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:
African breakdown for Africans before and after the 2020 update
African breakdown for Afro-descendants before and after the 2020 update
Is Ancestry getting sloppy?
When will we have genetic communities for West/Central Africa?
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:
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:
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)
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:
Considerations when dealing with DNA matches
Combine DNA matches with admixture analysis for more insight
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 Guineanmacro-regional share of around 70% I calculated for 100 Jamaicans, based on admixture (see this chart).
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.
Other African matches: unexpected & uncommon. Higher odds of false positives but in some cases to be corroborated by distinctive admixture?
Substructure:are there any group differences according to admixture level, “genetic community” or parish?
Jewish & South Asian matches: disproportionately numerous whenever backed up by associated admixture (even in trace amounts!)
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.
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:
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 😉 1See also:
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
MyHeritage is distorting Central & Southeast African DNA
Ancestry offers greater potential to find African matches
Map showing all the regions available on Ancestry after its 2019 update. For Trans Atlantic Afro-descendants the most impactful changes seem to be that: “Nigeria” has been brought back to life again! But “Ghana” has been derailed. “Mali” is no longer overpowering “Senegal”, but it does include both Sierra Leone and Liberia now! See this link for a complete list of regions and genetic communities. Photo credits for top picture showing a train passing by a railway station in Ghana.
Starting in October 2019 Ancestry has been rolling out a new update of their Ethnicity Estimates. As I have said before your DNA results are only as good as the next update.So it is best not to get too attached to them 😉 Given scientific advancements and a greater number of relevantreference samples one always hopes that a greater degree of accuracy may be obtained. But naturally no guarantees are given that this will indeed be the case. After all Ancestry’s update in 2018 arguably was a downgrade rather than providing any meaningful improvement! At least when it comes to the African breakdown. In regards to the European, Asian and Amerindian breakdown Ancestry seems to have made steady progress on most fronts. Continued also with this 2019 update.
From my experience the best indication of predictive accuracy is obtained by looking at how Africans themselves are being described when tested by Ancestry. Which is why I have performed a comprehensive survey among 136 African Ancestry testers from all over the continent to establish a more solid basis for judgement. In addition I have also looked into a representative array of 55 updated results from across the Afro-Diaspora. These findings will be described in greater detail further below. The outcomes are mostly positive for Africans themselves but more ambivalent for Afro-descendants. Probably because Ancestry’s algorithm is less adequate when describing the mixed and therefore more complex African lineage of the Afro-Diaspora. My overall verdict about this 2019 update: a step in the right direction but no substantial improvements for the most part. At least not when compared with the original African breakdown from the 2013-2018 version.
Table 1 (click to enlarge)
Based on the updated results for 121 African AncestryDNA testers from 30 countries, across the continent. Take notice that the predictive accuracy in most cases is quite solid. Although in a few cases it is still clearly in need of improvement. This goes especially for “Ghana” and “Eastern Bantu”. Follow this link for my spreadsheet containing all the individual results.
Due to wild fluctuations in just two years many people might experience update fatigue. Some people will even be tempted to bash their DNA test results and admixture analysis in particular. But an overtly dismissive stance will be self-defeating and deprive you of informational value yet to be gained! As I have always argued that regional admixture DOES matter and Ancestry’s Ethnicity Estimates are of course NOT randomly determined.1 Ancestry’s predictions may not be 100% accurate but still in most cases they are reasonably well-aligned with the known backgrounds of my African survey participants. As can be verified from the overview above.
For those perplexed by all the changes do at least make an attempt to inform your self properly. Given how wrong Ancestry got it in 2018 (see this blog series) it is only natural that some grave flaws had to be rectified. Regrettably it seems in some aspects an over-correction did take place. Still depending on your background this update certainly also can be beneficial. Furthermore when considering your African breakdown in a macro-regional framework the changes have actually not been that drastic. And many things more or less remained consistent as I will discuss in section 3 of this blog post.
It has always been my belief that regional estimates require correct interpretation. And each updated version as well as each separate DNA testing company should therefore be judged on its own terms. Then again these admixture results can only take you that far. My advise is to also look into your African DNA matches, as well as historical plausibility and just plain genetic genealogy for greater combined insight. See also these links:
On 9 October 2015 I published my first preliminary findings based on 19 Jamaican AncestryDNA results (see this link). Right now, four years later, I have managed to collect a sample group which is five times greater! Consisting of no less than 100 AncestryDNA results of Jamaican-born or fully Jamaican descended persons.1 Although still limited this data-set already provides a rather robust basis. Allowing for a finer detailed analysis of Jamaican genetics. In the first place with regards to the African regional roots of Jamaicans. But in addition I will also cover the Amerindian, Asian and European admixture scores being reported for Jamaicans on Ancestry. As well as variation in African admixture in general. With a special focus on substructure.
These results were obtained during 2013-2018 but I had not fully processed all the data up till now. Although actually in 2018 I already blogged about this survey group (n=100) in my comparison of various parts of the Afro-Diaspora:
Please keep in mind that AncestryDNA’s ethnicity estimates have been updated several times now! In this blog post I am dealing exclusively with AncestryDNA version 2 which was current between September 2013 and September 2018. All matters being discussed are thereforenot pertaining to recently updated results (2018/2019) (unless mentioned so specifically). In my opinion especially version 3 (Sept 2018 – Oct. 2019) has been a downgrade rather than providing any meaningful improvement when wanting to learn more about one’s African origins (see this blogseries). The update which is currently rolled out will be reviewed at a later time.
I will mainly revisit and expand on previous findings. Using new statistics and background information. Furthermore I will present my preliminary 23andme survey findings for 28 Jamaicans. This blog post is also intended to be a prelude for my current research into the African DNA matches being reported for Jamaicans. Which will be featured in a follow-up post to this one.Below an overview of all the topics I will cover:
African regional breakdown in line with expectations?
Variation & substructure in African admixture levels
European breakdown reflecting mostly British ancestry
Asian admixture: more or less widespread than imagined?
Traces of Amerindian admixture is proof of enduring Taino legacy?
Comparison with 23andme results being reported for Jamaicans
Current update of AncestryDNA’s Ethnicity Estimates
Screenshots of individual results & Youtube videos
Follow these links for my complete survey data & research methodology:
This table features an additional breakdown of my own making into 3 greater macro-regions: “Upper Guinea”, “Lower Guinea” and “Central Africa” (also includes Southeast Africa). I find this distinction useful because it allows certain regional patterns to show up more clearly. In particular it seems apparent that the bulk of Jamaica’s African roots are from the area in between Ghana and Nigeria (=Lower Guinea).
Table 2(click to enlarge)
The continental breakdown is often considered to be the most reliable within admixture analysis. Aside from reviewing the group averages it is recommendable to look into other statistical measures as well. As many people tend to have misconceptions on how “typical” their personal results might be. Compare also with my 23andme surveyfindings (n=28), see this table.
My first DNA test ever was with 23andme. Nine years ago already! In January 2010 I was thrilled but soon afterwards also quite underwhelmed to receive my very basic admixture results. The only distinction being made back then was between African, Asian and European DNA. Native American DNA did not even have a separate category yet 🙂 As I am of Cape Verdean descent I was actually most anxious to have my Upper Guinean lineage confirmed. Instead my African score just pointed towards the entire continent! One of my immediate reactions at that time therefore was:
“I hope that one day 23andme’s Ancestry Reports will behelpful in finding out where to locate my ancestry regionally and not just on a continental scale.”
After a (very) long wait it seems that this day has finally arrived! Last month 23andme rolled out an updated version (3.0) of Ancestry Composition to all their customers. Regardless of when they originally took the test. This update has actually been on release since September 2018 for 23andme’s most recent customers. But to its credit 23andme also made this update available to its earliest customers, like myself. Over the years I have been through more than one update on 23andme already. But this is the first time I can say that finally a meaningful African breakdown is being provided! For more details see:
Updated 23andme results from across the African continent. A small but representative sample. Highlighting how 23andme’s new African regions appear to be quite predictive, for native Africans themselves. Unrealistic expectations about “100% accuracy” as well as counter-productive obsessing about regional labeling should be avoided. Instead take note of how the expected regions (circled in red by myself) reach levels of over 70% reaching into 98%! Taking a macro-regional perspective (combining overlapping regions from within West Africa versus Central/Southern Africa versus Northeast Africa) these results are usually in line as well. Also the additional ancestral locations appearing below the regional scores are on point!
I have always believed that the best way to find out about the predictive accuracy of any particular DNA test or update is to look at the results of people who actually know their (recent) origins. In order to improve correct interpretation I have therefore started a survey among African DNA testers (n=173). Using their group averages as some sort of rudimentary benchmarks so to speak. Similar to the survey I conducted among African AncestryDNA testers in previous years (see this page). Of course also some basic knowledge about DNA testing (in particular 23andme’s reference populations and methodology) as well as historical context will remain essential to really get the most out of your admixture results!1
Main topics if you continue reading:
Survey findings for 173 African 23andme testers from 31 countries (incl. 25 Cape Verdeans)
Maps showing the geographical distribution of the new African regions on 23andme (based on my survey findings)
Implications for Afro-Diasporans
Examples to illustrate how regional admixture DOES matter!
In this two-part blogseries I will analyze the DNA matches being reported by AncestryDNA for 50 of my Cape Verdean survey participants. A follow-up to my previous blog post about 100 Cape Verdean AncestryDNA results (see this link). Because I was kindly given access to their profiles I was able to use my scanning and filtering method of DNA matches in Excel (see this link). Aside from matches with mainland Africans I am also including matches with people of (presumably) fully Portuguese, Jewish, West Asian and South Asian descent.1 Below a statistical overview of my main findings. Going by group averages. For the individual results which do display greater variation follow this link:
This table is based on group averages. Except for the columns mentioning the frequency of close and zero matches. So for example among my 50 survey participants only one single person received a close African match (>20cM). While two persons did not receive any African matches at all (excl. North Africa). But on average 5 African matches were reported of whom 4 were connected to the Upper Guinea area. (Senegal-Sierra Leone). The average admixture amounts are based on the recently updated Ethnicity Estimates on AncestryDNA. This update strongly reduced the trace regions. Especially for North African & West Asian DNA. For a previous version of this table see this link.
Table 2 (click to enlarge)
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 Upper Guinean related matches is 88% of all African matches (south of the Sahara). That proportion being equal to 227/257. Excluding North African matches from the total. The high number of Fula matches is quite striking. But this could very well reflect a greater popularity of DNA testing among Fula people when compared with people from for example Guiné Bissau who are greatly underrepresented in Ancestry’s customer database.
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 DNA matching for Cape Verdeans in general. These outcomes may also provide valuable insight into the various ancestral components found within Cape Verdean DNA. In particular when aiming for complementarity by also taking in to account admixture analysis, genealogy and relevant historical context.
Below an overview of the topics I will cover in this blog post:
Considerations when dealing with DNA matches
Upper Guinean matches: as expected African matches (south of Sahara) were overwhelmingly from Upper Guinea (Senegal-Sierra Leone): 88% of the total. In line with the 92% Upper Guinean admixture proportion (“Senegal” + “Mali” / total African) I found for my survey group.
North African matches: fairly consistent despite minimal shared DNA
Other African matches: unexpected & uncommon. Higher odds of false positives but in some cases to be corroborated by additional clues, such as AncestryDNA’s ethnicity estimates?
Methodology: how I filtered the African DNA matches as well as the decision rules I applied when determining a plausible background for each DNA match.
Part 2 of this blogseries will have the following topics:
Portuguese matches: omnipresent and clearly most numerous as well as often hinting at relatively recent ancestral ties (1800’s-1900’s).
Jewish matches: Sephardi matches more likely to be truly genealogical than Ashkenazi matches?
West Asian matches: quite rare, possibly indicating that West Asian admixture among Cape Verdeans is generally indicative of actual North African or Sephardi lineage.
South Asian matches: also rare, but on a hit and miss basis still sometimes already seemingly validating trace amounts of South Asian admixture.
Inter-island matching patterns: illustrated by the distribution of the shared DNA segments between myself and my 100 Cape Verdean survey participants.
Methodology: how I filtered the non-African DNA matches as well as the decision rules I applied when determining a plausible background for each DNA match.
Dedicated to all my Cape Verdean primos and primas participating in this survey.2 And special dedication to my newly born nephew Max!
Last month Ancestry finally rolled out the updated version of its Ethnicity Estimates for all its customers. In this three-part blog post I have argued that Ancestry’s pioneering analysis of especially West African DNA has been downgraded rather than upgraded! In the first part I evaluated the accuracy of Ancestry’s new African breakdown by analyzing the before & after results of 130 African customers. I found that in most cases the informational value to be derived from their results is showing a decrease rather than any improvement. For more details see:
In part 2 I had a closer look at the newly added African samples within Ancestry’s Reference Panel as well as its new algorithm. And I found some structural flaws which most likely are responsible for the inflated “Cameroon, Congo & Southern Bantu”, “Benin/Togo” and “Mali” scores showing up for Afro-Diasporans. For more details see:
The update experience of the person who made this Youtube video is probably quite typical for other African Americans as well. Her main African region before the update was 21% “Nigeria” After the update only 2% remained. Understandably she assumes that Ancestry’s update has lead to greater accuracy. After all Ancestry’s samples have been increased from 3,000 to 16,000, right? However based on my evaluation in this blogseries I’d say it’s very likely that she’s still part of the Naija club!
The title of this blogseries was sort of meant to be tongue-in-cheek 😉 . However ultimately I do not see much benefit in taking a demoralizing stance. I do still believe that Ancestry offers opportunities for those wanting to learn more about their African ancestry. As always however it is essential to be fully informed about both strengths and weaknesses for each separate aspect of DNA testing. This particular update by Ancestry has arguably been a failed one for people of African descent. But this does not mean that improvement may still be forthcoming, if not on Ancestry than elsewhere! I am specifically referring to admixture analysis a.k.a. ethnicity estimates. As my previous AncestryDNA survey findings have demonstrated that potentially this tool can be very useful in unlocking the secrets of main African regional lineage for Afro-Diasporans.
In this final part of this blog series I will try to outline some promising developments, both on Ancestry and elsewhere, when wanting to Trace African Roots. I will also look into some common reactions & frequently asked questions about this disheartening update for Afro-Diasporans & Africans. Providing my own perspective. My main advice for achieving optimal insight in regards to your African breakdown can be summed up as follows: stick with your previous AncestryDNA results and combine with follow-up research (DNA matches, genealogy, relevant historical context, other types of DNA testing, etc.).
Earlier this month Ancestry finally rolled out the updated version of its Ethnicity Estimates for all its customers. Sadly the concerns I raised in July have become reality. Many people are now left confused by their revised African breakdown as reported by AncestryDNA.1 Understandably so given the often drastic and seemingly incoherent changes compared with the previous set-up. In this three-part blog post I will argue that Ancestry’s pioneering analysis of especially West African DNA has been downgraded rather than upgraded! In the first part I evaluated the accuracy of Ancestry’s new African breakdown by analyzing the before & after results of 130 African customers. I found that in most cases the informational value to be derived from their results is showing a decrease rather than any improvement. In the upcoming last part I will discuss FAQ’s about this update as well as look into promising new developments. See also:
Source: Ancestry’s White Paper 2018. Text in red added by myself. Compare also with this overview of Ancestry’s previous Reference Panel. The number of African samples included in Ancestry’s Reference Panel has increased considerably. However take note that this increase of African samples has been disproportionate. Mostly benefiting the “Benin/Togo”, “Mali” and “Cameroon, Congo & Southern Bantu people” regions.
The title of this blog series was sort of meant to be tongue-in-cheek 😉 as I do believe that Ancestry still offers opportunities for those wanting to learn more about their African lineage. Nonetheless it seems very clear to me that Ancestry’s update may indeed have “killed it“, but only with their new Asian & European breakdowns! However not so with their African breakdown which has taken a big step backwards instead of forwards. At least in most aspects.
In this part 2 I will explore how the changed composition of Ancestry’s Reference Panel as well as Ancestry’s new algorithm may have contributed to this very disappointing outcome. Main topics:
More is not always better: over-sampling for “Cameroon, Congo & Southern Bantu”, “Benin/Togo” and “Mali” causing inflated scores?
What are the ethnic backgrounds of Ancestry’s African samples?
New algorithm has issues with describing mixed/complex lineage?
Last week Ancestry finally rolled out the updated version of its Ethnicity Estimates for all its customers. Sadly the concerns I raised in July have become reality. Many people are now left confused by their revised African breakdown as reported by AncestryDNA.1 Understandably so given the often drastic and seemingly incoherent changes compared with the previous set-up. In this three-part blog post I will argue that Ancestry’s pioneering analysis of especially West African DNA has been downgraded rather than upgraded!
Establishing the accuracy of AncestryDNA’s African breakdown has been the focal point of my AncestryDNA survey which I started five years ago already. From my experience the best indication of such predictive accuracy is obtained by looking at how Africans themselves are being described when tested by Ancestry.2 Which is why I have performed a before & after analysis of 130 AncestryDNA results of African customers from across the continent. Regrettably it turns out that Ancestry’s African breakdown has indeed taken a turn for the worse. In most cases the informational value to be derived from their results is showing a decrease rather than any improvement. See also this overview which contains all their individual results, before and after the update:
This is only a small selection but it illustrates some wider patterns I have observed for other Africans as well. It is not only southern Nigerians who are getting a bad deal from this update! Also people of Senegambian/Guinean descent, people with Akan or Kru lineage, Northeast Africans and also northern Nigerians will see drastic changes in their results. But mostly not for the better…
I am a guy who prefers to see the glass as half full rather than half empty. Which is why I have been surveying AncestryDNA results for so long despite imperfections. After all when Tracing African Roots most people do not have the luxury to be snobbish about admixture analysis. Instead they will want to maximize informational value from any promising source available, again despite shortcomings. Combining research findings in order to achieve complementarity rather than putting all your eggs in just one basket. But right now after this long awaited update my main feeling is that Ancestry has simply broken the glass 😉 . At least in regards to their African “Ethnicity Estimates“. I find it very regrettable to say that currently I do not see much added value in Ancestry’s updated African breakdownand I will not be surveying it any longer. Nonetheless in this three-part blog series I will attempt to point out some redeeming features as well. As I do still also believe that being overly dismissive may deprive you of valuable insights yet to be gained.
Main topics I will cover in this first part:
African breakdown for African AncestryDNA testers
Implications for Afro-Diasporans
Screenshots of updated African AncestryDNA results
Without wanting to give away the cliffhanger ( 😉 ) these will be the topics for part 2 & 3 of this blog series: