in such instances it will be fruitless to actually identify any shared ancestor. However such a finding does provide an extra historical perspective on your background. Also it serves to corroborate minor but distinctive North African admixture scores reported for Cape Verdeans. An aspect of their genetics which they share with many Latin Americans (see this chart).

In fact for Cape Verdeans several ancestral scenario’s apply when dealing with North African matches. Including relatively recent ancestry from North Africa. As indicated also by the biggest match within my survey being 17.9 cM (see table 3). Reported for a person with a known Moroccan Jewish ancestor from the late 1800’s. Another person received no less than 16 North African matches. However all of these matches were no greater than 8 cM (see CV13 in this sheet). And therefore I suspect to be traced back further in time. False matches might very well be among them.

Actually if we review table 3 again it can be seen that the overall share of North African matches greater than 8cM is only 13% for my entire survey group. Implying that nearly 90% of these informative matches will no longer be visible after Ancestry’s intended update. My survey participants would surely agree though that these mostly smaller North African matches represent an insightful outcome you would not want to miss out on. Even when one must be aware that a wider historical timeframe will apply. For more discussion see:


2) Dangers of small African matches


“ 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.” (Fonte Felipe, 2017)


The above quote is taken from my tutorial about a scanning & filtering method to single out African DNA matches (see this link). Posted originally in 2017 and I am still 100% behind this statement. Again without wanting to rain on anyone’s parade I do feel that the awareness that smaller African matches will also include false matches is often lacking. For several understandable reasons. However I do therefore consider it my moral responsability to keep pointing out these shortcomings of DNA matching. Which I have attempted to do to the best of my knowledge whenever blogging about my ongoing research on African DNA matches since 2017. Similar to how I have also tried to always caution against the limitations of admixture analysis in my previous research efforts (see this overview).

I suppose two opposing views may exist in regards to African matches. Either one believes all of them (incl. small matches) are the real deal and therefore IBD (Identical By Descent). To be fully embraced as family from the moment of discovery. But others may be more cautious and assume smaller African matches are possibly false positives or population matches until proven otherwise. These are rather extreme positions of course. But it seems to me that especially in the absence of a historically plausible context a more conservative approach is called for. Understandably the eagerness for African matches among Afro-Diasporans is very high. But I feel it is wise to resist the urge of finding a fitting ancestral scenario right away whenever a more surprising African match is reported. As this could be a form of self-serving confirmation bias.

I suppose it is also a matter of personal preference whether to focus on historically plausible matches in line with the majority of your regional African admixture. Or rather to go on a wild goose chase of African matches from more eccentric and unexpected places. Especially when unsupported by any other clues. Some people tend to have a particular infatuation for East African matches. Often just simply out of natural curiosity because such findings are so surprising. But at times also because of ideological reasons. However direct ancestral ties between the Atlantic Afro-Diaspora and especially Northeast Africa seem least likely to be supported by any documented evidence I am aware of. Granted: absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. Then again historical plausibility does greatly impact probability.

Because of Ancestry’s current threshold it does occasionally happen that African Americans and other Atlantic Afro-descendants receive small matches from especially countries like Kenya, Uganda or Sudan and more rarely even from Ethiopia. When these matches are taken at face value people then run the risk of “claiming” a certain type of exotic lineage which is neither genealogically nor even per se genetically valid. Something which is bound to happen when you are not taking into account the impact of both ancient and historical migrations across the African continent. The Bantu migrations from Nigeria/Cameroon into Central, Southern and Eastern Africa being a great example of how ancient migrations may lead to population matches all over the place. As well as the more recent Fula migrations from Senegambia all along the Sahel corridor into Sudan. Basing myself on my own research these kind of connections can often explain the occurrence of unexpected smaller matches from East Africa.

To keep things in perspective though it seems that these historically unexpected matches only make up a very small part (<5%) of the total. Based on my research sofar an overwhelming majority of African small matches will still be in line with historical plausibility. And therefore not totally random! Even when many of them will be genealogically irrelevant within a timeframe of 500 years.

In my Jamaican survey the number of unexpected North & Eastern African matches was very uncommon. Only around 1% (12/861) of the total. And in fact some of these matches were still useful because I was able to make a plausible connection with Fula migrations into Sudan. Also in my Cape Verdean survey the number of unexpected matches from outside of West Africa was minimal: 15/437= 3%.  And again some of these smaller matches (from Central & Southern Africa) were still informative as I was able to find additional clues which made a possible detour by Brazilian lineage likely. For more discussion see:


Mozambican ancestry may lead to matches from both Southern & East Africa

Map 1 (click here to enlarge)


This map shows the African matches on Ancestry for my DNA cousin who is half Mozambican. His partial Cape Verdean connection (by way of São Tomé) resulted in the greatest number (539) of African DNA matches by far. Otherwise most of his African matches are from Southeastern Africa. However due to a skewed customer database as well as ancient/modern migrations the most numerous mainland matches were from South Africa, Zimbabwe and Kenya. And not from Mozambique. This outcome could have been misleading if this person was not already aware of his actual background. 


Last year I was kindly given the opportunity to do a full scan and analysis of the DNA matches on Ancestry for my DNA cousin whose father is from Mozambique, in Southeast Africa. Actually we are related through his mother who is from São Tomé & Principe. An islandstate in West Africa (see map above). Because she happens to have either a Cape Verdean parent or grandparent. So similar to people from the Afro-Diaspora he has African ancestry from several corners of the continent! Which is also clearly reflected in his African DNA matches shown above. However had he not known in advance about his actual background his African matches could have been misleading. Both the bigger and smaller ones actually. Afterall his recent African ancestry hails from only three countries. But his African matches hail from no less than 19 countries!

Especially his Mozambican connection is not prominently showing up in matching strength. His most numerous group of African matches by far being Cape Verdeans (539). Even when he probably is only 1/4 or 1/8 Cape Verdean. Otherwise the greatest number of mainland African matches was from South Africa, Zimbabwe and Kenya (in that order). This outcome is to be explained first of all because of a skewed customer database effect on Ancestry. Whereby the number of Cape Verdean-American customers  as well as African migrants from former British colonies clearly is much larger than the number of DNA tested Mozambicans (as well as people from São Tomé & Principe). Which is simply due to their migrant presence in the USA and other parts of the West.

Then again both ancient and relatively recent migrations across Southern & East Africa do also account for his matching patterns. As well as the Indian Ocean Slave Trade. After close scrutiny and consulting relevant history resources most of his matches do make sense therefore. Even the smaller ones, which are usually from surrounding countries. However in particular the small matches from Uganda, Ruanda and Kenya are leading astray from his confirmed Mozambican heritage it seems. Especially when going only by intuition.

And again this outcome could have been even more so misleading if he had not been aware of his actual African origins. Which is the unfortunate situation for practically all people in the Afro-Diaspora. Taking such small DNA matches at face value would then indeed imply you are starting from a false premise and therefore likely to be ending up with a false answer. For more details see:


Small African matches: potential diamonds or poisoned M&M’s?


African DNA matches, incl. smaller ones, may be seen as diamonds in the rough which need to be sifted from seas of sand & rocks with great scrutiny. And afterwards also to be polished by rigorous follow-up research. In order to avoid self-deception it is a MUST to be aware of the dangers of false matches throughout this process. Photo credits: CNN


“I consider small segments to be “poison,” in that too many of them are false matches and we can’t tell the difference between the false segments and the real segments. I use “Poison M&Ms” as an example. If I handed someone a bowl of M&Ms and told them that 30% are poisoned and there’s no visual difference (similar to 30% of small segments of 5 cM or smaller), no one would eat the M&Ms. Similarly, we can’t use small segments because they poison our genealogical conclusions.” (Genetic Genealogist, 2017)

“Indeed, it will be important to consider and study how this might affect people with African or other historically marginalized ancestry. All the available science about small segments indicates that this change will actually improve the method by weeding out false data and preventing incorrect conclusions.(Genetic Genealogist, 2020)

“Additionally, as more Africans test the number of larger shared segments will increase. Those of us that have been genetic genealogists for a long time have seen several instances of DNA results provided to people of African descent that were later discovered to be incorrect as testing improved and databases grew. Hopefully this change prevents that from happening.”  (Genetic Genealogist, 2020)


The analogy of small DNA matches being like a bowl of poisoned M&M’s has been coined by the Genetic Genealogist. I would like to underline that I am largely in agreement with his concerns highlighted above. In particular the need for continued awareness of false matches. As well as resisting the temptation to jump to conclusions. See also these useful blogposts from which I myself have learnt a lot as well:

However all analogies are of course simplifications of more complex and also diverse realities 😉 Therefore I have come up with an additional analogy. In my opinion moreso corresponding with the particular situation of Afro-descendants in their challenging quest to Trace African Roots. The process of finding African DNA matches, incl. smaller ones, to be seen as diamonds in the rough which need to be sifted from seas of sand with great scrutiny. And afterwards also to be polished by rigorous follow-up research.

All the while being aware of the dangers of false matches. But not being completely dismissive either because despite imperfections even false matches (especially population matches) may still contain informational value as well. Plus there will be valid matches too. Therefore judging each case on its own merits, whenever possible. Of course this is again an imperfect analogy but from my experience more in line with the perspective of many Afro-descendants on this topic. 

Actually I do not think this is a binary question at all. Rather I believe these analogies represent different research agendas as well as different research approaches. Speaking for myself I have always said that basically I am a guy who likes to see the glass as half full rather than half empty. Avoiding source snobbery and maximizing informational value despite shortcomings (which do need to be properly accounted for). Basically taking any promising lead I can get and combining with other clues from different fields. Not per se aiming for conclusive statements but rather plausible inferences.8 

In short my research agenda both includes but also goes beyond genetic genealogy. Across the years I have performed several surveys in order to find out to what degree DNA testing for Afro-descendants (both regional admixture and DNA matches) may correspond with expectations based on historical plausibility (especially slave trade patterns).9 In this sense my research angle may be said to have greater affinity with population genetics as it is mostly based on aggregate data.

However I do strongly believe that the implications of my research are also useful for individual DNA testers, when Tracing African Roots. Afterall as soon as your research as an Afro-descendant takes you across the Atlantic Ocean it will be a different ballgame! Because it will no longer be about 100% validation of DNA matches in order to complete extensive family trees, free of any possible errors. Instead it will be about finding light in the dark and restoring ancestral ties which were brutally disrupted due to Slavery. Attempting to piece together a tangible picture of your multi-layered African heritage. 

This quest can however be problematic when you have unrealistic expectations about identifying the actual names, birth villages or the exact ethnic identities of African ancestors (see footnote 6). As discussed above small African matches can be dangerous especially when taken at face value and also in isolation of other types of ancestral clues. However from my observation truly misleading and seemingly randomized DNA matches from historically unlikely places (such as East Africa) only represent a very minor share of the total number of African matches you may expect to receive on Ancestry.

And even then informational value might in some cases still be obtained with careful analysis. I therefore believe that when using sound judgement these risks of misconstruing smaller African DNA matches are limited and acceptable. I do think more educational context should be provided by DNA testing companies. Perhaps smaller matches should also be visually presented in such a manner that people will immediately be aware of what they’re dealing with. Although of course everyone also has their own responsability to inform themselves properly.

Given that most Afro-descendants trace back their African ancestry to the 1700’s or even earlier it should not be surprising that many of their African DNA matches will tend to be smaller than 8 cM. While the odds of finding close matches (>20 cM) will usually be very slim. As obviously across the generations the amount of shared DNA with distant living relatives in Africa has greatly diminished. Again there will be many false matches among them however this 6cM-8cM range also simply happens to be the range where many of their valid DNA matches are to be expected! See also:

Instead of a complete dismissal of smaller matches my approach would be to first of all analyze your main African matching patterns. Basing yourself on a complete overview of all your African DNA matches. Carefully looking into relative frequencies and clusters of matches with a certain background which might also align with bigger matches. In order to single out the more robust findings. Rather than allowing your research to be distracted by “exotic” outliers among your matches.  

Next step would be to combine your entire overview of  African DNA matches (incl. smaller matches) with regional admixture (within Africa). From my experience this will often lead to enhanced insights and complementarity. Add in proper historical & genealogical research and your multi-faceted strategy to Trace African Roots will be optimized. Which will allow you to obtain more clarity about your African origins. Especially when it comes to these aspects:

  • Corroborate (macro)-regional admixture 
    • In my African DNA matches surveys sofar I established a strong correlation in particular with so-called macro-regional admixture. For Cape Verdeans I found that the Upper Guinea area was the most likely origin of around 88% of all African matches (south of the Sahara). Which correponds nicely with their combined “Senegal” and “Mali” scores being around 92% (within their scaled African breakdown). While for Jamaicans I found an 87% proportion of Lower Guinean related matches (mostly Ghana & Nigeria) out of all African matches. Which is roughly in line with the almost 70% Lower Guinean share I found during a previous survey based on regional admixture for Jamaicans. 
    • In upcoming surveys I will investigate if a similar historically justified predominance for Central Africa in both DNA matches and regional admixture will be obtained for Brazilians and Haitians. Also for African Americans this can be a fruitful approach. Although they tend to be more evenly balanced in their (macro) regional origins within Africa. Naturally several limitations are to be kept in mind. For an overview of disclaimers see this page.  
  • Zoom into plausible (meta-)ethnic background of specific family lines 
    • During my African DNA matches surveys sofar it has been quite striking how certain (meta)-ethnic backgrounds were very commonly reported. For Cape Verdeans this happened to be especially Fula/Fulani matches from the wider Upper Guinea area. While for Jamaicans it was firstmost Igbo matches from Nigeria. Additionally also the distinction between possibly Akan and Ewe matches from Ghana was made possible by taking into account their surnames (as wel as regional admixture, see methodology section in this post). These kind of matches are also regularly reported for African Americans from my observation. And in addition an increased number of Malagasy matches is often also notable for African Americans (see footnote 3).
    • Whenever matches with the same plausible background are being reported with increased frequency it might be very helpful to perform dedicated follow-up research. Especially when shared segment info is available from other DNA testing platforms you might then apply triangulation as well as DNA Painter with great effect. Comparing family trees with other DNA matches who also share the same cluster of African matches with you might then enable you to identify an earliest family line associated with these matches! 
    • Such an effort offers great potential in my opinion. Naturally to be combined with any other clues you might have. Also it goes without saying that extra scrutiny is required! Then again even false matches (in particular population matches shared with close family) may still contain informational value and offer a chance to advance your research. Hopefully leading to an end of total obscurity about your African ancestors. At least along one family line. The end result may admittedly often not be 100% conclusive but will still have been corroborated to the greatest extent. Shining through like a polished diamond! 

3) Appeal for true commitment 


real or fake

This statement was made by Ancestry’s CEO on June 3, 2020. It is good to know that the intentions for making much needed improvements to Trace African Roots seem to be in place already. However as always actions speak louder than words…See this link to Ancestry’s blog. As well as this link to Ancestry’s Facebook page (where you can also leave a comment).



“I am of Cape Verdean descent myself and I am personally not expecting any special treatment or favours from profit-driven companies such as 23andme or Ancestry. Even when I can easily imagine that as an USA-based company some degree of consideration for African Americans is in order. […]

Most people in the Afro-Diaspora do not have any detailed knowledge about their African roots and are usually very eager to learn more. Not anything with “100% accuracy” even but just something meaningful and relevant which goes beyond the lump category of “West African”. […]

“Unfortunately it seems that many DNA testing companies are either not able or do not have a true commitment to cater to the particular needs of Afro-Diasporans when it comes to admixture analysis and other aspects of DNA testing. I always thought Ancestry was an exception but I might have to change my mind after this upcoming update… ” (Fonte Felipe, 2018)


In a recent statement triggered by the Black Lives Matter protests Ancestry said that they are committed to “make our product experience as inclusive as it can possibly be for everyone“. Now more than ever is the time to show these are not just empty words! I would urge Ancestry to stop the intended deletion of small matches. And to continue the reporting of small matches which also can be clarifying within the 6 cM-8cM range. As this blogpost has demonstrated that even small African matches matter! Based on my research the added value of these matches is much greater than the associated dangers of false matches. Like myself many other Afro-descended researchers have only just got started in exploring these precious ancestral clues to the fullest! As far as I am concerned the argument that this update will be beneficial for all of Ancestry’s customers clearly does not hold!

Although not confirmed it has been widely speculated that Ancestry has ulterior motives for this update. In particular the reduction of operational costs of its main website where your DNA matches can be consulted. Which is understandable in a way because of Ancestry’s huge customer database. However if for some reason this update is deemed unavoidable then Ancestry should atleast give people sufficient time to deal with these changes. Preferably till the end of the year but I would recommend at least a couple of months. As many people only log in irregularly into their Ancestry account. In fact many may now be on a summer holiday!

As mentioned in the beginning of this blog post you can preserve your small matches by contacting them, grouping them, starring them or adding notes. This can however be a laborious process! For more details see this overview of various helpful blog articles:

If this update is indeed inevitable then Ancestry should also seek to compensate for this loss by offering new tools geared to facilitate specialized research for Afro-descended customers. In 2018 I already made an appeal for true committment on the occasion of Ancestry’s update of their Ethnicity Estimates in 2018. Which sadly turned out to be a major setback. Because Ancestry’s pioneering African breakdown lost most of its informational value then (see this blogpost). The following update in 2019 only partially managed to recover some of the damage (see this blogpost). However essentially still no substantial progress has been made for Atlantic Afro-Diasporans. 

The suggestions for improvement I made in 2018 have largely been ignored by Ancestry up till now. If Ancestry’s stated intentions are truly serious this time they should start listening and acting on it! Across the years many people have urged Ancestry for a whole range of useful improvements. To back up their own words Ancestry should implement atleast one of these following suggestions. But preferably of course progress should be made on several fronts! To ensure that Ancestry’s experience from now on will be truly inclusive!  

  1. Preserve current small DNA matches which have been reported up till now for those people who wish to keep them. These were afterall part and parcel of  Ancestry’s original DNA testing package people paid good money for!  
  2. Allow optional settings for continued reporting of small DNA matches within the 6-8 cM range 
  3. Create Genetic Communities for West & Central Africa. In particular for Nigeria, Ghana and Liberia, as sufficient customer samples may already exist for those countries. And also for Cape Verde as an independent country!
  4. Enable DNA matching with samples from Ancestry’s Reference Panel. Possibly then even a broader Upper Guinean and Central African genetic community could be realized?
  5. Provide a Chromosome Browser (sign this petition).
  6. Show Shared Matches at a lower threshold than 20cM.
  7. Show triangulated DNA segments
  8. Show ethnicity/admixture of shared DNA segments with your matches.
  9. Provide more ways of advanced filtering of DNA matches (incl. on ethnicity and genetic community)
  10. Implement other suggestions listed in my previous blogpost from 2018


Ivorian man connecting with his African American DNA cousins

This is a REALLY interesting short documentary by an Ivorian film maker who got tested by Ancestry and was reconnected with several African Americans. His background is Bété, which is a Kru subgroup (also found in Liberia). The amazing thing is he received about a dozen 4th cousin matches with shared DNA being >20cM. These matches are most likely to be traced back to relatively late shared ancestors from the 1800’s.

However in addition he also has hundreds of distant DNA matches, mostly African Americans! Going by historical plausibility and whenever valid these matches are most likely tracing back to the 1700’s because of greater dilution. Overall less reliable than the close matches but still incredibly precious! Even the population matches among them might still be useful when combined with additional clues. In particular when wanting to corroborate more generic roots from Liberia/Ivory Coast. Naturally one does need to refrain from jumping to conclusions 😉

It is truly a SHAME that most of these small matches will disappear within a month!!! When in fact this man tested exactly with the intent to reconnect with his matches! He is even actively encouraging other Africans to do DNA testing! Please contact Ancestry and let them know you want them to stop the deletion of small matches!!!


Gabonese woman wishes to find distant African American DNA cousins

Amazingly this woman from Gabon (Fang) tells how her family has kept alive the memory of how one of their family members from distant generations was caught up in the slave trade. She estimates this could be in the early 1800’s. She is astonished by the great number of DNA matches she has received on Ancestry. As she was under the assumption that these connections could not be picked up again. 

On the one hand she is still sad about what happened in the past. But also she expresses the wish to get better acquainted with her distant relatives in the Diaspora. Because of Ancestry purge of smaller matches she will now have  less chances to reconnect in the near future…


If you are not happy with Ancestry’s current plans let them know about it!!! Also forward them this blog post (when in agreement of course). Naturally you are free to personalize your feedback and add your own suggestions as well! In fact I would also very much like to encourage my blog readers to discuss these suggestions in the comment section below. In order to get a fruitful and constructive exchange of ideas going. If Ancestry truly values each demographic segment of their customer database they should take notice this time! 


Inspiring blog posts on African DNA matches


Africa diamonds





1) This estimated loss of total matches (56%) is based on the share of DNA matches within the 6-8 cM range currently being reported by Ancestry for 24 persons. The individual range going from 44% to 72%. See also:

This corresponds with my own findings based on the African DNA matches surveys I have performed for 50 Cape Verdeans in 2018 as well as for 30 Jamaicans in 2019. In addition it also aligns well with what I have observed for about 100 African Americans whose African DNA matches I have analyzed since 2017 using my scanning & filtering method. Overall I would estimate that in between 50-75% of all African matches might be wiped out by Ancestry’s update.

2)  In May 2017 I blogged about a scanning & filtering method to single out African DNA matches. Since then I have been shifting my attention towards DNA matches and also how these may correlate with regional admixture. See also: 

3) Another powerful illustration of how small African matches can be reinforcing other ancestral clues would be based on the appearance of Malagasy matches for African Americans. These research findings are however more preliminary on my part. At least for now. I do intend to publish a detailed blog post about my findings eventually. In short these would be:

  • Malagasy matches from Madagascar are being reported for African Americans  with increased frequency when compared with other parts of the Afro-Diaspora
  • African Americans with Malagasy matches often tend to have (ultimate) Virginia state backgrounds
  • Malagasy matches tend to be small (<8 cM) and intriguingly are often themselves also showing up in Ancestry’s “Early Virginia African Americans” community
  • All of which corresponds very well with a historically plausible scenario of slave trade between Madagascar and the USA focusing mosty on Virginia and taking place especially in the early 1700’s
  • Founding effects and subsequent dispersal due to Domestic Slave Trade causing Madagascar matches to also turn up for people from the Deep South.
  • Minor but distinctive Southeast Asian admixture scores (more reliably shown on 23andme) also fall in line with expected dilution dating from the early 1700’s
  • Many people who receive Malagasy matches also receive small matches from other parts of the Malagasy Diaspora. Such as Mauritius, Réunion, Seychelles, Comoros, South African Coloureds and even Saint Helena. Because of their mixed background (incl. European admixture) also other ancestral scenarios might be possible though.
  • Follow-up research based on identifying the ethnicity of the actual shared DNA segments and triangulation could clarify things further

For a pathbreaking blog series on this topic see also:

The author of this blogseries, Teresa Vega, is currently writing a highly relevant book on this topic:

  • The DNA Trail from Madagascar to the Americas (to be published soon)

Overview below is taken from my African DNA Matches Service for an African American. It may serve as a further illustration of insightful matching patterns when both small and big matches are taken into consideration (also for the Fula/Fulani matches!). Take notice only one Madagascar match is >8cM. After Ancestry’s update the other most likely related matches (marked in red) will be lost! Even when several of them are also showing up for the son of this person (IBD). The small exotic matches from Northeast Africa and Kenya are indeed likely to have been false matches and also misleading. Except possibly the IBD one, but I suspect it is still an (ancient) population match either way.  However the small matches from Madagascar and Mauritus are historically plausible and quite likely genealogically relevant. With adequate follow-up research they could potentially help to zoom into shared DNA segments and even identifying associated family lines!

***(click here to enlarge)

DNA matches

4) In my Jamaican survey I applied a threshold of 7cM instead of 8cM to single out smaller matches. The share of total matches within the range of 6-8cM was 59% (= 510/861). See also this spreadsheet which contains all 861 African DNA matches I found:

5)  This was something I already came across when 23andme’s Country’s of Ancestry tool was still in place. Naturally one had to make allowance for a skewed customer data base (some countries being better represented than others) as well as other limitations. Still I found it very useful to see how often the top ranking order for the smallest DNA matches was in line with historical plausibility, as well as known recent family origins. And also usually following the ranking order obtained for bigger matches (set at 10 cM or even 15cM). Combined being indicative of overall matching strength. More randomized countries also being shown among the smaller matches (especially when set at 5 cM). Puzzling and misleading when taken at face value. But usually with decreased frequency and not among the top countries being reported. See also:

6) Understandably many people desire to have the most specific degree of resolution when searching for their African roots. They want to be able to pinpoint their exact ethnic origins and preferably also know the exact location of their ancestral village. In a way following in the footsteps of the still very influential ROOTS author Alex Haley. Unfortunately these are rather unrealistic expectations to have in regards to DNA testing. Not only given current scientific possibilities. But also because such expectations rest on widely spread misconceptions about ethnicity, genetics, genealogy as well as Afro-Diasporan history.

Too often people ignore how the melting pot concept is really nothing new but has always existed! Also in Africa where inter-ethnic mixing has usually been frequent! Throughout (pre) history and maybe even more so in the last 50 years or so. Generally speaking ethnicity is a fluid concept which is constantly being redefined across time and place.

Too often people fail to take into consideration how due to genetic recombination our DNA will never be a perfect reflection of our family tree but might actually also at times suggest very ancient migrations.

Too often people underestimate the actual number of relocated African-born ancestors they might have (dozens or even hundreds!). As well as the inevitable ethnic blending which must have taken place across the generations.

Too often people are still not informing themselves properly about Africa itself and the documented origins of the Afro-Diaspora. Many specific details may have been lost forever but there is a wealth of solid and unbiased sources available which can help you see both the greater picture as well as zoom in more closely to your own relevant context. See also:

7) The frequency of population matches, IBP is more common than many people might expect. Many people uncritically accept these type of matches as implying that they have identifiable ancestors from “exotic” places. Aside from being caused by endogamy I suppose population matches might also be a reflection of (pre)historical migration patterns. Often not verifiable by genealogy but more so correlating with rather ancient population movements across time and space.

This circumstance may hold some far-reaching implications. IBP matches are not to be dismissed in all cases. However they do require careful interpretation. In the African context countless migrations from the past may result in IBP matches. Perhaps the most impactful ones have been the Fula migrations across the Sahel corridor, from Upper Guinea into Sudan. As well as the Bantu migrations from southeast Nigeria/Cameroon into Central, East and Southern Africa.

My previous African DNA matches findings for Cape Verdeans (see this link) certainly seem to testify to the significance of the Fula migrations. The elevated frequency of presumably Hausa-Fulani matches from Nigeria perhaps being most evocative in this regard! However when performing similar surveys for other parts of the Afro-Diaspora I am quite certain that also the significance of the Bantu migrations will become apparent in matching patterns. At times confusingly so. In particular due to the appearance of unexpected matches from southern Africa (esp. Zimbabwe) as well as Kenya.

From some individual profiles I have been scanning I highly suspect that at times there may be some pile-up regions involved. Which are currently skipped by Ancestry’s Timber tool (perhaps because Timber is mostly geared towards European genetics?) I couldn’t verify this though because obviously Ancestry does not inform us about the exact location of shared DNA segments…

I have myself also observed on 23andme how Kenyans are able to receive unexpected Zimbabwean DNA matches. Seemingly due to the genetic legacy of the Bantu Expansion from many centuries or even several millennia ago. Likewise Afro-Diasporans might receive Kenyan matches due to shared Bantu origins from Central Africa (Angola/Congo). In a recently published research paper it has been revealed that Angolans were having small DNA matches with people from South Africa and also from Kenya/Uganda! See:

8) For a blog series which summarizes my take on Tracing African Roots:

9) My survey-based research has been based on the regional admixture results as well as African DNA matches being reported by both 23andme and Ancestry. See these pages for an overview:

Actually my very first survey efforts date back even earlier to 2011. Based on the pioneering African Ancestry Project by Razib Khan. I shared these findings also on 23andme’s online community at that time. They can still be seen in this online spreadsheet.

I will readily admit I am not a trained genetic genealogist.  Although I did take my first DNA test with 23andme already in 2010. And I have been keeping up with developments in the wider field of DNA testing ever since. Furthermore I do hold a university’s degree (regional economics) and therefore I am well acquainted with the basics of how scientific research should be set up as well as with scientific methodology. My research may not have been peer-reviewed. But in it self this does not say anything about the quality of my research a priori.

All of my surveys are based on empirical data, kindly shared by individual DNA testers. All of which is verifiable in online spreadsheets for which I provide links in all relevant blog posts. Therefore my data-entry & calculations can be counterchecked by anyone who feels the need to do so. On request I can also provide additional source data.

My surveys may be deemed a mere layman’s effort however my findings are not out of line with any of the published papers on the topic of Afro-Diasporan genetics I have read so far. And unlike many published studies (which are often restricted in scope) I do make an extra effort to provide as much detail and (historical) context as possible. In order to avoid oversummarization. Furthermore I also highlight individual variation and limitations of my analysis whenever I can.


61 thoughts on “Why even small African matches matter!

  1. This is an excellent post Felipe! I will definitely forward it to Ancestry. I did have one question. Have you done an African DNA Matches study for African Americans like you did for Jamaicans and if not do you plan to? I am very interested in seeing the results.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you! Yes I indeed intend to do a survey on the African DNA matches being reported by Ancestry for African Americans. In fact I also am preparing similar surveys for other parts of the Afro-Diaspora. Such as West Indians (mainly Barbados, Guyana, Bahamas but also Suriname!) as well as Brazilians, Haitians, Latin Americans and Hispanic Caribbeans. So keep an eye out for that! It will take some time to process all the data though 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  2. oh this is not good! My mother, brother and I, have together a Dominican match. They both share with him 14 cm on 2 segments, while I share only 6 cm on 1 segment with him. I see how they wanna decrease the probability of getting false positive matches, but a good number of theses small matches are actually real matches. I believe so as I share a lot of them with both my mother and brother.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Yes, please let Ancestry know! I have seen the same for many other people whose African matches I scanned as well! And of course most people will actually not have tested their parents or other close family members. So they willl not be able to check for themselves if their smaller African matches are showing up with greater shared DNA amounts for other family members…

      Btw I recently came across this great Youtube video of an Ivorian man (Bété) talking about his African American DNA matches. Did you already see it?

      Liked by 1 person

      • Ok, I will message them, and send them the link of your blog. Hopefully they will reconsider their decision. Nope it is the first time I hear about him, thank you for sharing 🙂 i am going to check his video right now.

        Liked by 2 people

        • He has many fascinating things to say! Just like people from all around the world he has also been inspired by the original ROOTS TV series from the 70’s. He is actually a filmmaker and will also be making a documentary about his connecting with African American DNA cousins. He says he already met three of his closest matches (4th cousins, so >20 cM shared DNA!). But he has hundreds more distant matches as well.

          He has some interesting theories about how he could be related with these matches. One of these ancestral scenarios involving Kru sailors from the borderland in between Liberia and Ivory Coast. Some individuals among them might have settled in the USA during the 1800’s voluntarily he speculates. Just like Cape Verdean whalers as he mentions himself! I suppose this might account for his closest matches. However his more distant and smaller matches will probably be due to trans-atlantic slave trade.

          Around 16min he shows his African breakdown which reflects the 2018 update on Ancestry. However he also says that his original results were:

          96% “Ivory Coast/Ghana”
          3% “Hunter-Gatherers”
          <1% “Mali”

          Perfectly in line with what we have always been discussing for Kru/Bété people 😉

          Liked by 1 person

  3. Very interesting. I had my eyes opened with the statement of most Afro descendants trace their ancestry to the 1700 or earlier. I take great pride in the fact that I have at least 13 patriot ancestors and many of my ancestors came in the early 1600-1700s. Because I know many of my ancestors were slave owners, that also means that the slaves were also here during the same time period. I would like for each Decendant of slaves be able to have the same pride in their ancestors, knowing that they helped build this country. Not because they were slaves but because they were human beings with worth.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I agree that taking pride in our proximal and distal heritage is good. I think we need to appreciate both, which is why the current threshold should be held in tact if possible. Without our African ancestors, despite the unfortunate history of the slave trade, there would be no enslaved ancestors to revere!

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for commenting! It is indeed crucial to realize that African Americans will trace back most of their African-born ancestors to the 1700’s. And therefore it is inevitable that due to dilution this 6cM-8cM range also simply happens to be the range where many of their valid African DNA matches are to be expected!

      I always find it intriguing though to see that there may be some variance according to (ultimate) state origins being either from Virginia or South Carolina. I suspect this will also influence the frequency of bigger matches or even close matches (>20cM). Which I suppose would be more so to be expected for people with South Carolina origins (on average). I intend to do more research on that in my upcoming survey on the African DNA matches being reported by Ancestry for African Americans. See also this chart taken from the Slave Voyages Database. It shows South Carolina also having a minor but significant share of African arrivals in the early 1800’s of about 30%. While for Virginia the import of African captives was mostly occurring before 1750!

      Another intriguing aspect which was heavily publicized last year is about which year would be the appropriate year to commemorate the first recorded arrival of Africans on presentday American soil. Either 1619 in Virginia or much earlier 1526 in South Carolina. See also:


      Liked by 1 person

  4. This is an excellent post, with so much takeaway! Although I struggle a bit with some of the more technical details (and charts), I’m in full agreement with the premises put forth here, and will let Ancestry know as much.
    I’ve also pulled a few quotes from you that I just love! Top of the list is this one: “… absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.” Love that!
    Thanks for your hard work and sharing.

    Renate Sanders

    Liked by 1 person

    • You’re very welcome, thanks a lot for your comment! Feel free to ask about any details or charts which need clarification. It might also be helpful for other people.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Hey Fonte, Have you had a chance to look at the new paper from Micheletti?
    They’re showing that African Americans have lower Senegambian then expected from SlaveVoyages.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Oh another thing. I’m wondering if the practice of polygny might not cause African centimorgans to shorten quicker. Aren’t cousins from half siblings a bit less related than cousins from full siblings? Has polygny been factored in, or are geneticists just assuming a “typical” family tree?

    Liked by 1 person

    • That is a good question! All I know is that this must also have had a major impact on ethnic intermingling. I have read several accounts whereby especially African men of higher social standing would often have multiple wives. Among whom would also be women from neighbouring ethnic groups. Their children would often however just assume the ethnic identities of their father. Of course also determined by localized cultural practices.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Haven’t read the post yet, so forgiven me if you’ve discussed this here or in other recent posts, but it looks like Ancestry is gearing up for another ethnicity update. I noticed they’ve divided Wales from England & Northwestern Europe and split Ireland and Scotland. For Africa, it seems like the Cameroon & Congo now includes Southwestern Bantu intstead of the general Southern Bantu. They’ve also added back Ivory Coast to Ghana and have also added the Pygmy people as a seperate category.

    The changes to the British Isles don’t make much sense to me. It’s already been proven that there is not singular “Welsh” genetic identity. The people from the north and south of the country diverge more than these two regions do with their English neighborhods to the east. And as for Ireland and Scotland, there has been so much migration between Scotland and Ireland and English to Scotland that I’m not sure that Scotland will have an overaching genetic footprint.

    There are a few other changes to the regions that I’ve seen from my matches, but most are cosmetic such as extending the border of a region here, or truncating it there. I was hoping they’ve have taken more of our suggestions for Africa into consideration, but it doesn’t seem to be the case.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I was hoping they’ve have taken more of our suggestions for Africa into consideration, but it doesn’t seem to be the case.”

      Indeed! I will need to give it a more detailed look for final judgment. It does seem that there will be a few improvements in the African breakdown. But nothing major…

      Rumour has it that this ethnicity update will be rolled out shortly. Which frankly makes me suspect that this timing has been planned all along. So as to divert any attention from the much more impactful purge of smaller DNA matches. Which took place only last week. Resulting in a great loss in customer value in my opinion and many others…

      Liked by 1 person

      • Okay, my update came in. Notably for my African side I’ve been reduced to 4 regions from 6 previously. I lost my 1% Senegal and my 2% Ghana. List with previous estimates in parentheses:

        Nigeria: 28% (30%)
        Benin & Togo: 19% (7%)
        Cameroon, Congo & Western Bantu Peoples: 10% (14%)
        Mali: 5% (9%)

        Notes: 1. Benin & Togo is now appears to be drawn much more tightly than the previous update to only cover Benin & Togo 2. Mali is now drawn to include Guinea-Bissau and Sierra Leone and has a non-contiguous area that covers Chad; I guess this is for Fula/Fulani? 3. Cameroon, Congo & Western Bantu Peoples is much more centered on the western coast then before. It extends down to Namibia and includes Zambia, but leaves out South African, Botswana, Zimbabwe.

        My European ancestry didn’t change too much. I lost my 2% Eastern European & Russia, but I’ve always assumed this is probably some vestigial dna from my Germanic ancestry. And I gained Wales. Anyway, I’ll put my European ancestry in a list with the previous update in parentheses:

        England & Northwestern Europe: 16% (17%)
        Germanic Europe: 13% (11%)
        Norway: 4% (3%)
        Ireland: 5% (2%)
        Wales: 2%

        Kind of surprised my Norway has stayed around across all updates.I’ve been assuming it was somewhere way back when maybe a Norwegian mixed with my ancestry back in England, but this seems more recent for it to stay so strong through the updates. This is aso my highest Ireland percentage, and I still haven’t found that ancestry, yet.

        Last things of note are that my dad and my paternal grandmother retained their 1% Native American; they’ll be happy to hear that. lol But there two European heritage is all over the place, again. They are now given very significant “Scotland” ancestry whereas they were almost all England, Wales & Northwern Europe in the previous estimates. They also both have significant Germanic Europe regions, now.

        Liked by 1 person

        • I am preparing a blog post right now which will feature my survey findings for about 130 Africans as well as 50 Afro-descendants. In order to drill down to some generalized trends. Your update does seem to fall in line with what I ‘ve seen sofar. Especially how “Benin/Togo” is showing up more strongly now. It’s been on the increase for most people. Otherwise often only marginal changes though. The only new region “Southern Bantu” is appearing with minimal amounts or just simply absent for most people in the Trans-Atlantic Diaspora. Although it is certainly a welcome addition in itself. Especially for Southern Africans themselves.

          Lol this update really seems to be all about Scotland! I am surprised you didn’t get any yourself. Although this did occur for your dad and his mother. I am a bit ambivalent about this attempt to separate genetically very closely related populations. As I really prefer for DNA tests not to be more specific than their underlying data allows for. Just provide more generic but still distinctive (macro)-regions (in this case just simply “British” or even Northwest European”) and leave it up to the DNA matches/genetic communities for further specification. In order to avoid confusion and people being mislead about their genealogical lineage, which will often not fully allign with their genetic inheritance. Regrettably this also happened with LivingDNA’s overdetailed African breakdown. Also the new black-owned DNA testing company AfroRoots seems to be going down this path.

          On the other hand I am also curious how far they can eventually get with this project. Obviously this is only a first step as they seem to be quite committed to take this further to the next level. Unlike Ancestry’s African breakdown … This is what they had to say about it:

          People from England or the northern counties of Ireland may be getting more Scotland than they might expect given their family history—and sometimes vice versa. This is a natural consequence of trying to distinguish several closely related peoples apart at just the DNA level. This update is the first time we have been able to identify these four regions separately, so don’t be surprised if we are able to make more refinements to these regions in the future.”

          See also:

          Why Your Latest Results Could Include More Scotland In Your Ethnicity Estimates

          Liked by 1 person

  8. Oops. Zooming in, I see some of these regions cover larger areas. Congo, Cameroon & Western Bantu Peoples does indeed still include – distantly – Zimbabwe and parts of Southeast Africa (Malawi and Mozambique). Benin & Togo also distantly includes all of Ghana. Interestingly, Nigeria includes distantly the non-contiguous Central African Republic.

    Liked by 1 person

    • The maps on Ancestry have always been a useful tool to clarify that the regional abeling is not to be taken too literally. However these maps are also only indications and approximations based on inherently limited information available to Ancestry. Unfortunately it seems that which each next update Ancestry becomes more sloppy in providing this type of essential conxtextual information…

      Liked by 1 person

    • Hello Fonte. Please tell me what you think of these results. My updated Ancestry results are 37 percent Cameroon Congo and Western Bantu peoples. Went slightly up.
      32 percent Nigeria-Went down from the 40s
      10 percent Ivory Coast/Ghana-went up from 1 percent last update
      7 Benin Togo (went slightly up)
      4 percent Scotland
      3 percent Ireland
      3 percent Senegal (about the same, slightly lower now)
      2 percent Mali (lower than before)
      1 percent Eastern Bantus people
      1 percent Germanic Europe

      My dad
      34 percent Nigeria (lower than the 44 percent he was at last time)
      28 percent Cameroon, Congo and Western Bantu people (Slightly lower
      13 percent Benin Togo (an increase by about 3 percentage points from last estimate)
      9 percent Ivory Coast Ghana (he was four percent last update even with its mishaps with Ghanaian ancestry)
      7 percent Mali (higher)
      2 percent Ireland
      2 percent Scotland
      1 percent England
      1 percent Senegal
      1 percent Wales (completely new)
      1 percent Northern Philippines
      1 percent Southeast Asian

      My maternal Grandmother
      38 percent Cameroon Congo and Southern Bantu (this has often been her biggest category or second biggest. She has matches from Congo).
      34 percent Nigeria (Slightly Lower than before
      12 percent Benin Togo (higher than before)
      6 percent Mali (a bit Lower than usual. She has two Sierra Leonean mende matches).
      4 percent Senegal (about the same, slightly higher now)
      3 percent Ireland (Slightly higher)
      1 percent Wales (new)
      1 percent Ivory Coast Ghana (she’s always scored fairly low in this category and this time is no different).
      1 percent Germanic Europe (new this was Iberian peninsula at one time).

      Liked by 1 person

      • Hi Taylor,

        I am preparing a blog post right now which will feature my survey findings for about 130 Africans as well as 50 Afro-descendants, incl. 10 African Americans. In order to drill down to some generalized trends. These results of yours seem to fall in line with what I ‘ve seen sofar. Especially how “Benin/Togo” is showing up more strongly now. It’s been on the increase for most people. Otherwise often only marginal changes though.

        I do think this breakdown on a group level will be closer to what African Americans should score, based on historical clues. However especially Upper Guinean lineage is still somewhat underestimated. “Mali” is now also slightly on the decrease for many people because of the restoration of “Ivory Coast/Ghana”. Although that latter region is still far away from being fully recuperated…

        Nice that your dad has retained his SE Asian admixture. I have seen such small trace regions fall away rather randomly for many people. Even when it was genuine and backed up by DNA matches or also 23andme results. This is because of Ancestry’s oversmoothing algorithm. In light of your family’s Madagascar connection it is interesting that Ancestry introduced their new region “Southern Bantu”. From what I ‘ve seen sofar it is only appearing with minimal amounts or just simply absent for most people in the Trans-Atlantic Diaspora. Although it is certainly a welcome addition in itself. I suspect that often it might serve as an indication of Malagasy lineage, even when reported in small amounts. Similar to SE Asian trace admixture.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Hello Fonte! Happy New Year. Have you seen the 23andme update? Some people of African descent are being linked with African ethnic groups. I was not matched to an ethnic group or my mother (at least not yet). However, my father was “highly likely” to be descended from the Kongo and Mbundu peoples. Given that he is 12.2 percent Angolan and Congolese and that we know a large number of Central Africans were taken to the US (I know he has roots in South and North Carolina and Georgia), it seems pretty plausible to me. What do you think of 23andme’s rollout? Does it seem to have a lot of validity? If so, its groundbreaking!

          Liked by 1 person

          • Happy New Year! Awesome start of the year by 23andme! Judging from what i’ve seen sofar (results for actual Africans) their update is pretty accurate indeed. But of course still a work in progress 😉 I am working on a new blogpost so keep your eye out for that. It will also feature a survey on which groups were reported for 100 African Americans tested by 23andme.


    • @ J.
      Yeah… I am also not impressed. Although this update does still improve things compared with the 2019 one. But nothing drastic or really meaningful… More details in my upcoming blogpost.
      As far as I am concerned this update does NOT compensate for the loss of small African matches, earlier this month.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Hi Fonte,

    I received my ancestry ethnicity update today. I was surprised to find 1% Ethiopia & Eritrea. Many of my 2nd and third cousins’ matches also have this same estimate. I also noticed some dna matches with a 1 to 2% estimate of Somalia. My percentages for Senegal decreased slightly from 46% to 45 and Mali increased from 5% to 7%. Northern Africa doubled from 4% to 8%. Portugal dropped from 45% to 30%. Other new additions were Spain 3%, Southern Italy 3% and France 1%. European Jewish increased from 1 % to 2%. The Benin Togo estimate of 1% which has been part of my ethnicity estimate since I initially took their DNA test in 2018 is now gone. They do have a link to a reference panel, https://support.ancestry.com/s/article/AncestryDNA-Reference-Panel. The number of samples for Ethiopia & Eritrea are 55. Their new estimate looks similar to the Living DNA estimate I received a few months ago. I submitted a comment on April 1, 2020 on those results, West African 49.1% North Africa 11.3% East Africa 1.6% (listed as North Sudan). Europe South 33.9 % consisting of East and West Iberia, and 4% Arabia.
    Is there any historical evidence that may point to Cape Verdeans having East African lineage?

    Thanks, Ed

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Ed,

      I am right now preparing a blog post about this update on Ancestry. I have been surveying about 135 Africans & 50 Afro-descendants to get a better grasp on the main trends. Among my Cape Verdean survey participants I did occasionally come across such minimal trace amounts of around 1% “Ethiopia & Eritrea” as well as even “Somalia” indeed. And also among the results of other people in fact. Even when last year it was not showing up for them. Probably has to do with the addition of new Ethiopian and Somali samples by Ancestry into their Reference Panel.

      Of course one always has to be very careful with trace amounts of unexpected admixture. Afterall admixture analysis is not 100% accurate and especially with smaller amounts it might produce so-called “noise” results. Misleading estimates which fall within the inherent margins of error. It might very well be that these trace amounts will disappear again with the next update 😉

      Given that I have seen such minor East African scores being reported also for Fula and Hausa-Fulani people I am inclined to think it is rather a proxy of Sahellian ancestry for Cape Verdeans and most other Afro-descendants as well. Although of course other explanations might be valid too in individual cases. To get a second opinion it might be worthwhile to also test with 23andme. As from my experience they have a better trackrecord when dealing with trace amounts of admixture. Plus their Northeast African categories are better defined than on Ancestry. Also incl. a separate “Sudanese” category which is right now missing on Ancestry.

      Is there any historical evidence that may point to Cape Verdeans having East African lineage?

      I am not aware of any historical records mentioning Northeast Africans being present in Cape Verde itself. However the Portuguese have been trading along the Swahili Coast from Mozambique in the south all the way north to Somalia and Ethiopia in the 1500’s/1600’s. But it seems these connections were cut off after the conquest of the Mombasa fortress in Kenya by the Omani Sultanate in 1698. So theoretically there might have been a flow of people coming in from the north of Mozambique. And afterwards, (perhaps also through already mixed descendants?) ending up in Cape Verde. But frankly I do not think such a highly atypical scenario could account for the pretty widespread reporting of East African trace amounts right now.

      As I always mention on my blog I tend to be extra careful when dealing with DNA results suggesting Northeast African ancestry for Atlantic Afro-descendants. Simply because it is both historically unsupported and also the actual science behind DNA testing and especially ethnicity estimates has proven to be far from exact 😉

      It is interesting though that two years ago in my survey on African DNA matches being reported for 50 Cape Verdeans I was able to find a couple of Ethiopian matches! As well as from Kenya and Sudan actually. See also overview below.

      As described in greater detail in my blogpost (scroll down to section 4) most of these matches were probably false positives. Because I could not verify that they were inherited by way of the parents of my survey participants. Plus they were almost always smaller matches (<8cM). One intriguing exception however being an Ethiopian match of 12 cM. It is still available now after Ancestry’s purge and the pre-Timber amount of shared DNA is being shown as 14 cM even! While according to ethniciy estimates this match is 100% “Ethiopian & Eritrean”. Although actually this could also be because of Ancestry’s homogenizing algorithm.

      Honestly I have no idea how this came to be however do take notice that this Cape Verdean does not show any “Ethiopia & Eritrea”, even after the update. It could be a genuine match but perhaps still by way of another ancestral scenario than imagined. The Cape Verdean has a rather distinctive Italian score for example. Such type of lineage might right now be concealed for the Ethiopian because of Ancestry’s oversmoothing algorithm. Or perhaps it could still also be a fluke all together. Either way again I think testing with 23andme might provide more clarity as well as looking for more Ethiopian matches to corroborate any genuine connection.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Hi Fonte,

        I found your presentation ‘Ethnic Filters and DNA Matches: The Way Forward to Finding Your Lineage!” on Roots Tech very information. I was a participant in your “DNA matches reported for 50 Cape Verdeans on AncestryDNA” series (CV19). You found two Fula matches and six North African matches for me. I will be taking the 23 and me DNA test fairly soon and I’m wondering if you have any plans to use your filtering technique on matches from 23 and me. I recently found a 23 and me match on my Gedmatch kit. It is a woman from Tanzania based on her name and facebook page. Based on Gedmatch’s admixture tools, her West African ancestry 45% to 50% and East African ancestry 25% to 35% wilth less than 2 % European ancestry. Our shared DNA is 14 CM on one segment. Once I receive my 23 and me results I will have a better idea if she may have a distant Cape Verdean ancestor.

        Also I have more info on the nickname Nanbem that I commented in April of 2020. After looking at the obitury for my 2nd great-grandfather I concluded the nickname was Nanbem and not Nambem. The info I found on facebook pointed to a Nigerian woman. I also viewed the presentation given by Yetunde Moronke Abiola on Roots Tech. I emailed her asking her about the name Nanbem. She stated that Nanbem is a northern name, used in Kano. I emailed her again asking if the name may be of Fula or Hausa origin. I still waiting for her reply.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Hey Ed,

          Thanks for watching my presentation! Good to hear also that your research is making progress on several fronts!

          My filtering technique cannot be applied on 23andme. However if you’re willing to buy a 23andme+ subscription you will actually be able to do the ethnic filtering yourself! See also this screenshot:

          Liked by 1 person

          • Hi Fonte,

            I received my new update for Ancestry couple days ago. Couple things of interest, my Senegal estimate rose from 45 to 51% at the expense of my Mali score from 7 to 2%. My 1% Ethiopia & Eritrea was eliminated and my North Africa estimate rose from 8 to 13%. I have noticed the same increase and decrease for these three regions on many of my DNA matches. From Ancestry reference panel for 2021 there were increases in the Senegal, Mali, and Northern African samples compared to 2020 from your blog “Ancestry’s new African Breakdown: merely cosmetic changes?” in 2020. Is the changes in these estimated for Senegal and Mali possibly due to a higher percentage of Senegal samples used than Mali, since the increase in sample size for both Senegal and Mali in 2021 from 2020were about the same. I also noticed the Northern African sample size more than doubled from 2020 to 2021.

            Also a few months ago I received two African matches. One on Ancestry and the other on My Heritage. I have Nigerian DNA match on Ancestry and someone from Seychelles on My Heritage. My Nigerian match is 98% Nigerian and 2% Cameroon, Congo & Western Bantu Peoples. This did not change after the recent update. I sent both a message but unfortunately, I have not received a response. It is 12cm on one segment for my Nigerian match and 20.8 cm match for my Seychelles. Below are the estimates for my Seychelles match.


            West African 2.8%
            Nigerian 24.9%
            Central African 1.6%
            Kenyan 49.1%

            Irish, Scottish, and Welsh 5.7%
            Finnish 2.4%

            South Asian 4.8%
            Chinese and Vietnamese 6.7%

            Papuan 1.1%

            Mesoamerican and Andean 0.9%

            The only categories that I have in common are West Africa and Nigeria. My estimates 35.9 for the former and 6.1 for the latter. Based on what I’ve read about Seychelles, this appears to be somewhat in line for their history.

            As to my Nigerian match, I’ve had a 1% estimate for both Benin/Togo and Ivory Coast Ghana in previous Ancestry estimate and also in my Living DNA estimate, would this possible account for this match. My Heritage estimate is the only one with a Nigerian component. Also using the website https://forebears.io. My Nigerian match last name is prevalent in Southern Nigeria in the Rivers State.

            I did have 5 shared matches with Seychelles all Cape Verdean or part Cape Verdean. So there may be a distant connection to Cape Verde. My Nigerian match has no shared matches.


            Liked by 1 person

            • Hey Ed, thanks for sharing! Very interesting about the Nigerian match especially. From my survey a few years ago receiving Nigerian matches is indeed possible for Cape Verdeans. Although usually it will be Hausa-Fulani matches from northern Nigeria and the shared ancestral connection will very likely still be through Upper Guinea. However for southern Nigerian matches other ancestral scenario’s apply. Incl also a detour by way of Brazil or São Tomé.

              Also nice to see the match from Seychelles although it seems likely that this will be due to more recent shared ancestry, possibly even from Cape Verde. You did not test with 23andme yet did you? If so it might be useful to see if your “Nigerian” score is perhaps slightly above average when compared with other Cape Verdeans.

              About the new update check out my thoughts as well as an overview of the new reference panel via the link below.
              Ancestry’s 2021 update

              I agree that the predictive accuracy of “Senegal” seems to have increased somewhat. My own “Senegal” score is the highest I have ever obtained! However judging from these updated results for a person (Fulacunda) from Guiné Bissau so-called “Mali” is still indicative of something distinctive. His breakdown changed slightly but not that drastically. Both “Senegal” and “Mali” used to be at 49% last year. Plus he had 2% “Benin/Togo” then which has now disappeared, as it most likely was a misreading.

              Liked by 1 person

              • Hi Fonte,

                I finally did test with 23andme and received the results a few days ago. My results fall in line with your analysis of other Cape Verdean 23andme results. Below are my results.

                Sub-Saharan African 48.1%

                West African 47.6%

                Senegambian & Guinean 46.6%
                Ghanaian, Liberian & Sierra Leonean  0.8%

                Broadly West African 0.2%
                Broadly Sub-Saharan African 0.5%

                European 46.8%

                Spanish & Portuguese 42.1%
                Broadly Southern European 2.0%

                Ashkenazi Jewish 1.2%

                Northwestern European 0.6%

                Scandinavian 0.6%

                Broadly European 0.9%

                Western Asian & North African 3.4%

                 North African 1.7 %
                 Arab, Egyptian & Levantine 0.4%
                    Egyptian 0.2%
                    Broadly Arab, Egyptian & Levantine 0.2%
                Broadly Western Asian & North African 1.3%

                Unassigned 1.7%

                As you can see no Nigerian score. The other major difference between the latest ancestry result and 23andme is the large difference between the Spanish & Portuguese results, 28% Portuguese 2% Spanish in Ancestry and 42.1% on 23andme. The Spanish & Portuguese results in Ancestry have steadily decreased since my initial test in 2018 corresponding with an increase in the North African score with almost every update since then. Is this based solely on the increase sample size for North Africa?

                I do like the fact that 23andme does include a separate category for Cape Verde, identifying Brava and San Filipe (Fogo) as one and two for me. As you have stated in past blogs, I do not see a reason why Ancestry cannot do the same for Cape Verdeans instead of including us in the “Portuguese Islanders in the Eastern U.S.” category. I do have one DNA match from Senegal. 95% Senegambian & Guinean and 5% North African, one segment of 28 cm.


                Liked by 1 person

                • Excellent! If you’re cool with it you could send me a viewing link which you can create from the ancestry composition page (share button).

                  I do have one DNA match from Senegal. 95% Senegambian & Guinean and 5% North African, one segment of 28 cm.

                  Wow, very exciting! ​This is the biggest mainland African match I have seen reported for Cape Verdeans sofar! In my survey among 50 Cape Verdeans tested by Ancestry in 2018 the biggest match was also from Senegal with a size of 21 cM. The only match greater than 20 cM infact in that survey. Admittedly Ancestry does appear to apply a somewhat different way of measuring the size of DNA matches than 23andme (due to their Timber algorithm). But still this match is undoubtedly quite closely related to you! Possibly the shared ancestor might even have lived in the early to mid 1800’s?

                  As I said then:

                  I still suspect that on average Cape Verde’s mainland African connections are mostly to be traced back to the 1500’s/1600’s. If indeed many of these bigger matches are to be traced rather to the 1800’s or late 1700’s this could be very helpful actually. As it could increase the odds of zooming into particular family lines whose generational distance with mainland African MRCA’s might be relatively small.”

                  Have you checked to see if you have any shared matches in common? Scroll down to “Find relatives in common” on his profile page. If so, are there any Cape Verdeans among them?

                  What I really appreciate about 23andme is that they give you more detailed information about the shared DNA you have in common with your matches, incl. also location and chromosome browser. Which can really boost your research for shared ancestors or placing a DNA match on a certain family branch. Especially by way of triangulation!

                  Going by the 5% North African this match is most likely Fula or atleast partially Fula. If his profile also shows his surname you could probably get more clues from that as well.

                  I will reply in greater detail on this page:

                  Cape Verdean 23andme results

                  Liked by 1 person

                  • Hi Fonte

                    We do share 12 matches. Of the 12, 10 share one segment of varying size but on the same location on chromosome 1. My segment of 28 being the largest. Others range from 9cm to 15cm. One of the matches shares 20cm with 2 segments on two different chromosomes other than chromosome 1. The last match has not shared results, I have sent an invite. Of the 12 matches 3 are from one family and two from another. A mother and two daughters and a father and son. I did triangulation with three matches in different combination. I believe I did it correctly; there is triangulation with the matches on chromosome 1. I only triangulated one family member since the same segment was passed down from parent to child. You informed about a pile up region on a chromosome on a previous comment of mine because of the large number of Jewish matches I have. Would the number of matches in this case be considered a pile up?

                    Also, using the website: https://forebears.io his surname is a Wolof clan name.


                    Liked by 1 person

                    • Hi Fonte,

                      I forgot to mention I have two other matches from Senegal, one listed only one grandparent from Senegal and the other is Cape Verdean who may have been born in Senegal. Also three matches from Angola, two are 50% Cape Verdean and 50% Angolan, the other has one grandparent who is Angolan.


                      Liked by 1 person

                    • Thanks for sending me the sharing invite! I will answer your previous questions on this page

                      About the possibility of a pile-up region I am not sure. A shared DNA segment of 28 cM is practically bound to be the real thing. Plus the number of shared matches in itself doesn’t seem that excessive. Do these shared matches include Cape Verdeans as far as you can tell? If so, I would be very curious to know which islands they are from. As shown on their profile page or whenever you get the chance to get in contact with them.

                      When I am comparing with my Cape Verdean matches on 23andme I tend to get 100+ shared matches and probably a few dozens of them will be sharing the exact same DNA segment. Of course this could be due to endogamy but I highly suspect most of these matches are indeed very closely related to me. It gets more puzzling when I look into more distant Hispanic matches of mine. Intriguingly at times they also show shared matches with me on the exact same DNA segment. However these shared matches tend to be more randomized which leaves me wondering if it’s really due to a shared ancestor somewhere down the line.

                      Specifically in regards to pile-up regions occurring for people of Fula descent. I do indeed think this is a possibility in some cases. I have actually been told about this recently by a Fula friend of mine. But this was referring to his own DNA matches. I will ask him for more details and let you know.

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • Hi, Fonte

                      This is a reply to your response dated 23 Oct at 15:54. There was not a reply link with the comment.

                      Based on their Ancestry Composition, there was only two Cape Verdeans with four Cape Verdean grandparents. One I believe is a second cousin related to me on my mother’s side, he didn’t list which islands his family is from. I would guess all four grandparents are from Fogo. The other based on the amount of cm may be a fourth cousin; she listed two grandparents from Santiago and one from Fogo. She did not list the birthplace of her other grandparent but based on her Ancestry Composition, the other grandparent is Cape Verdean. Her match was 20cm: two segments on two different chromosomes other than chromosome 1. The others are part Cape Verdean. Ranging from ¾ Cape Verdean to 1/8 Cape Verdean. None listed a particular Cape Verdean island. One listed Barbados along with Cape Verde as ancestors’ birthplace. One other shared match has African American and Cape Verdean ancestry with 9.8% Senegambian & Guinean.

                      I have also had a number of distant Hispanic matches particularly Puerto Rican matches. Some are matches are part Cape Verdean. Unfortunately, Ancestry does not have chromosome browser to determine if there is any triangulation. Using Gedmatch, I did find one Puerto Rican match that shared matches with me on the same DNA segment. The other shared matches on the same location were mostly DNA matches with Brava ancestry. Her family tree on Ancestry goes back to her 2nd great-grandparents. I did not see a surname that appears to be Cape Verdean.


                      Liked by 1 person

                    • Thanks, this is very interesting! So basically all these shared matches who you were able to check have atleast a partial Cape Verdean connection! That makes it even more likely that this match is indeed legitimate. Assuming your mutual ancestor with this Senegalese match lived in Cape Verde during the 1800’s I suppose he could easily have dozens if not several hundreds of direct descendants.

                      If you were to find out how you connect with some of these shared matches then it might make it easier to zoom in to the family branch which is most likely to be linked to this Senegalese match. Especially that second cousin seems promising for this type of research. But also the one with 20 cM shared on two segments.

                      If you intend to pursue this please let me know if you find out anything new. I would love to hear about it! Not sure if I already mentioned this to you. But in case you are seeking advise on how to build up your family tree there’s a great facebook group full of helpful people:

                      Cape Verde DNA


                    • Hi Ed, my Fula friend who tested his father on 23andme told me the following regarding the possibility of any pile-up regions. In particular his findings relate to a region on chromosome 6. Therefore it does not seem to apply directly to your match which was on chromosome 1 right? Also like I said the number of shared matches (12x) you found does not appear to be excessive compared with his findings as well. I cannot have 100% certainty of course but I think in your case the odds that you’re dealing with a genuine match are pretty big.

                      I looked into it more deeply (via triangulation etc.) on both FTDNA and 23andme. I found some really intriguing clues that may interest you!

                      I think that what you alluded to is possible. In my case, it doesn’t appear that all hispanic matches are matching me on pile-up regions, but regarding the specific approximate location on chromosome 6 that I mentioned earlier [ 29,750,000 to 33,100,000], it turns out that I match a total of 54 people on this very same location of chromosome 6 on FTDNA where I have a total of 547 matches overall. Surprisingly, none of my Fula and West African matches (including my mother) matches me on this location of chromosome 6 on FTDNA. Instead, there were only Hispanics and Afro-descendants. Among those 54 matches, I noticed that 2 of them match my father’s data on the very same location of chromosome 6, at 23andme: TS and TF

                      Using my father’s account on 23andme, I zeroed in the same approximate location on chromosome 6, using triangulation with TF’s profile due to his longer stretch of DNA. It turns out that my father shares 141 matches with TF, including 108 of them on the exact same DNA segment (same location of chr. 6). To my surprise, the overwhelming majority are Afro-descendants and Hispanics. Only 4 West Africans (including 2 Fula) match my father on the same location of Chromosome 6.

                      Given the important number of Fula matches that my father has and based on the aforementioned observations, it doesn’t appear that this particular pile-up region on chromosome 6 is prevalent among Fula people. When I zeroed in on this particular location of chr.6, using gedmatch some years ago, their tool suggested a NW African/Mediterranean component.


  10. You are making a compelling argument about the challenges that Afro-descendants face when tracing African roots and the need for DNA testing companies to specifically address their concerns.

    Although I am of Fula ancestry with different research goals (e.g., ancient migrations), those distant matches (within the range of 6cM – 8cM) that you are talking about were also useful to me, initially. They were one of the elements which made me even more aware of the multitude of ancestral/historical scenarios involving the people I match with from the Americas.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Merci! I have heard from several people with different research goals that these distant matches were still useful for them as well.

      Because of this update I had to accelerate my surveys focusing on the African DNA matches for different parts of the Afro-Diaspora. Effectively I had a deadline till the end of August 🙂 I will publish my research findings in the coming months. One recurring aspect is how some people tend to have an increased frequency of Fula matches (both smaller and greater than 8cM). Something which I find very fascinating. Because eventhough multiple ancestral scenarios might apply still overall the odds of a shared ancestor being a Fula will be quite high in such cases I imagine.

      I have previously already blogged about this for Cape Verdeans. But also especially among African Americans I have seen such outcomes of increased frequency of Fula matches. I still need to do a more thorough inventarization but the most striking individual outcome I can recall right now was for a Haitian. For this person I found a staggering number of possibly 28 Fula and related Hausa-Fulani matches! Including even 1 Falatah match from either Sudan or Saudi Arabia. Really intriguing to think about how this person’s Fula ancestor from most likely the 1700’s on the one hand might have had descendants who spread all over the Sahel. From possibly either Senegambia or Guinea into northern Nigeria and even onwards into Sudan! While on the other hand his descendants got caught up in Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade and ended up in Haiti and probably also other places in the Americas.

      Among these matches the highest amount of shared DNA was 17cM. However also 16 out of 28 were smaller than 8 cM and have now been deleted by Ancestry… This is really a great loss of potentially very valuable connections! As mentioned in my blogpost I think it might be very helpful to perform dedicated follow-up research whenever you happen to have an increased frequency of DNA matches with a particular background. Especially when shared segment info is available from other DNA testing platforms you might then apply triangulation as well as DNA Painter with great effect. Comparing family trees with other DNA matches who also share the same cluster of African matches with you might then enable you to identify an earliest family line associated with these matches.

      Such an approach does depend on cooperating DNA matches though. Especially crucial for uploading on Gedmatch but also for information on their exact background etc.. However in practice and for understandable reasons most DNA matches on Ancestry (regardless whether they are African or not) will not be responsive as they might have tested merely to view their admixture results one single time and afterwards never log in again. Or also they might have other considerations. I always tell people to keep in mind that your matches may have tested with Ancestry for other reasons than you may have wished for.

      Which is why the availability of smaller matches is so crucial . Because even when you happen to have bigger matches these might not always be responsive while some of the smaller matches will be! Because of my surveys I have been in contact with several hundreds of African DNA testers over the years. Naturally they all have their own individual personalities. However I have definitely also met plenty of helpful people. Often also willing to put in extra effort to make the connection. Even when on their side they will also often be limited in their capability to do so. Afterall most people will not have complete records or oral traditions to the same effect going back on all lines all the way to the 1700’s . Let alone the 1600’s or even earlier.

      Still any kind of willingness to provide information and/or cooperation for follow-up research is greatly appreciated and applauded by Afro-descended people! I know many examples of especially African Americans for whom contact with their African matches is often also a very spiritual affair. I find it very inspirational to see such connections taking place. Which is why I also included a few Youtube videos in this blogpost of DNA tested Africans who seek to connect with their DNA matches. I just found a new one from a Hausa-Fulani man who tested on both Ancestry and 23andme. In this video however he goes through his overview of DNA matches on Gedmatch. I wonder how many of them will be related to him on segments classified as “North African”.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Surprisingly, this Hausa-Fulani man is also one of my closest matches on GEDmatch LOL. We share 56.5cM (largest segment: 11.7cM). However, on Ancestry we only share 12cM across 2 segments.

        I had already noticed that I have a substantial number of Fulani and/or Hausa-Fulani matches from Nigeria. With pretty much every Fula match, I share multiple segments, and it always made me wonder if it may be a reflection of prolonged endogamy over several generations. I read that such matching patterns are also quite noticeable among Jewish and some Hispanic communities.

        There have been a lot of hypotheses made about the origins of Fulani people, but there is hardly any consensus, even within these communities. However, when considering actual traditional practices, I have wondered if their dispersal may have been the result of sex-biased demographic events. The traditional practice of polygamy, for example, may also have contributed to the increased frequency of Fula matches for some of the people that you’re describing.

        I myself have a documented genealogy, but it’s written in Ajami. It was useful to learn the names of my ancestors. I consider that oral history, while beneficial, also has its caveats. I think it’s very useful for finding clues to be confirmed, corroborated or discounted.


        On one hand, I had identified “North African” segments with a decent number of people from Latin America. In recent years, for example, the person with whom I share the longest segment (21.7cM) on GedMatch appears to be a person from Latin America, judging by the surname. Both his mtDNA & Y-DNA are respectively Native American and European. His admixture proportions suggest a Central American origin. Surprisingly, our shared segment reflected a Northwest African component. On the other hand, there are other individuals who also appeared to be from the Americas (Afro-descendants & others) with whom I only identified West African segments.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Surprisingly, this Hausa-Fulani man is also one of my closest matches on GEDmatch LOL. We share 56.5cM (largest segment: 11.7cM). However, on Ancestry we only share 12cM across 2 segments.”

          Lol, I think this guy has done quite a bit of genealogy already so you might possibly be able to figure out the mutual ancestor. Then again the difference in shared DNA is probably because of Ancestry’s Timber filter. Which they apply because of endogamous populations. With this update Ancestry is now also showing the longest segment you have in common with your DNA matches. The cM amount being before Timber correction. The difference can be pretty big sometimes!


          I myself have a documented genealogy, but it’s written in Ajami. It was useful to learn the names of my ancestors. I consider that oral history, while beneficial, also has its caveats. I think it’s very useful for finding clues to be confirmed, corroborated or discounted.”

          That is a wonderful asset!

          Surprisingly, our shared segment reflected a Northwest African component. On the other hand, there are other individuals who also appeared to be from the Americas (Afro-descendants & others) with whom I only identified West African segments.”

          It might be useful to see how often any of these shared DNA segments will triangulate. Or in other words how many of your matches will be sharing the exact same DNA segment with you. I suspect for some segments the number of people who share the same identical piece of DNA might be inflated because of so-called pile-up regions. Ancestry’s deletion of smaller matches is supposed to decrease the odds of this happening. Then again having a shared DNA segment in common with several matches can of course also be very beneficial for zooming into an actual shared ancestor. Or at least to enable Afro-descendants to identify an earliest family line associated with their possibly Fula lineage. Even when other ancestral scenario’s might still be valid too (because of inter-ethnic polygamy for example). Also taking into account the possibility that the actual mutual ancestor is to be traced back further in time than imagined. Such an outcome could still be greatly informative!

          p.s. that Haitian person I mentioned earlier also has a small but still distinctive “Northern Africa” score. I am really curious to know how many of his Fula or Hausa-Fulani matches will be sharing segments with him associated with this piece of his DNA. I imagine on FTDNA it will be much easier to find out once they provide their Chromosome Ethnicity Painting.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Thanks Fonte for your explanations and suggestions. I am not very familiar with genealogical research, although I still find it very fascinating. I can’t speak for other Fula individuals, but my documented genealogy only reported the names of my direct paternal lineage. On my maternal side, this pattern also applies. So unfortunately, there are many other lineages for which there are neither written records nor oral history in my family.

            It seems that the combination of West African components (especially from Senegambia) with Northern African scores for Afro-descendants suggests some Fula ancestry. I also suspect that it will be more easily identifiable using the feature that you referred to.

            Liked by 1 person

  11. So im guessing by the comments and your replies that you noticed the increase in benin/togo again??

    I don’t know if im a exception. But i always had super high benin/togo results which were questionable for such a small area and the last update gave it a MASSIVE haircut down to 12%. But this update, i checked again and bam 26% benin/togo. Im like “wtf happened???”. This is so weird because my Nigeria score barely changed. IT was at 29% now 27%. But benin/togo went from 12% to 26%???, where did it pull the percentage from??? it couldn’t have been nigeria obviously.
    And it couldn’t have been Ivorycoast/ghana because they knocked it down all the way from like 15% to 1% last update. And now i have 0% ghana.

    My cameroon congo scores barely changed too, went from 23 to 21%. So where is it coming from????
    I thought benin/togo was normally attached to either Nigerian lineage or Ghana. Now its seems completely unrelated to any of them. These updates are weird.

    The only one left is Mali, which went from 15% to 10%. But even then that would only get benin/togo to 17% not 26%.
    Maybe im missing something and my math is just really bad cause i can’t find where they are pulling this from. Everything changes slightly and bening /togo jumps to the moon??. I just find it hard to believe that that many people originated from those tiny little countries. I did notice my 4% Senegal is completely gone now and that’s the only place i can see it going. But idk how you confuse senegal with benin/togo.

    I did gained 1 new location and got 1% North African tho..

    Liked by 1 person

    • Lol, that looks quite random indeed! It seems your “Benin/Togo” increase was scrambled bits & pieces from almost any other region! It is probably to do with Ancestry’s algorithm and the way it is reacting to the addition of 179 new samples from “Benin & Togo” . As I have observed previously it seems that over-sampled regions seem to suck in ethnicity estimate %’s at the expense of under-sampled regions. In a way functioning like a magnet. That your “Senegal” has disappeared all together would make sense then because this is currently the West African region with the smallest amount of samples (114). Also “Ivory Coast/Ghana” is still weakly defined against “Benin/Togo”. See also my latest blogpost and its discussion of Ancestry’s new Reference panel.

      From a macro-regional perspective your main results have not changed that drastically though. Combining “Benin/Togo” with “Ivory Coast/Ghana” and “Nigeria” you will get a proxy of your interrelated Lower Guinean subtotal. If I calculated correctly this would have been 50% in the 2013-2018 version. After the 2019 update it became 42%. And now it’s at 53%.

      Did you get my email I sent you a few weeks ago btw? I have included you in my upcoming survey for African DNA matches being reported for African Americans. One noteworthy aspect about your African matches is that the number of most likely Yoruba matches (5x) is the same as the number of Igbo matches (5x). This is quite unusual for African Americans in general who tend to clearly have mostly Igbo DNA matches among their Nigerian matches. Possibly this is something which your increased “Benin/Togo” score is also picking up on, even if with wild variations, lol.

      Your 1% “North African” might very well be correlating with the 2 Fula matches I found for you btw!

      Liked by 1 person

      • So they basically took bein/togo out of everyone?? well damn.
        I wonder, if they already had alot of benin/togo samples, why keep adding more?? What is it about that tiny region that makes them keep going back for more samples?? I mean what’s next getting test from the entire population of equatorial Guinea? lol

        I do remember in my first test results benin/togo was i think around the same percentage it was now, but my Nigeria scores were lower than average, like in the single digit percentile. I guess i thought the last update fixed it an it was just nigerian lineage, but this one came at a obvious surprise…lol. Are both yoruba and Igbo’s known for having high benin togo? I thought only igbo’s had it.

        I do know for as other AA’s i feel like im related to everyone including people saying “You match both my mother and father, you’re related to me via both my parents”. I do know at least one family tree has cross cousin hookups in the lineage. I think i mentioned it before, but i later found out my grandparents were related and they knew about it (Dna tests never cease to bring out family secrets). Could this have anything to do with it? Like if that side of my family has substantial benin togo dna from those groups and hooks up with another cousin with substantial benin/togo from the same groups that it just kinda inceptions on itself?? IT’s one of those things were your family is from down south and they all have like 8+ children and the children all have 8+children and never spread out or leave the area for generations..

        And no i didn’t see an email, is it possible you can send it again??
        Do you remember all of my african matches?? im abit hazy at remembering what they all were. I do remember having those 3’s just not how many there were. Did i have any other matches??

        Liked by 1 person

        • I wonder, if they already had alot of benin/togo samples, why keep adding more?? What is it about that tiny region that makes them keep going back for more samples??”

          They might be small countries. But they were heavily involved in Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. Of course their borders were not drawn then yet, but they both fall under the so-called Bight of Benin coastal area. This chart below is taken from the Slave Voyages Database , just to give an indication!

          This Bight of Benin share might be rather limited for the USA but elsewhere it was quite significant! Many people across the Americas will have genuine ancestral ties to either Benin or Togo. Even when for others it might be from surrounding countries 😉 Because of Inter-colonial trade with the West Indies actually some genuine Benin/Togo connections will still be valid for African Americans as well.

          About the current “Benin/Togo” scores for either Yoruba or Igbo’s check the stats in my latest blogpost. Btw I resent you the email, do check your spam folder as well. Otherwise give me another emailadress to send it to. You will be in my upcoming research either way. And i will then be able to say more about how your “Benin/Togo” score may correlate with your DNA matches.

          Liked by 1 person

  12. Hi Fonte Felipe

    I hope you are well.

    Re: Multiple Cape Verde DNA Matches for a Jamaican

    My grandmother informed me that my Grandad’s mother was Indian and I and some of my siblings have ‘straight hair’ think 3a b,
    (though I am aware of a small amount of european ancestry) I strongly believe this is from my East African inheritance identified by both GEDMatch and DNALand)

    I have 12 ‘Mali’ DNA and 1 Senegal and 2 France from Ancestry including for Africa all the Standard West African Countries Ancestry trot out for every person African American or Caribbean/South American.
    GEDmatch has identified only 54.7 percent West Africa, then 28 Percent Eastern Bantu incl about 7% small tribes such as Hadza, Omotic, pygmy and Khoi San), 9.5 percent East African, 1.2 % North East African and the about 5 % European. It also included South Asian .87% and Southeast Asian .28%.
    It broke down the Asian/European as follows: (All results below other than european results are very small but nevertheless present)


    I am matching to 5 Cape Verdean born DNA Matches between 10 and 12 CM with traditional Jewish Surnames two of whom are one family who did separate tests. Interestingly I am not matching to any African matches whatsoever, but I am matching Scottish/English DNA Matches from my specific surname.
    I believe my specific Cape Verdean Ancestor came to Jamaica and his/her descendants were mistaken for ‘Indian’ due to having long straight hair.
    Based on my results I believe that I may have Jewish Ancestry, what do you think? Also I believe that when an afro caribbean or African American has complex admixture, Ancestrydna just stamp it as Mali without bothering to go into any detail. Another point is that NOT all Carribean’s have Solely West African Ancestry as I have North and North West African/East African/South African and West African.
    I have found GEDMatch to be much more accurate ethnicity wise.
    Thanks for reading and for producing very good content.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Stephanie,

      Thank you for your comment and appreciation! That’s indeed quite intriguing to find Cape Verdean matches with Jewish surnames. I suppose a connection with Jamaica’s Sephardi community could be implied. Although also other ancestral scenario’s might be valid. See also this previous blog post of mine and scroll to section 7:


      At this stage I think expanding your family tree should be very beneficial to get more certainty. Also establishing any shared matches you have in common with these Cape Verdean matches as well as finding out about the exact location of the shared DNA segment could advance your research tremendously!

      I happen to have several Guyanese DNA matches myself. And some of them were already aware of having a distant Cape Verdean ancestor. Arriving as contract labourer in Guyana during the late 1800’s. Portuguese/Madeiran contract labourers being much more well known for the West Indies. But apparently also a few Cape Verdeans were going to the West Indies then. I am not sure if this scenario also applies in your case as you mention specific Jewish surnames. But if so then most likely you will have many more Cape Verdean DNA matches. As a connection from the late 1800’s will probably result in dozens and perhaps even hundreds of Cape Verdean DNA matches on Ancestry. Because Cape Verdean-Americans are relatively quite numerous within Ancestry’s customer database.

      I have found GEDMatch to be much more accurate ethnicity wise.”

      Gedmatch certainly has many useful features. Very beneficial for example for triangulation of your DNA matches.
      But when it comes to its admixture analysis I have to disagree.

      To be honest I have never taken much notice of Gedmatch and other third party websites because I found their ancestral categories not up to par with AncestryDNA (before the update). Going by other people’s reactions I also find Gedmatch to be highly confusing and potentially misleading because of the way their results are presented as seemingly very “precise” and “specific”. When in fact such a presumed accuracy cannot be attained with current DNA testing technology. AncestryDNA’s country name labeling may be misleading as well, but on a different scale I would say. Especially since they do mention the limitations of their “estimates” and also quite clearly illustrate the inevitable overlap with their regional maps.

      The labeling of ancestral categories is trickier than many people may realize. But I find it more reproachable when false hope is being generated of pinpointing a particular “tribe” based on the ethnic labeling of DNA scores which are merely based on some measure of genetic similarity with a given selection of samples and not actual genealogical descent! The shakiness of the Oracle predictions on Gedmatch is best revealed by simply experimenting with other calculators. You will quickly find that each time different results will appear. This variance being caused by the particular tweaking of algorithm and constellation with other reference populations! In other words nothing exact about it! And not really even indicative I would say going by the Gedmatch results of actual Africans I have seen which were usually off.

      Liked by 1 person

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