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One of the caveats of genetic genealogy testing has been that you
get only a general idea of where in the world your roots are, such
as “British Isles,” “Scandinavian” or “West African.” (Labels and
specificity vary with the testing company and the test you choose.)
And the ethnicity estimates you do get can have a significant margin of
That could be changing. “The AncestryDNA science team is looking toward a future where
we could reveal, in the absence of a family tree, the most probable locations where
one’s ancestors lived,” writes population geneticist Julie Granka on
AncestryDNA’s Tech Roots blog.
About 6,000 AncestryDNA customers received
a preview last week of a new ethnicity estimate that more-accurately calculates
the person’s ethnicity based on 26 reference populations around the world. (The
new, finer-resolution estimate works with a customer’s existing results, so no new
testing is needed.)
Granka’s post reveals one example of the more-specific analysis: Her team has been
able to separate
ancestry from West Africa into six population groups based on genetic data.
Previously, someone with African-American ancestry might learn they have genetic origins
somewhere within the green bubble on the left (this image is from
the Tech Roots blog, and used with permission). The new analysis can narrow those
roots to one of the six colored bubbles on the right.
Those new ethnicity regions of West Africa are Senegal, Mali, Ivory Coast/Ghana, Benin/Togo,
Nigeria, and Cameroon/Congo, each of which has a distinct set of tribal affiliations.
West Africa was the main source of the slave trade to America. This finding provides
a new genealogy research path for African-Americans who’ve been unable to find records
of enslaved ancestors.
Here’s another example of the ethnicity estimate update:On
the Genetic Genealogist blog, Blaine Bettinger shows you a comparison of his old and
new AncestryDNA estimates.
You’ll know you’re one of the lucky 6,000 AncestryDNA customers if you see an orange
button that says “New! Ethnicity estimate preview” on your DNA results page. AncestryDNA will
roll out the new ethnicity estimate to remaining customers over the next few months.
Bettinger recently presented our Intro
to DNA Crash Course webinar to help you figure out how to use genetic genealogy
to uncover your family history and get over research brick walls. Check
out the webinar in ShopFamilyTree.com.