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

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)


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