Sunday, July 15, 2018

Read This If You're Curious About Your MyHeritage Ethnicity Results And You're Italian

MyHeritage ethnicity estimates seem to be THE WORST of all the major testing companies.

We've received dozens of emails from people of 100% document Italian heritage where MyHeritage says they are 0% Italian.  We've received three screenshots, which we will not share due to privacy concerns.

Something is amiss.  These people showed us documented Italian heritage, 100% Italian cousins, and some were born in Italy.  They show up on MyHeritage as Sardinian, Middle Eastern, Spanish, West Asian -- anything BUT Italian!!!

MyHeritage ain't getting it done.  We would demand a refund kind readers.  It's OK to come close.  As we've noted, all ethnic calculators are pseudo-science.

But MyHeritage isn't hitting the dart board in the bar next door.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Ancestry DNA Issues Revised Ancestry Estimates, Finds that Germans Exist

Judy G. Russell, the Legal Genealogist, is out with a fantastic new post on AncestryDNA's new ethnicity estimate percentages.

As she wryly notes in the opening, she is delighted to find out that they have discovered that Germans exist.

We've wrote about this before, as have others.  The major testing sites -- some of which are run by people who seem hostile to Germans (America's biggest ethnic group) -- have written Germans off the map.  23andme is particularly bad at identifying German DNA.  They disclose it too, but they bury it in the fine print.

We have been repeatedly depressed by newbies, who know from good paper records that they are a quarter German (or Swiss, or French, or Austrian) say, "duh, gee, duh, this unscientific website tells me I am really 21.2% English wow gee duh am I adopted?"  NO!  The science isn't there yet.  As Judy Russell says, "it's not quite soup."

And it STILL isn't quite soup.  This post focuses on Germans, but the major testing services have an equal problem with Italians, another major American ethnic group.  Poor Italians who get tested often end up with anything but Italian.  (Spare me your pseudoscience on how Italy has been invaded.  EVERY country has been invaded.)  Italy is a long country with many peaks and valleys, and for much of its history was an exporter of population to surrounding areas.  The testing sites need more samples to identify all the different permutations of Italians.

Bottom line, as we've said before, and as every credible scientist says - DO NOT TRUST the ethnicity estimates of the testing services.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Reminder to Eurogenes and Davidski: You ARE NOT Your Y Chromosome, and Your Manhood Isn't Tied to It!

A great study just came out that confirms what many of us have noticed.  Increasingly, instead of dude being proud of their ethnic group (and risk being called racist) or even their soccer team (and risk being called a hooligan), many misguided men, especially in online forums, are tying their identity to their Y chromosome haplogroup!  

Yes, you laugh, I laugh, but any quick read of any of the worst offenders (Maciamo May at Expedia, Davidski at Eurogenes), will reveal this concept, as well as some very fragile male egos, redefined with junk pop-science.

The study is called:

Constructing Masculinity through Genetic Legacies: Family Histories, Y-Chromosomes, and “Viking Identities"

Some highlights:

The practice of searching for a Viking ancestor is, on one level, an exercise in redundancy. At a distance of a millennium, simple mathematics demonstrates that everyone, at least in Western Europe, and most probably further afield, has Viking ancestry (Rutherford 2016).

Rather, this kind of texture was what the participants in our research were interested in: the majority were seeking confirmation of Viking ancestry, for which they already had amassed a certain amount of (usually genealogical) evidence. For such individuals, to be told “yes, you are descended from Vikings, because everybody is”, is seemingly psychologically insufficient.

Critiques from population geneticists likening such claims to “genetic astrology” are widespread (e.g., Balding et al. 2010; Thomas 2013), while the problematic potential of such narratives to essentialise ethnic identities based on biology have also been highlighted (Fortier 2012; Morning 2014; Nash 2004a; Nelson 2008; Nordgren and Juengst 2009). To a lesser extent, how the forms of evidence used to access the remote past create gendered versions of history (usually favouring a patrilineal line of descent) has also been a cause for concern.

The problematic nature of relying on direct-line Y-chromosome tests for insights about “who you really are” is highlighted by the example of African-American users of DTC genetic testing seeking more information about their African ancestry, but regularly receiving results characteristic of European ancestry due to the grim realities of the sexual exploitation of female slaves by European owners (Tyler 2008; Nelson 2016). By way of contrast, discovering that one has a Y-chromosome characteristic or not of Viking ancestry may be seen as less of an existential challenge to one’s sense of self, and more of a form of recreation. However, as Sommer (2012) cautions, recreational genomics cannot necessarily be separated from wider political contestations of identity, culture, and gender.

In a similar vein, Nash (2012, 2015) argues that the cultural focus on “founding fathers”, such as Genghis Khan, to explain patterns of Y-chromosome variation (and genetic variation more broadly) draw on and simultaneously naturalise a patriarchal understanding of kinship. 

She also argues that popular accounts of such research tend towards a nostalgia for an imagined “heroic” past of simpler gender roles: one that represents men as warriors, women as passive, or even as possessions, and can “conjure up images of a harsher and simpler world of unlimited and often violent sex enjoyed by powerful men” (Nash 2015, p. 149).

Such a patriarchal “heroic” past chimes in with what Halewood and Hannam (2001, p. 566) have referred to as the “Anglo-American stereotypical representation of Viking heritage”: that of “sea-faring, sexist, and blood thirsty men raping and pillaging”. 

Even when Vikings are disassociated from violence and rape, they are still represented as somehow essentially masculine, and that this is encoded biologically. For instance, Krol√łkke (2009) analysed the success of the Danish sperm bank, Cryos International in marketing its product as “Viking sperm”, and thereby as representing a genetically encoded masculine ideal.

Within this context, for an individual man to seek to establish his “Viking ancestry” is to situate himself, deliberately or otherwise, within a certain historical–cultural discourse of masculinity. 

LOL: Davidski, they've got you down buddy!  Substitute "Viking" in that sentence with "R1b" or "R1a" and half the "Bronze Age Studs" at Eurogenes will be crying in their soup.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

DNA Testing for Heritage and Ancestry Is, Simply Put, Inaccurate

You go to take a cholesterol test, and your doctor, very thorough, sends you to four different labs.  One reports your cholesterol is 200, one says it's 180, one says 150, and one says 130...

After a car accident, you get go to four different body shops for quotes.  One says your car's paint color is taupe; one says it's sea blue; one says its ocean blue; and one calls it sea green...

You whip out four different rulers to measure your foot.  One says it's 12 inches; one says its 6; one says 8; and one says 9...

In all of these scenarios, you would make two conclusions:

1.  These test results (or body shops, or labs, or measuring sticks) are not that scientific!

2.  At least three -- and likely all four -- of these results MUST be wrong.

These parables sum up the world of DNA testing for heritage or "admixture."

We've said it before, and we'll say it again.  But today, Kristen V. Brown, a writer for Gizmodo, published an excellent piece discussing the snake oil that, 23andme, Gencove, FTDNA, and other labs are selling.

Simply put, these labs cannot tell your ancestry.  I repeat, they cannot tell your heritage, or racial or ethnic admixture.  The science just isn't there yet.  And it might never be.

Brown details how she got four different results from four labs.

She also alludes to, but doesn't state um, confidently enough, about the concept about being confident about your known results.

It's what I jokingly (and longwindedly) call the:

"I was born in a tiny isolated village in the Swiss Alps that has never been invaded.  I know my mom and dad, and there's a video of my birth.  I DNA tested them and they are my parents.  I DNA tested my grandparents too, and they are my grandparents.  There were no affairs and no invasions in my town.  I know my great grandparents too and I am their spitting image.  The church records state I am Swiss going back to 1400.  But HELP, this DNA testing service said I'm British.  Am I British?"  (Or Indian or French or Dutch or whatever) problem.

NO, dummy, you're Swiss...

I for one, always read the fine print.  23andme, for example, states clearly that it cannot spot German (or French) heritage 92% of the time!  Germans make up the LARGEST PLURALITY of Americans.  Americans make up the LARGEST MAJORITY of those getting DNA tests done.  Thus, and I only say this half facetiously: these companies are engaging in the virtual ethnic cleansing of ethnic groups, wiping them off the genetic map, with their statements on people's heritage percentages, that are simply inaccurate.  

And 23andme, is, as far as we can tell, the most accurate lab!

Anyway, kudos to Kristen V. Brown and the people she interviewed for explaining it in her Gizmodo piece.  We suggest reading it.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Are Ethnicity Percentages and Ancestry Calculators from DNA Tests Accurate?

The media has blasted headlines this week that show an incredible ignorance of DNA testing for ethnic percentages.  One, which could have been pulled out of a 1980s tabloid for its ridiculousness, screeched, "Neo-Nazis are taking genetic tests and are deeply upset by the results!"

Neither of the two writers delved too deeply into the subject, and that is because shorthand reporting is easier.  As we've posted, again and again, most of the three major DNA testing sites disclose quite openly that their science is far from perfect.  For example, that if one is German, French, Dutch, Belgian, Austrian, or Swiss, that they cannot discern your ancestry 92% of the time.  (With the US having more people of German ancestry than even English or Irish -- that's a big deal).

In fact, it's quite common for someone taking a test from three different websites to receive three different results!  And as the post beneath this one shows, trying the 40 or so other "ethnicity calculators" available for free on Gedmatch produced...40 different results.

As I often say: if 5 different scales produced 5 (vastly different) weights, you would know that at least four of 'em don't work!  :-)

Anyway, for those looking for perspective, we shouldn't highlight the bad, so we've decided to highlight the good -- or the excellent, rather.

One of the best posts we have seen on the topic comes courtesy of a blog called The Legal Genealogist.  It's called, "Those Percentages If You Must" -- and is a Must Read for people curious about whether ancestry calculations from DNA tests are accurate.

It first, rather hilariously, goes into the various myths and misperceptions about DNA and human history.  Concepts like, "black Irish" or "I have some Native American in me."  Concepts that plague the world of pop-DNA-testing.

After it goes through the science (in easy to understand terms), it reveals what I have posted here time and time again:

DNA testing IS GREAT and REMARKABLY PRECISE for finding you cousins.  It CAN tell you if you are a third-cousin, once-removed (with that kind of precision).  If you don't know your heritage, and that cousin is, for example, 100% Native American -- then it follows that you too have a pair of Native American great-great-great grandparents.

DNA testing IS NOT good at ethnicity percentages and ethnic calculation.  As if anything could be so precise as to tell you that you are "4.2% Jewish."  The science is still just not ready for prime time, and many underrepresented populations, even in Europe, still confound the tests.

(As an aside, ancestry calculators should all produce nice and even results when people get back to the pre-travel era."  In other words, if you had 64 ancestors that were alive in 1500 AD, you should only see multiples of 1.56% chunks, right?  Since no one is half a human!)

The article succinctly concludes with:

DNA testing is a wonderful tool. It can connect us with cousins we’d have never found otherwise to help us reconstruct our family histories.

But in terms of “am I Native American?” “what tribe did I come from in Africa?” “am I 25% Irish?” No. No, no, no.  That’s the absolute weakest aspect of DNA testing. 

Indeed.  Well said.

Friday, July 21, 2017

AND THE WINNER IS... (Comparing Admixture/Heritage Tests on Gedmatch)


  • We ran exhaustive tests of several commercial and free DNA-testing labs and ethnicity calculators.  
  • To test the sites, we used only individuals with well-documented, double confirmed, 100% known ancestry.  
  • We tested multiple males from multiple lines to assure as much as humanly possible no extra-parental events (bastardy) occurred.  
  • We even tested minor nobility with documented ties to geographic locales.  
  • We used individuals who do not come from cities or places of cosmopolitanism (influx of foreigners).  
  • We tested only people with all four grandparents from the same locale.  
  • We tested multiple people from different countries in Europe.
As we've posted before, of the commercial labs, 23andme takes first prize, and is the worst.  23andme provides the most conservative and accurate ethnic ancestry approximations.

We have also completed our testing of all of the ancestry composition tests available on GEDMATCH.  Below is a summary, the results, and the rankings.

  • First of all, the specialty labs, Ethiohelix, Gedrosia DNA, puntDNAL, etc. do not even come close to being accurate, at least for individuals of European heritage.
  • None of MDLP's tests passed our accuracy gauntlet and correctly called west European DNA.
1. The overall winner, and the clear winner of all the tools currently available on Gedmatch, is the Eurogenes K13 test.  It was pretty darn good at distinguishing DNA from various western European lands, for people of "purebred" ancestry.

2. Coming in second was Eurogenes EUtest K15 v2, which also had a pretty darn good record of accurate calls.

3. An honorable mention, and a close third, with accurate calls roughly as close to the second-place finisher, was Dodecad's K12b test.

  • No other tests besides those three were even close to "often accurate."
  • No tests, including those three, were much use for accurately calling the ancestry of European "mutts."  We found that the same tests that were accurate with individuals with 100% heritage from one country, were of limited value for serving as an oracle (predicting accurately) the ancestry of individuals of mixed European heritage.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Will Tim Sullivan and Continue Its VIRTUAL Ethnic Cleansing of Germans?

23andme discloses right off the bat that it cannot identify German or French ancestry 92% of the time.

Ancestry doesn't seem to be able to discern German ancestry too well either, but it doesn't tell its customers that.

Noted: Yet another reader of this blogger just wrote in and shared her experience.  She is 100% German, born in Germany, from a small town, not a big city.  Her ancestors are documented in the region she's from for the last 400 years.  Several of them were well-known and documented. called her ancestry as about 50% Scandinavian, 25% Italian, and 25% generic European.  What an epic fail.

How many "white bread" regular Americans, with German ancestry take one of these tests, and misleadingly, their German ancestry is literally wiped away?

We note Germans are America's LARGEST ethnic group, but their ancestry is also often hidden, because German surnames Americanize so well.  For example, Kohl becomes Cole; Schmidt becomes Smith, etc.

As an experiment, with our reader's permission, we ran her raw data through Gedmatch.  Both MDLP (the Magnus Ducatus Lituaniae Project) and Eurogenes were able to call her likeliest ancestry as German.   Dodecad, which specializes in Mediterraneans, was able to call her as German in about half of its tests.

So the question remains:

1.  If the amateurs can call German DNA with reasonable regularity, why the heck can't

2.  If is so bad at identifying America's biggest ethnic group, why doesn't it do the decent thing and tell people?