Suggestions for improving the African breakdown on AncestryDNA

In previous blog posts I have demonstrated how the current African breakdown on AncestryDNA can be very insightful to gain a greater understanding of the regional African roots for people across the Afro-Diaspora as well as actual Africans themselves. Despite several shortcomings as well as the continued need for correct interpretation. My survey findings on a group level have still been reasonably in line with either historical plausibility or actual verifiable genealogy.

A new version of AncestryDNA’s Ethnicity Estimates has been provided gradually (and quietly..) to a subset of Ancestry’s customers for at least since April 2018. I do not have all the needed information in place yet to make a proper assessment. Therefore I reserve my final judgment on this intended update for later. However in this blog post I will discuss some suggestions on how to improve on the current African breakdown hopefully ensuring that Ancestry’s update will be a step forward and not a step backwards. Below a short summary of these suggestions. If you continue reading I will provide more details.

  1. Maintain current coherency of African breakdown and improve by creating less overlapping and more predictive regions
  2. Add more historically relevant African samples to Ancestry’s Reference Panel. In particular from Angola, Burkina Faso, Guinea Bissau/Conakry, Liberia, Madagascar, Mozambique and Sierra Leone.
  3. Create new regions and/or migrations centered around these historically relevant samples.
  4. Bring back the continental breakdown display (subtotals specified for each continent)
  5. Create new African “migrations”, a.k.a. genetic communities. In particular for Nigeria & Ghana, as sufficient customer samples may already exist.
  6. Mention the “aggregate ethnicity estimates” for each migration/genetic community.
  7. Enable the Ethnicity Estimate Comparison feature for all customers and not just USA-based smartphone users.
  8. Show ethnicity/admixture of shared DNA segments with your matches.
  9. Avoid misleading labeling of ancestral regions. Providing a false sense of accuracy.

Updated results for a Nigerian (Bini, Itsekiri, Urhobo & Isoko)

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NAIJA updatea

Even when these are only individual results this outcome for an actual Nigerian could possibly imply that also for other people of (southern) Nigerian descent Ancestry’s update may lead to a substantial decrease of “Nigeria” amounts. While the “Benin/Togo” as well as the “Cameroon, Congo, and Southern Bantu Peoples” regional scores may drastically increase. Undoing the imperfect yet still reasonably predictive accuracy of the “Nigeria” region in the current set-up. See also: Nigerian AncestryDNA results.

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Update: Afro-Diasporan AncestryDNA Survey (part 2)

In May 2016 I published the first summary of my Afro-Diasporan survey findings based on 707 results for 7 nationalities (see this blog page). My survey has been ongoing ever since. Right now an update of AncestryDNA Ethnicity Estimates seems even more imminent than it was in 2016 (when it was canceled in the beta phase). So that’s why I will yet again provide a “final” overview of my survey findings 😉 See this link for the first part of my findings which is focused solely on the African breakdown:

In order to provide a broader perspective on the complete DNA make-up of Afro-Diasporans I have this time also analyzed the non-African regional scores on AncestryDNA. Enabling a continental breakdown for my 8 sample groups. Mainly based on 860 results for people from 8 nationalities1. Although the total number of results and nationalities in my survey is even greater.

Generally speaking also the non-African group averages seem to be reasonably in line with historical plausibility. Amerindian, Asian and Pacific trace-amounts are not being left out. These scores are often labeled as low confidence regions and dismissed as just “noise”. Rightfully so in some cases. But given correct interpretation and proper follow-up research at times these scores can still potentially lead you to distinctive ancestors. Furthermore my survey results are now also allowing for a more detailed discussion of the European breakdown as being reported for Afro-Diasporans.

I would like to underline right from the start that my findings are not intended to represent any fictional national averages! The group averages I have calculated for my sample groups are neither absolute or conclusive but rather to be seen as indicative. Obviously several shortcomings may apply. One main aspect to take to heart is that there will always be individual variation around the mean. Given correct interpretation I do believe these group averages suggest insightful tendencies though for each of my 8 sample groups. They also mostly comply with the findings of admixture studies published in peer reviewed journals, or at least the ones I am aware of.2

Chart 1 (click to enlarge)

Continental breakdown

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Update: Afro-Diasporan AncestryDNA Survey (part 1)

In 2013 AncestryDNA updated their Ethnicity Estimates to include a detailed breakdown of West African DNA. Pioneering when compared with other DNA testing companies. Soon afterwards I started collecting AncestryDNA results in an online spreadsheet in order to conduct a survey of the African regional scores being reported by AncestryDNA. At first only for people of the Afro-Diaspora and later on also among Africans. My main research goal has always been to establish how much the AncestryDNA 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.

In May 2016 I published my first summary of my Afro-Diasporan survey findings based on 707 results for 7 nationalities (see this blog post). My survey has been ongoing ever since. Right now an update of AncestryDNA’s Ethnicity Estimates seems even more imminent than it was in 2016 (when it was canceled in the beta phase). So that’s why I will yet again provide a “final” overview of my survey findings 😉 . Mainly based on 1,264 results for people from 8 nationalities. Although the total number of results and nationalities in my survey is even greater.

A major addition is the inclusion of 45 Brazilian results. Their predominant Central African profiles (as measured by both “Southeastern Bantu” and “Cameroon/Congo”) are quite striking when compared with my other sample groups. This outcome reinforces how the African breakdown on AncestryDNA has been reasonably in alignment with historically documented origins of the Afro-Diaspora. Unlike any other DNA testing platform I’m aware of and therefore not to be lightly dismissed despite inherent imperfections.

In the second part of this blogseries I will also provide an overview of the non-African regions (Amerindian, Asian, Pacific etc.) being reported for Afro-Diasporans. As well as a more detailed analysis of their European breakdown.

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This frequency of regions being ranked #1 (regions with the highest amount in the African breakdown) is perhaps the best indicator of which distinct African lineages may have been preserved the most among my sample groups.”

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Chart 1 (click to enlarge)

Afro piechartsa

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DNA matches reported by 23andme for 75 Africans

Wishing to share the vibranium 😉 I have created a new page featuring the DNA matches reported by 23andme for 75 Africansall across the continent. These results were collected by me in 2015 when 23andme’s Countries of Ancestry (CoA) tool was still available.

My survey results might have limitations in several regards but I do believe these African CoA results can still reveal relevant tendencies in DNA matching. I intend to compare these preliminary matching patterns eventually with my more recent findings for Africans who tested on Ancestry. I provide detailed background info as well as screenshots of the individual results on this page:

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“Benin/Togo” also describes DNA from Ghana & Nigeria

I have created a new page featuring the AncestryDNA results for West Africans from the following countries: Liberia, Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Togo & Benin. I will create a new section for the remaining part of West Africa (Upper Guinea) shortly. The number of results I have collected so far might be minimal but already my survey findings turn out to be quite insightful. I also provide some statistical data, analysis and relevant context. Follow this link to view the page:

In addition I also discuss the implications these findings might have for Afro-Diasporans in an attempt to improve proper interpretation of their West African regional scores, in particular for “Ivory Coast/Ghana” and “Benin/Togo”. One of these implications I will also discuss in greater detail in this blog post:

“Benin/Togo” is also predictive of Ghanaian & Nigerian DNA

The so-called “Benin/Togo” region seems to be quite predictive of Beninese origins (based on two results). However in addition ancestry from eastern Ghana and southern Nigeria might also be described by this region. You will need to perform your own follow-up research in order to find out more specifics.

Map 1 (click to enlarge)

Benin Togo

Source: ancestry.com

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Chart 1 (click to enlarge) 

Stats (GH=22)

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“Ivory Coast/Ghana” also describes Liberian DNA

I have created a new page featuring the AncestryDNA results for West Africans from the following countries: Liberia, Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Togo & Benin. I will create a new section for the remaining part of West Africa (Upper Guinea) shortly. The number of results I have collected so far might be minimal but already my survey findings turn out to be quite insightful. I also provide some statistical data, analysis and relevant context. Follow this link to view the page:

In addition I also discuss the implications these findings might have for Afro-Diasporans in an attempt to improve proper interpretation of their West African regional scores, in particular for “Ivory Coast/Ghana” and “Benin/Togo”. One of these implications I will also discuss in greater detail in this blog post:

“Ivory Coast/Ghana” is also predictive of Liberian & Sierra Leonean DNA

The socalled “Ivory Coast/Ghana” region is indeed quite predictive of both Ghanaian and Ivorian origins. However in addition ancestry from Liberia and to a lesser degree (southern) Sierra Leone might also be described by this region. You will need to perform your own follow-up research in order to find out more specifics.

Map 1 (click to enlarge)

IvcGhana region

Source: ancestry.com. (text in red added by myself)

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Chart 1 (click to enlarge) 

Stats (GH=22)

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“South-Central Hunter-Gatherers” suggestive of remnant West African Pygmy DNA?

I have created a new page featuring the AncestryDNA results for West Africans from the following countries: Liberia, Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Togo & Benin. I will create a new section for the remaining part of West Africa (Upper Guinea) shortly. The number of results I have collected so far might be minimal but already my survey findings turn out to be quite insightful. I also provide some statistical data, analysis and relevant context. Follow this link to view the page:

In addition I also discuss the implications these findings might have for Afro-Diasporans in an attempt to improve proper interpretation of their West African regional scores, in particular for “Ivory Coast/Ghana” and “Benin/Togo” as well as “South-Central Hunter-Gatherers”. One of these implications I will also discuss in greater detail in this blog post:

 SC Hunter-Gathers” can also be predictive of West African ancestors

  • In particular Liberian, Ivorian and Sierra Leonean ancestors might have passed on socalled “Africa South-Central Hunter-Gatherers” DNA markers, which are also present in their own genome. The “Africa South-Central” labeling by AncestryDNA is therefore not to be taken too literally. Despite usually appearing as “low confidence” trace region this still represents a very distinctive type of DNA.

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PS (4x)a

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ROOTS.NL (S1E3) – True Colours (Dutch Race Relations)

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Cover of Dutch Genealogy magazine in which Annemieke’s research was featured in 2015. The portrait is of a Dutch Countess with her African servant named Cocquamar Crenequie.

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“ The exhibition “From the Shadows, new light on African servants at Weesper notables,” opened at the Weesp Museum to a small crowd of townspeople on March 25, fittingly one day before the International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade. It aims to confront Dutch people with the possibility that their history contains more nuances than they are probably aware of.” […]

Another prominent figure who appears in the exhibition is Christiaan van der Vegt, servant in the 18th century to Weesp mayor Abraham D’Arrest. What Christiaan’s African name was and how he ended up in the town is unknown, but he had married a girl from Weesp and they had ten children. “Imagine the surprise of (white) Dutch woman Annemieke van der Vegt when she in 2013 – 250 years later – unsuspectedly decided to research her past and came to find that she is a direct descendant of this African servant.” (Daily Herald Sint Maarten, april 4th 2017)

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In the previous parts of my blogseries about Annemieke van der Vegt and her search for her West African forefather (Christiaan van der Vegt, ca.1750-1825) I have already discussed the following topics:

In this third part i will attempt to shed more light on the following question: how does Christiaan’s life story fit in the currentday discussions on race relations within Dutch society? I will also include other known cases of African or Afro-descended persons living in the Netherlands before the 1900’s. Specifically i will deal with the hotly debated “Zwarte Piet” topic and the origins of this increasingly contested figure of Dutch folklore. Lastly i will describe the potential role DNA testing might play in uncovering the genetic legacy of the colonial past of the Netherlands. Not only for Dutch people but also across the Afro-Diaspora and even within Africa.

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ROOTS.NL (S1E2) – Searching for Gold

This is the second post in my blogseries about a Dutch woman (Annemieke van der Vegt) who is in an ongoing search for her West African forefather (named Christiaan van der Vegt after his baptization in 1777). In the first post i discussed how AncestryDNA can be very helpful when trying to trace African ancestry. It provided Annemieke with conclusive evidence of her African genetic inheritance. Furthermore i gave an overview of Annemiekes astonishing archival research findings sofar. Follow these links for more details:

Many fascinating details about Christiaan’s life have been uncovered by Annemieke already. The one thing she is still very eager to discover though is his original name given to him by his parents. And also his ethnic identity before getting caught up in the slave trade as a child and being forcibly relocated to the Netherlands. This blog post will therefore be centered around the question facing not only Annemieke but many Afro-descendants in the Diaspora: Is it possible to pinpoint a plausible ethnic origin for one’s African bloodline?

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Nsoko

Man from Ivory Coast (source) & map of Ghana showing locations of historical gold trading cities of Nsoko and Begho.

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ROOTS.NL (S1E1) – Dutch woman in search for West African forefather

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AncestryDNA results of a Dutch person with one single African ancestor, Christiaan van der Vegt, possibly depicted in the drawing (c. 1760) to the left.

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“Christiaan was born around 1743. This I know by his letter from 1815: (translated from Dutch)

“Letting you gratefully know Christiaan van der Vecht, born at the Coast of Guinea, 73 years of age and living in Weesp.”

Where at the Coast of Guinea he was born I don’t know and also how he came to the Netherlands is unknown to me.”

My name is Annemieke van der Vegt and I am a grand-, grand-, grand-, granddaughter (his grand-, grandson is my grand-, grandfather) of Christiaan van der Vegt”

For the complete story see: What was Christiaan’s name?

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In this blog post and two following ones i will feature the highly remarkable research findings of a Dutch woman who is in an ongoing search for her West African forefather. By simply googling her surname in 1998 she discovered that she had a West African ancestor she was previously unaware of!  She found out eventually by way of archival research that her West African forefather had been a personal servant of several members of the Dutch royal family of Orange-Nassau (at the time of his employment the Netherlands were still a Republic though). And later on (c. 1765) he was also a servant of the mayor of Weesp, a small town near Amsterdam. Most likely he had been only a child when he was brought to the Netherlands. As an adult he had several other jobs and married a Dutch woman with whom he had 10 children. He was baptized as Christiaan van der Vegt in 1777. His original African name and African ethnic identity remain unknown for now but his Dutch ggg-granddaughter, Annemieke van der Vegt, is determined to find out.

The strongly personal motivation of this sixth generation Dutch descendant to uncover the life story of her West African forefather is very inspirational. At the same time her astoundingly diligent research is proving to also have great relevance for many other people. Her work has been put in the spotlight in several Dutch media articles already, incl. the national newspaper Volkskrant, as well as a national genealogy journal. The Weesp museum has recently held a special exposition about Christiaan and three other Dutch Africans who are known to have lived in Weesp around the same time (mid 1700’s). Also historians (both within the Netherlands and internationally) are eager to tap into her specialized field of knowledge which she has been steadily compiling on her amazing blog since 2013. This was the year that marked the 150th anniversary of Dutch abolition of slavery in 1863.

If you continue reading i will discuss the following topics:

  1. What can be learnt from AncestryDNA when trying to trace African ancestry? (ROOTS.NL, part 1)
  2. Is it possible to find a plausible ethnic background for Christiaan? (ROOTS.NL, part 2, Searching for Gold)
  3. How does Christiaan’s life story relate to the currentday discussions on racism within Dutch society? (ROOTS.NL, part 3, True Colours) Continue reading