Are African Americans really mostly “Nigerian”?

Last year 23andme’s research team published a major landmark study titled “Genetic Consequences of the Transatlantic Slave Trade in the Americas“. Arguably the largest DNA study to examine African ancestry in the Americas! Covering a wide span of the Afro-Diaspora, incl. also several thousands of African Americans. Highly interesting therefore. The research approach of this study consists of combining genetic data obtained from 23andme customers with Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade patterns. Which is practically the same approach I have been using ever since I started my AncestryDNA survey in 2013. This study by 23andme is even including Cape Verdean samples as a control group! Which is something I have done as well in all my research sofar.1 Since I have recently finished my survey findings based on 23andme results (2018/2019 version) it should be useful to compare notes.

23andme’s 2020 study

My own survey findings based on 23andme and AncestryDNA results

***

Table 1 (click to enlarge)

This overview is showing the scaled African breakdown for the combined USA sample group (n=5785) featured in Micheletti et al. (2020). As well as for my own African American survey group (n=200). Despite smaller sample size actually very similar outcomes. Providing mutual corroboration. As can be seen “Nigerian” was clearly the most significant region. Going by group averages around 35%. Usually “Nigerian” is appearing as primary African category (162/200=81% in my survey). But even so “Nigerian” is still far from being predominant (>50%). Especially “Ghanaian, Liberian & Sierra Leonean” is also showing up as a substantial component. Furthermore regional scores indicative of Senegambian and Central African DNA are still considerable and nearly at 10%, on average. Making for an overall varied and rather balanced African breakdown. Do notice as well that around 20% of the African breakdown is falling in one of the “Broadly” categories!

***

In this blogpost I will compare my own research findings (based on regional admixture) with 23andme’s study from 2020. In fact much of the data contained in 23andme’s study (based on the 2018 version of Ancestry Composition) is consistent with my own. As demonstrated above in Table 1. Which features the African breakdown for African Americans on 23andme (scaled to 100%).2 Despite smaller sample size on my part actually very similar outcomes. Providing mutual corroboration. The study’s main findings of lower Senegambian and higher Nigerian ancestry than expected for African Americans are in line with what I had already established in my 2015 survey. Based on AncestryDNA test results for 350 African Americans. As well as more recently in my 23andme survey. See also:

Within the remaining part of this blog post I will discuss the following:

  1. Why do so many African Americans have Nigerian ancestry?
    • Ancestral implications of “Nigerian” go beyond modern-day borders
    • Domestic Slave Trade from mostly Virginia spreading Bight of Biafra lineage
    • Lower Senegambian than expected because of less reproduction?
    • Substructure according to state origins
  2. African breakdown for other parts of the Afro-Diaspora 
    • Mostly in agreement with historical expectations
    • Overlap & differences with my own survey findings
    • Regional diversity and substructure
    • Confirmation of Upper Guinean Founding Effect?
  3. Discordances & limitations of 23andme’s study
    • Afro-descended samples taken from migrants underrepresent wider variation in countries of origin
    • Central African IBD disproportionately high when contrasted with regional admixture from Central Africa 
    • Sex-biased admixture: multiple & context-dependent historical narratives! 
  4. Exciting future prospects:  personalized 23andme results featuring African IBD specified according to ethnic groups Continue reading

Gullah Genetics

I have published another new page within the 23andme section of my blog. It features my survey findings based on 100 23andme results as well as 68 AncestryDNA results for African Americans with deep roots from South Carolina. Incl. several Gullah persons! Most of my findings are in agreement with previous published studies on African American genetics. In line with expectations Rice Coast related DNA seems to be more elevated indeed among South Carolinians.1 As indicated firstmost by a high frequency of primary “Ghanaian, Liberian & Sierra Leonean” scores on 23andme. As well as prominent “Mali” scores on Ancestry. But in fact also Central African lineage and strictly Senegambian2ancestry appear to be more pronounced in South Carolina than elsewhere in the USA. To be sure Nigerian (related) ancestry is very common in South Carolina too but intriguingly it seems to be relatively subdued among Gullah persons.

***

Table 1 (click to enlarge)

This overview is exploring regional substructure between various parts of South Carolina. Obviously only preliminary due to minimal sample size. However already a very insightful constrast between coastal and inland areas is surfacing. The Lowcountry and Pee Dee clearly having relatively elevated group averages for “Senegambian & Guinean” and especially “Ghanaian, Liberian and Sierra Leonean”. While “Nigerian” scores are much more prominent in Upstate and Midlands. Intriguingly the substantial Central African level showing up in coastal areas is also maintained into Midlands.

***

My analysis is also zooming into coastal areas and contrasting with inland areas within South Carolina. And this kind of granularity might be a first when compared with other research projects (along with the inclusion of Southeast Asian admixture statistics). Atleast as far as I know and also when dealing with regional admixture within Africa as well (otherwise see Parra et al. (2001) for a truly pioneering study). Such a comparison is particularly insightful when wanting to grasp the localized formation of the Gullah people in the Lowcountry and adjacent Pee Dee area! In order to avoid any assumptions being made on my part I will not use Gullah as a synonym for people from the Lowcountry and/or Pee Dee.3 Although of course this is the main area where they are located. Follow the link below for fully detailed analysis, references and screenshots (incl. also AncestryDNA results):

***

Genetic Landscape of Gullah African Americans (Zimmerman et al., 2020)

____________________

“Relative to southeastern non-Gullah African Americans, the Gullah exhibit higher mean African ancestry, lower European admixture, a similarly small Native American contribution” […]

“Despite a slightly higher relatedness to Sierra Leone, our data demonstrate that the Gullah are genetically related to many West African populations.” 

“This study confirms that subtle differences in African American population structure exist at finer regional levels. Such observations can help to […] guide the interpretation of genetic data used by African Americans seeking to explore ancestral identities.” (Zimmerman et al., 2020)

____________________

In this blogpost I will compare my own research findings with a very interesting recent study on Gullah genetics. This paper, linked above, is currently still in preprint. But it is consistent with several of my own research outcomes. Especially in regards to the quotes above. Impressively the study is based on the autosomal DNA results of 883 unrelated Gullah African Americans! A much larger sample size than I was able to use therefore.

However due to differences in methodology regrettably its potential for breakthrough insights is not fully realized. Resulting in less regionally detailed outcomes than I was able to obtain with my surveys based on 23andme and Ancestry results. To their credit the authors of the study largely succeed in sketching an appropriate historical framework for properly contextualizing their research outcomes. But at times essential details are still lacking while some of the information given appears to be outdated or not well referenced. Within the remaining part of this current blog post I will discuss the following:

  1. Summary of my own survey findings based on 23andme and AncestryDNA results
  2. Review of Genetic Landscape of Gullah African Americans (Zimmerman et al.; 2020)
  3. African DNA matching patterns, beneficial for creating your own narrative about your personal African roots!
  4. Screenshots of 23andme & Ancestry results for African Americans from South Carolina

Continue reading

23andme’s African breakdown put to the test: Afro Diaspora edition!

In the last couple of years 23andme has implemented several updates. Often beneficial for Tracing African Roots! Starting with the introduction of a new African regional framework in 2018. Finally providing a meaningful breakdown of West & Central African ancestry! Soon afterwards I started a survey of 23andme results among Africans as well as African Americans and other Afro-descended nationalities.1 Similar to my previous Ancestry surveys my main research goal has always been to establish how much these results on an aggregated group level can already (despite limitations of sample size and other shortcomings) be correlated with whatever is known about the documented regional African roots for each nationality. As well as to improve correct interpretation of personal results.

Two years ago in February 2019 I published the first part of my examination of 23andme’s African breakdown. Which was based on my surveyfindings for 173 African 23andme testers from 31 countries (see this blog post). My 23andme survey has been ongoing till 23andme’s update in October 2019.2 Because of other projects I have not been able to process my entire data-set earlier. But in this blog post I will at last present my main 23andme survey findings based on 889 results from 28 different countries across the Afro-Diaspora! Actually I have already analyzed these results in greater detail (incl. screenshots of individual results) on these pages:

***

Figure 1 (click to enlarge)

A small selection of 23andme results from across the Afro-Diaspora.  Most of the outcomes are roughly corresponding with documented African roots  for each of my survey groups. Unrealistic expectations about “100% accuracy” as well as counter-productive obsessing about regional labeling should be avoided. Instead focus on what ever informational value you can obtain despite imperfections. Take notice as well how the additional Recent Ancestor Locations are on point!

***

To summarize: I do indeed believe that 23andme’s African breakdown has passed the test! Although obviously there are several shortcomings to take into account. Based on both my African and Afro-Diasporan surveyfindings I find it quite impressive though that 23andme is often able to describe a person’s African origins in a meaningful regional framework. Which will usually quite closely correspond with either known genealogy or historical plausibility. The additional non-African scores and Recent Ancestral Locations actually reinforcing the robustness of 23andme’s predictions. In the remaining part of this blog post I will discuss the following:

  1. African Breakdown
    • Main outcomes
      • Upper Guinean Founding Effect for Hispanic Americans
      • Virginia’s African roots most impactful on African American overall genepool?
      • Meaningful differentiation between Anglo-Caribbeans, Dutch Caribbeans and Garifuna
    • Frequency of primary African regions
    • Historical plausibility
  2. Substructure
    • African Americans, Brazilians, Cape Verdeans, Haitians, Hispanic Americans, West Indians
  3. Continental Breakdown
    • Southeast Asian admixture indicative of Madagascar connection
  4. Recent Ancestor Locations:
    • Pinpointing African lineage
    • Cross-Diaspora connections
  5. Screenshots 
    • Distinctive results across the Diaspora
    • Similar results across the Diaspora
    • Underrepresented parts of the Afro-Diaspora
    • Hispanic results reflecting Upper Guinean Founding Effect
    • Partially Cape Verdean results

Continue reading

ROOTSTECH 25–27 FEBRUARY 2021: Don’t Miss It!

For those who are not aware: ROOTSTECH Connect is the world’s largest family-history technology conference. And this year it will be a completely FREE and VIRTUAL experience! Hundreds of amazing sessions will be available online during and also after RootsTech Connect has ended on February 27th! Many of those sessions will offer precious insight for Africans and Afro-descendants in their quest to Trace African Roots! All it takes to attend is a free online registration. Right now more than 315,000 participants from more than 200 countries and territories worldwide have already registered! For more details:

***

I am very honoured, grateful and excited to also be part of this tremendous event! Because I will be giving an presentation as well! I will be demonstrating my scanning and filtering method to zoom into African matches or any other type of lineage you are interested in researching. I originally devised this technique in 2017. And I have been using it ever since to conduct my ongoing African DNA matches surveys. After registering for ROOTSTECH you should be able to find my class listed in the various search menus. But you can also just directly see it by following the link provided above.

If you are having trouble finding your African DNA cousins this can hopefully offer you a great opportunity to systematically look for your African DNA matches! During the event there will be an occasion to ask any questions by way of a chatroom. But of course you can also always reach me here on my blog if anything needs clarification or just to leave a comment. See also:

In the remaining part of this blog post I will show a few slides for a sneak preview 😉 Furthermore I will also provide all materials/links mentioned during my presentation. For those intending to watch my presentation: Thank you for your attention! I will be rooting for you that the ethnic filtering method I have discussed will be beneficial for you as well! 

***

Let’s get this cocktail party started! 😉

Continue reading

Ancestry’s new African Breakdown: merely cosmetic changes?

Only a few weeks ago Ancestry went ahead with their ill-advised deletion of smaller DNA matches (6-8 cM). Resulting in a great loss of customer value. But already the next update is being rolled out. This time once again our Ethnicity Estimates are being reshuffled. It almost seems Ancestry is making it a yearly tradition to perform their ethnicity updates in the Autumn. Or should I say a yearly marketing ploy? Either way this is already the third time in a row! Starting with the first distastrous make-over of Ancestry’s African breakdown in 2018. Things did get better though in 2019. My verdict of last year was: “a step in the right direction but no substantial improvements for the most part. At least not when compared with the original African breakdown from the 2013-2018 version”. And really this assessment still stands also for this 2020 update. There have been a few positive changes, but nothing game changing

***

Map and full listing of all the 12 African regions available on Ancestry after its 2020 update. Despite the renaming of  a few regions the only new region is “Southern Bantu”. This region will however be minimal or absent for practically all Trans Atlantic Afro-descendants.  Because of the restored “Ivory Coast/Ghana” region the West African breakdown is now more coherent than in 2019. However it still has several shortcomings…All in all nothing substantial to make up for the recent purge of smaller DNA matches.

***

I find it disappointing that most of my suggestions for meaningful improvements (originally posted in 2018) have still not been taken up by Ancestry. Yet again this update seems to be centred mostly around providing greater regional resolution for Europe and Asia. The African breakdown seems to be merely a sideshow. The finer distinction to be made for Scottish ancestry is certainly striking but probably also overambitious.1 Such a focus is to be expected given that Ancestry’s customer database is overwhelmingly of European descent. While Asia probably represents a promising growth market. However the relative neglect of African & Afro-descended customer needs does go against Ancestry’s selfproclaimed goal to make their product experience inclusive for everyone. In my previous blog post I stated that Ancestry should seek to offer new tools geared to facilitate specialized research for Afro-descended customers. It should be clear that this update does NOT compensate for the loss of small African matches, earlier this month.

It is still my belief that each updated version as well as each separate DNA testing company should be judged on its own terms.2 For the sake of correct interpretation I have therefore yet again performed a comprehensive survey among 135 African Ancestry testers from all over the continent to evaluate the changes before and after this update. In addition I have also looked into a representative array of 50 updated results from across the Afro-Diaspora. These findings will be described in greater detail further below. Again for the most part no major changes. Which is why I will keep this discussion brief and only highlight the main outcomes:

  1. African breakdown for Africans before and after the 2020 update
  2. African breakdown for Afro-descendants before and after the 2020 update
  3. Is Ancestry getting sloppy?
    • When will we have genetic communities for West/Central Africa?
  4. Screenshots of African updated results

As always make an attempt to inform yourself properly without being overly dismissive. Despite shortcomings I do still think you can get valuable ancestral clues from Ancestry’s African breakdown. The macro-regional breakdown also to be taken into account to get a grasp on the greater picture. Instead of being preoccupied about the appearance of any surprising but minimal %’s. Which might very well disappear with the next update 😉 Such an approach to be combined with your remaining/salvaged African DNA matches, historical plausibility etc.. My previous discussion of the 2019 update may still offer helpful guidance. Ancestry’s FAQ is also useful:

Continue reading

African DNA matches reported for 30 Jamaicans on Ancestry

In this blog post I will analyze the African DNA matches being reported by Ancestry for 30 of my Jamaican survey participants.1 A follow-up to my previous blog post about 100 Jamaican AncestryDNA results (see this link). Most important finding arguably being that Nigerian & Ghanaian predominance in regional admixture (2013-2018 version) for Jamaicans is also reflected in their DNA matches. Notwithstanding recent updates on Ancestry 😉 Furthermore there is no longer any excuse NOT to be looking for African DNA matches. I found on average almost 30 African DNA matches for each one of my survey participants!!! There are plenty of Africans who have tested with Ancestry by now. So you only need to search for them and then you will be rewarded with greater insight and closer connection to your African heritage! See also these links:

Because I was given access to their profiles on Ancestry I was able to use my scanning and filtering method of DNA matches in Excel. Aside from African matches I will also be including Jewish and South Asian matches in my discussion. Below a statistical overview of my main findings. Going by group averages. For the individual results which do display greater variation follow this link:

Table 1 (click to enlarge)

Stats (n=30)

All of my 30 survey participants received African matches. Also I was able to find 5 close African matches (>20cM)! On average 29 African matches were reported for each person. Around 80% of all African matches are connected to either Nigeria (16/29) or Ghana (7/29). The African admixture averages are based on the old 2013-2018 version of AncestryDNA. As I believe that despite shortcomings this version still offers the best fit for Jamaica’s known regional roots within Africa (see this link). Calculation of average & maximum shared DNA is based on the outcomes per survey participant. In all other tables below it will be calculated based on all DNA matches taken together.

***

Table 2 (click to enlarge)

Afro Matches

The background column is mostly based on informed speculation (plausible surnames/regional admixture) but at times also confirmed by public family trees. The proportion of West African (Lower Guinea) related matches is 87% (755/861) of all African matches. The high number of especially Nigerian Igbo matches is quite striking. Undoubtedly due to very substantial ancestral connections. But possibly also a bit inflated within this overall overview. Reflecting a greater popularity of DNA testing among Nigerians as well as Ghanaians when compared with other Africans. Francophone & Lusophone migrants still tend to be  greatly underrepresented in Ancestry’s customer database. In particular it seems from Central Africa as well as Benin & Togo.

***

This project was merely intended as an exploratory exercise. Of course my research findings have limitations in several regards. And therefore they should be interpreted carefully in order not to jump to premature or even misleading conclusions. Still I do believe they can reveal relevant tendencies in African DNA matching patterns for Jamaicans in general. These outcomes may also provide valuable insight into the various ancestral components found within the Jamaican genepool. Contributing to answering major questions like: Do Jamaicans have more Nigerian or Ghanaian ancestry? In particular when aiming for complementarity by also taking into account admixture analysis, genealogy and relevant historical context.

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

  1. Considerations when dealing with DNA matches
  2. Combine DNA matches with admixture analysis for more insight
  3. West African matches: as expected Nigerian and Ghanaian DNA matches were clearly most numerous. Only a subdued number of matches from Upper Guinea. This outcome is roughly in agreement with a predominant Lower Guinean macro-regional share of around 70% I calculated for 100 Jamaicans, based on admixture (see this chart).
  4. Central & Southeast African matches: quite low in number. In contrast with often substantial “Cameroon/Congo” scores being reported for Jamaicans. Interestingly Cameroon is relatively well represented.
  5. Other African matches: unexpected & uncommon. Higher odds of false positives but in some cases to be corroborated by distinctive admixture?
  6. Substructure: are there any group differences according to admixture level, “genetic community” or parish?
  7. Jewish & South Asian matches: disproportionately numerous whenever backed up by associated admixture (even in trace amounts!)
  8. Methodology: describing how I filtered the African & non-African DNA matches as well as the decision rules I applied when determining a plausible background for each DNA match.

Continue reading

The Mozambique connection on Ancestry & MyHeritage

Mozambique is a somewhat overlooked country of origin for many Afro-descendants. To be sure the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade with Southeast Africa was relatively smaller in scope than with either West or Central Africa. Still according to most recent estimates it involved almost half a million people (see this overview from the TAST database). Especially for Brazilians, Haitians and Cubans Mozambican lineage might be considerable in some cases. Plus also the Indian Ocean Slave trade is to be taken into account. Which most likely resulted in a dispersion of a similar number of Mozambicans (see this overview, taken from this paper). Especially into South Africa and the Indian Ocean Islands: such as Mauritius, Réunion and Madagascar. But also to the Middle East and into South Asia and beyond even. For more details:

***

Map 1 (click to enlarge

Kaartje MH

I found 12 most likely African matches for a person who is himself 1/2 Mozambican and 1/2 Portuguese. Most of these matches actually were likewise of mixed background. With the majority being from South Africa (6x). But also tellingly one single close match from presumably Pemba, Mozambique! MyHeritage provides a very useful filtering tool which allowed me to zoom into shared East African DNA segments among this person’s DNA matches.

***

Then again some people might also have Mozambican ancestry due to recent migrations. In the last couple of months I have been given access to DNA results which reveal an already confirmed Mozambique connection for two people of mixed background. With very fascinating outcomes! As well as useful implications for other people wanting to learn more about their own possibly Mozambican lineage.

The first person is living in the Netherlands (like me). Both of his parents were born in Mozambique. But going back two generations his father’s grandparents are all of Portuguese descent. While his mother’s family has been living in Mozambique for as long as can be traced back. But her family tree does contain at least two persons who were born in India and migrated to Mozambique as well. When it was still under Portuguese rule. All in all a very fascinating tale of migration across several continents! This person tested with MyHeritage and he has been featured in a Dutch documentary series called “Identity”. I was actually honoured to also contribute to this documentary which was shot in my birth place Rotterdam. The actual day of filming being the 5th of July which happens to be Cape Verde’s Day of Independence! Highly symbolic for me therefore 😉 1 See also:

***

Figure 1 (click to enlarge)

STP

These are the recently updated AncestryDNA results of a person whose father is from Mozambique. His Southeast African DNA is clearly indicated by his main regions, incl. also “Eastern Bantu”! Another intriguing aspect is that this person actually also has a Cape Verdean connection by way of São Tomé & Principe. This is revealed by a very distinctive score of 6% “Senegal”. Probably also to be combined with the “Portugal” & “Spain” scores. Highlighting that regional admixture DOES matter!

***

The other person is a DNA cousin of mine on Ancestry whose mother was born in São Tomé & Principe while his father is from Mozambique. I am related to him by way of a mutual Cape Verdean relative who migrated to São Tomé & Principe as a contract labourer during the first half of the 1900’s. São Tomé & Principe is a former Portuguese colony just like Cape Verde and Mozambique. But nowadays it is an independent island state located nearby Gabon in the Gulf of Guinea. Just like Angolans and Mozambicans many Cape Verdeans ended up settling in São Tomé & Principe during the Portuguese colonial time. Notoriously being employed under very harsh circumstances on the cocoa plantations of São Tomé & Principe. It therefore still has a sizeable community of Cape Verdean descendants. Their continued longing for their motherland has been made world famous by the song “Sodad” by Cesaria Evora (see this video clip).

This blog post will describe the DNA results of both persons. Seeking to demonstrate in particular how correlating regional admixture analysis with DNA matches can be rewarding and mutually reinforcing in many cases. In addition I will also discuss my experience with MyHeritage. As I have myself not tested with this company. And so this was the first time I had the chance to get acquainted with several of its features. Allowing me to also make some cross-comparisons with Ancestry.

  • Mozambican Connection on MyHeritage
  • Mozambican Connection on Ancestry
  • Comparing Ancestry with MyHeritage
    1. MyHeritage is distorting Central & Southeast African DNA
    2. Ancestry offers greater potential to find African matches
    3. MyHeritage provides more advanced filtering tools

 

Continue reading

Ancestry’s 2019 Update: Back on Track Again?

Backontrack

Map showing all the regions available on Ancestry after its 2019 update. For Trans Atlantic Afro-descendants the most impactful changes seem to be that: “Nigeria” has been brought back to life again! But “Ghana” has been derailed. “Mali” is no longer overpowering “Senegal”, but it does include both Sierra Leone and Liberia now! See this link for a complete list of regions and genetic communities. Photo credits for top picture showing a train passing by a railway station in Ghana.

***

Starting in October 2019 Ancestry has been rolling out a new update of their Ethnicity Estimates. As I have said before your DNA results are only as good as the next update. So it is best not to get too attached to them 😉 Given scientific advancements and a greater number of relevant reference samples one always hopes that a greater degree of accuracy may be obtained. But naturally no guarantees are given that this will indeed be the case. After all Ancestry’s update in 2018 arguably was a downgrade rather than providing any meaningful improvement! At least when it comes to the African breakdown. In regards to the European, Asian and Amerindian breakdown Ancestry seems to have made steady progress on most fronts. Continued also with this 2019 update.

From my experience the best indication of predictive accuracy is obtained by looking at how Africans themselves are being described when tested by Ancestry. Which is why I have performed a comprehensive survey among 136 African Ancestry testers from all over the continent to establish a more solid basis for judgement. In addition I have also looked into a representative array of 55 updated results from across the Afro-Diaspora. These findings will be described in greater detail further below. The outcomes are mostly positive for Africans themselves but more ambivalent for Afro-descendants. Probably because Ancestry’s algorithm is less adequate when describing the mixed and therefore more complex African lineage of the Afro-Diaspora. My overall verdict about this 2019 update: a step in the right direction but no substantial improvements for the most part. At least not when compared with the original African breakdown from the 2013-2018 version.

***

Table 1 (click to enlarge)

Stats Afro

Based on the updated results for 121 African AncestryDNA testers from 30 countries, across the continent. Take notice that the predictive accuracy in most cases is quite solid. Although in a few cases it is still clearly in need of improvement. This goes especially for “Ghana” and “Eastern Bantu”. Follow this link for my spreadsheet containing all the individual results.

***

Due to wild fluctuations in just two years many people might experience update fatigue. Some people will even be tempted to bash their DNA test results and admixture analysis in particular. But an overtly dismissive stance will be self-defeating and deprive you of informational value yet to be gained! As I have always argued that regional admixture DOES matter and Ancestry’s Ethnicity Estimates are of course NOT randomly determined.1 Ancestry’s predictions may not be 100% accurate but still in most cases they are reasonably well-aligned with the known backgrounds of my African survey participants. As can be verified from the overview above.

For those perplexed by all the changes do at least make an attempt to inform your self properly. Given how wrong Ancestry got it in 2018 (see this blog series) it is only natural that some grave flaws had to be rectified. Regrettably it seems in some aspects an over-correction did take place. Still depending on your background this update certainly also can be beneficial. Furthermore when considering your African breakdown in a macro-regional framework the changes have actually not been that drastic. And many things more or less remained consistent as I will discuss in section 3 of this blog post.

It has always been my belief that regional estimates require correct interpretation. And each updated version as well as each separate DNA testing company should therefore be judged on its own terms. Then again these admixture results can only take you that far. My advise is to also look into your African DNA matches, as well as historical plausibility and just plain genetic genealogy for greater combined insight. See also these links:

For those seeking deeper understanding of Ancestry’s 2019 update this blog post will attempt to take things further by having a closer look at:

  1. African breakdown for Africans before and after the 2019 update
  2. Ancestry’s Reference Panel & Algorithm
  3. African breakdown for Afro-descendants before and after the 2019 update
  4. Getting back on track again
  5. Screenshots of African updated results
  6. Poll on whether this update has been an improvement or not, please vote!

Continue reading

100 Jamaican AncestryDNA Results (2013-2018)

On 9 October 2015 I published my first preliminary findings based on 19 Jamaican AncestryDNA results (see this link). Right now, four years later, I have managed to collect a sample group which is five times greater! Consisting of no less than 100 AncestryDNA results of Jamaican-born or fully Jamaican descended persons.1 Although still limited this data-set already provides a rather robust basis. Allowing for a finer detailed analysis of Jamaican genetics. In the first place with regards to the African regional roots of Jamaicans. But in addition I will also cover the Amerindian, Asian and European admixture scores being reported for Jamaicans on Ancestry. As well as variation in African admixture in general. With a special focus on substructure.

***

JAMDNA

***

These results were obtained during 2013-2018 but I had not fully processed all the data up till now. Although actually in 2018 I already blogged about this survey group (n=100) in my comparison of various parts of the Afro-Diaspora:

Please keep in mind that AncestryDNA’s ethnicity estimates have been updated several times now! In this blog post I am dealing exclusively with AncestryDNA version 2 which was current between September 2013 and September 2018. All matters being discussed are therefore not pertaining to recently updated results (2018/2019) (unless mentioned so specifically). In my opinion especially version 3 (Sept 2018 – Oct. 2019) has been a downgrade rather than providing any meaningful improvement when wanting to learn more about one’s African origins (see this blogseries). The update which is currently rolled out will be reviewed at a later time.

I will mainly revisit and expand on previous findings. Using new statistics and background information. Furthermore I will present my preliminary 23andme survey findings for 28 Jamaicans. This blog post is also intended to be a prelude for my current research into the African DNA matches being reported for Jamaicans. Which will be featured in a follow-up post to this one. Below an overview of all the topics I will cover:

  1. African regional breakdown in line with expectations?
  2. Variation & substructure in African admixture levels
  3. European breakdown reflecting mostly British ancestry
  4. Asian admixture: more or less widespread than imagined?
  5. Traces of Amerindian admixture is proof of enduring Taino legacy?
  6. Comparison with 23andme results being reported for Jamaicans
  7. Current update of AncestryDNA’s Ethnicity Estimates 
  8. Screenshots of individual results & Youtube videos

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

Table 1 (click to enlarge)

Macro

This table features an additional breakdown of my own making into 3 greater macro-regions: “Upper Guinea”, “Lower Guinea” and “Central Africa” (also includes Southeast Africa). I find this distinction useful because it allows certain regional patterns to show up more clearly. In particular it seems apparent that the bulk of Jamaica’s African roots are from the area in between Ghana and Nigeria (=Lower Guinea).

***

Table 2 (click to enlarge)

Cont. breakdown JAM

The continental breakdown is often considered to be the most reliable within admixture analysis. Aside from reviewing the group averages it is recommendable to look into other statistical measures as well. As many people tend to have misconceptions on how “typical” their personal results might be. Compare also with my 23andme surveyfindings (n=28), see this table.

***

Continue reading

23andme’s new African breakdown put to the test

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

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

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

***

Figure 1 (click to enlarge)

23andmecompil

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

***

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

Main topics if you continue reading:

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

Continue reading