Archives

Can ethnicity help with unknown parentage?

Recently ethnicity was a major factor in figuring out the family of the mystery father of an Australian women of mixed heritage: Chinese, Italian, and English/Irish. We still need some help, so any Australian readers please read to the end.

Elana’s ethnicty on Ancestry after the update, before she had lots more Italian

This case is unusual because for those of us with primarily European ancestry, the ethnicity predictions from the various DNA test companies are not accurate enough to be a significant aid with figuring out unknown parentage situations. For one thing, our ancestors moved around more than you might expect, and for another, the science is just not exact enough yet.

Too often I get a panicked email or comment from someone who is worried that Daddy is not their dad, or perhaps grandad is not, because their ethnicity predictions show no German or French or Bulgarian which he was and where is that Norwegian from? To which I respond, check your matches, if you have matches to cousins from his family, all is well, it’s just the inaccuracy of ethnicity predictions. North Europeans and South Europeans are fairly distinct from each other, but countries as we know them today did not exist in the far past.

Comparing ethnicities for Elana (left) and her mother (right) at Ancestry

In Elana’s case, having East Asian and Southern European in addition to the usual Australian British mix, actually gave us some different and potentially useful data to work with. Her mother seemed entirely English, Welsh, Scottish and Irish, a frequent blend for an Australian. She remembers that Elana’s father said he was part Maori and that his name was Bob. There is no Maori in her results shown above (it usually looks Polynesian), so likely he was just trying to make himself seem exotic and interesting.

Elana’s best matches at ancestry were almost all maternal (yes this is a squashed image)

Since Elana’s mother tested also, we could see that Elana had no close matches that were not listed as “Mother’s side” on Ancestry which made the search very difficult. Her paternal matches consisted of only one 3rd cousin, an American of Italian ancestry, and lots of 4th cousins, quite a few with trees, and most of the closer ones were of Italian descent, in spite of only 7% Italian listed in her Ancestry ethnicity.

One possibility for so few paternal matches was related parents. We checked that by uploading to GEDmatch.com (click here for my post on related parents) and that was not the case. The other more likely explanation was very few of her father’s relatives had tested. For example, Elana had only one very distant Asian match in spite of her father clearly having half that heritage.

Since we could see both Elana’s ethnicity and her mother’s it was easy to tell that Elana’s unknown father was half Chinese/Korean with an Italian (great) grandparent. These were her initial percentages before the recent update at Ancestry:

65% England/Scotland/Wales (so her father will have about 15%)
16% Korea and Northern China
12% China
7% Italy

I asked Elana to also test at 23andme and to upload her Ancestry results to MyHeritage and Family Tree DNA as well. Still no luck finding close paternal matches.

 

Continue reading

Using the new Ancestry DNA match features

The other day I walked two different second cousins through using the new Ancestry DNA features to work with their match lists. I showed them how to figure out which line matches are related on and how to use colored dots to mark known relatives by surname group. I promised them I would write it up but promptly left on vacation. So here it is, a bit late…

On the DNA matches page, Ancestry gives you a list of people you share DNA with, ordered by the most to the least amounts and grouped by expected cousinship. These are your relatives, often previously unknown to you, but be aware that the relationships listed are just guesstimates based on the centimorgan (cM) totals. Someone listed as a second cousin may be another relationship, like first cousin once removed, that has similar amounts of shared DNA. You can click on the little “i” in the black circle after the cM and segment numbers for a list of more possible relationships as well as an indication of how probable they are. Alternately you can look up the cM total in the online calculator at https://dnapainter.com/tools/sharedcmv4 based on Blaine Bettinger’s shared cM project.

Ancestry‘s new DNA match display is nice and compact. Look at the examples above and below. On the left is the person’s picture, if provided, and their name or initials. Next is the relationship guesstimate with the actual shared cM and number of segments plus the previously mentioned little “i” in a solid black circle. The next column shows if the person has a tree; if it is green with the number of people it is linked to their DNA, else it is gray with a lock icon if it is private. The words unlinked tree appear if there is no tree linked to that person. When Ancestry finds a common ancestor that is listed under the green linked or gray private tree.

A realy nice new feature is that final column. For each match, Ancestry shows the first sentence or so that you put in the notepad for that match, plus whether it is starred (also known as a “favorite”), and best of all, one or more color coded dots if it has been assigned to any groups.
Continue reading

Ancestry’s new DNA feature: ThruLines

Ancestry.com announced a great new tool at Rootstech called ThruLines. It finds connections to your DNA matches by looking through other people’s trees for you. This replaces DNA circles by displaying the descendants of your ancestors in a more understandable format. Even if you have a private tree, you will get these ThruLines as long as your tree is set to searchable. Here is what the new DNA overview page looks like:

ThruLines is fabulous but a little buggy. I was constantly getting page not found apparently due to a cookie problem and was wondering if I would ever finish this post! A trick suggested in Blaine’s DNA tools group on FaceBook solved this for me. I now open the ThruLines page as a private or incognito page by using the right click menu in Firefox or Chrome.

Right mouse clicking on ViewDNA matches brings up a menu where you can request a private window

The ThruLines page shows images of each of your ancestors with whom you share DNA matches, ordered by most recent first. Since I have tested my brother and many first, second, and third cousins, there were no surprises in the first four lines (16 ancestors) but once I got back to my great great grandparents I found a number of new cousins that I had not found before on my Norwegian side: descendants of my Wold great grandparents and my Halling 3rd grandparents.

One of the nice things is that Ancestry can see past the private parts of trees to find the connections. It shows you living people as boxes marked private but can still connect them back to the common ancestors. It also indicates whose tree the information came from, which is helpful when you know there is an error since you can click on the tree name to see it and contact that person to request that they fix it.

I found a whole slew of new Halling cousins decended from my great grandmother’s sister Nikolena

I was about to complain that I would prefer to see these ThruLines theories start from my DNA matches rather than my ancestors when I discovered that if I joined the Beta test of the new matches page they do exactly that, among many other wonderful new features.

Continue reading

Finally, Ancestry’s New Ethnicity Estimates

Today we all got an email from Ancestry announcing new ethnicity reports for everyone. Adding five times the reference populations plus a better algorithm that can often indicate the modern countries. This time I really do have the new ancestry composition estimates!
Updates Available box
Naturally I immediately went and looked. Then I messaged and emailed all my tested cousins to accept the new update. When you log in to Ancestry and click on DNA in the top menu you get a page with three panels. Click on the panel to the left called “DNA story” to go to a page with a world map and the Updates Available box on the upper right.

Click the green button that says View your Updated Estimate in that box. Next you have to answer a few questions about your expectations and your thoughts on the previous ethnicity. I am afraid I did not understand that below each was a slider which I could move to indicate the level of accuracy, so until the last one that I answered, I left it alone. I wonder how many others will make that error.

The first time on your new ethnicity page, you will see a panel on the right showing how your estimates have changed. Here is mine. I was sad to say goodbye to that unlikely 1% Polynesian!

My father was Norwegian American with one fourth grandad (2% of his DNA?) who was German. My mother was born in Munich to a Jewish father and Bavarian Catholic mother. So how does that play out in these new estimates? Could the Swedish be a remnant from the 30 years war where Swedish soldiers rampaged through Bavaria? Actually I think my Norwegian dad had a fifth grandparent who was Swedish but that would hardly show either.

Here is my brother’s  page showing the new estimates with the changes:

I am still 29% Jewish but my brother is down to 20% from 22%. Our maternal grandad was Jewish and I randomly got more of his DNA than my grandmother’s. When a 2nd cousin on our maternal grandmother’s side tested, my brother did indeed share a third again as much DNA with her as I did (Click here for that post)

By the way you can get back to the page showing the changes together with the new estimates by clicking on the small blue Updates at the top of your ethnicity estimate then the View Previous Estimate at the bottom of the Ethnicity box followed by Compare these results to your most recent AncestryDNA estimate on the next page.

Now to look at some more interesting ethnic makeups from my cousins and people I have helped.
Continue reading

Ancestry’s Updated Ethnicity Reports

UPDATE 3-SEP-2018: My apologies, my account and my cousins do NOT have the latest updates. Since they are more recent and prettier than the last time I looked, I had made that false assumption. Thanks to the members of the Ancestry DNA Matching Facebook group for showing me what the real update looks like.

To see what your version is click on the “up to date” or the “i” in a circle on top of your ethnicity results. Then it will show you a box that tells you what version you have. If you only have 3000 reference samples, then, like me, you do not have the very latest.

I look forward to writing a new post whenever I finally get those changed reports! Meanwhile this post may still be of some interest…

 

Original post was:

Over the summer Ancestry DNA has been rolling out their new ethnicity estimates and they have finally arrived in my account.

My brother’s ethnicity has not changed, it just has more features.

These changes have been made for two reasons. First of all, Ancestry has lots more data; they have added 13,000 new samples to an original group of 3,000 reference populations.* Secondly they have changed their algorithm to look at runs of DNA rather than just single points (23andme uses this technique as well). You can read their full explanation here: https://www.ancestry.co.uk/cs/dna-help/ethnicity/faq

The predictions for my brother, as shown above, have not changed (click here for my previous article on his ethnicity). He is still 62% Scandinavian (our Dad is Norwegian American) and 22% Jewish (Mom’s dad was German Jewish). While the Bavarian from Mom’s mother is still showing as Scandinavian, Europe South (this was Italy/Greece), and West European. The English comes from Dad according to various other sites where he was tested. This is discussed in my article Norwegian or English? where I suggest that it is the English who have some Norwegian.

The new presentation is prettier and it has some very accurate subcategories. Yes all our Norwegian ancestors are from the circled areas, Western and Southern Norway.

and my ancestors ended up in the city of Brooklyn, NY

One thing I find very enjoyable are the descriptions of the subgroups and migration groups. Also of interest is the story they tell you when you click on one of your groups and a date like 1875 as above.

 

My ancestry is different from my brother’s but not wildly so. I have more Jewish (German Jewish so within the predicted subgroup), less Scandinavian, and a few interesting bits of noise like Polynesian. I remember one ethnicity estimate somewhere which claimed I had 1% Amerind. I like to think there is a sprinkling of Sami that creates that blip.

I have examples from a wide variety of people thanks to the many adoptees and relatives that I have helped. By the way, my perfect cousin (who I often blog about) is still 100% Scandinavian with the expected subpopulations of South and East Norway.

Continue reading