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?

Sunday, June 11, 2017

The Genetics of the Ancient Romans

As we've noted before, there are a bunch of charlatans in the world of Ancient DNA.  The worst offender, perhaps, is a pseudonymous Belgian named Maciamo Hay, who runs a site called Eupedia.  This uneducated man knows just enough to sound knowledgable, and to delude himself and some of the similarly ignorant.  In the world of Ancient DNA, he is probably the best example of Dunning-Krueger effect out there.

Many of these Ancient DNA practitioners spend their time trying to digest the most recent DNA studies, but don't ever come close to picking up a history book, much less to acquiring the deep, big-picture understanding of ancient history that is needed to explain the population movements that have occurred in places like Rome and Italy over time.

In this post, we go over those population movements, to review claims made by fools like Maciamo on Eupedia.

Let's start with his baldest misstatement: "In all logic, the ancient Romans, from the original founders of Rome to the patricians of the Roman Republic, should have been essentially R1b-U152 people."  This laughable statement was directly pulled from Eupedia on the same day that this post is dated, and as far as I can tell, it's still up.  (I just refuse to link to it, lest any more misinformation be circulated).

As Maciamo's own maps show! -- the distribution of U152 in Italy is centered in the ALPS, and radiates outward to all the parts of Italy that were previously inhabited by CELTS.

So: Where to begin?  How does one even start to explain history to someone so uneducated?

Let's start with something most people know.  The saying, "he's crossed the Rubicon" is a reference to Caesar crossing the Rubicone river.

Why was that so significant?  Because the Rubicon was the traditional BORDER of Italy at that time.  (49 BC.)  In other words, it was an act of war for Caesar to cross that border.  Where is the Rubicone river?  It's just south of modern Ravenna!

For 700 years, the "Italy" of Roman times -- that which was populated by Italians (versus Gauls) -- was the true peninsula parts (sticking out).  Never forget that.  The distribution of U152 clearly corresponds to where the population was Gaulish versus Roman!  U152 is the OPPOSITE of a Roman marker.

Southern Italy, on the other hand, was considered the most desirable real estate for much of the Roman Republic and early empire.  When Cicero listed the most beautiful and prosperous cities in Italy, most were in Southern Italy.  Places like Reggio Calabria and Capua.  When Mark Antony and Augustus' veterans demanded land, they demanded it in Southern Italy.

Furthermore, Rome devastated places like Samnium (modern Molise/Campania) and modern Cosenza, destroying most of the inhabitants, and then seizing the territory for Roman citizens.  Anyone who knows Roman history knows this.

Rome planted dozens (almost a hundred) of colonies (of Roman citizens) in Southern Italy.  Entire towns (like Vibo Valentia) were populated by tens of thousands of transplanted Romans.  These colonies were stocked BEFORE Rome became an empire, i.e., before it became cosmopolitan.  The people who founded these towns were of "pure" Roman stock.

Why does this matter?  Well, this blog is no Southern Italy apologist.  Southern Italy was a backwater for years.  Isolated and insignificant.  But from a genetic standpoint, those qualities ARE significant.

If you wanted to study the genetics of the Romans, would you go to a place where lots of people had passed through?  A place that was a successful and world port in the Middle Ages?  A place where people wanted to move to from elsewhere?  OF COURSE NOT.

You would WANT a backwater; a place unchanged over millennia.  The towns of South Italy (many of which who have never been invaded by anyone, thank you very much), are where you can find the descendants of Romans, unadulterated.

Well before modern genetic studies, very intelligent, very thorough researchers did large-scale demographic studies on Rome.  These folks, mostly British historians from Oxford, scoured records in churches and cemeteries, in abbeys and books -- everywhere, -- to estimate the population demography of Rome.  This much we know: at the dawn of the empire, "Italy" was Italy south of the Rubicon, well south of the Po.  The population was a mix of the local Italic tribes and Roman Latins, placed there as colonies.

Want to know the genetics of the Romans?  Look at which towns started out as Roman (not Gaulish, Maciamo!) and which towns have largely been untouched since.

Professor Chris Wickham produced exhaustive studies of Italy from 400-1000 AD.  He provides real numbers of the "others" in Italy.  He concludes the Goths and Lombards (German tribes who ruled large parts of Italy from 476 AD - c. 1000 AD) never were more than 2%-9% of the Italian population, and he believes aside from pockets in the South, they were clustered mostly in the North.  Again, it's the NORTHERN Italians with the non-Roman influences, not the Southerners.  Again, this skews the DNA of the North.  Don't assume the Southern differences from the North are from Southern exoticness.

Chances are, Northern Italian DNA is different because it started with a large dollop of Gaulish (Celtic) genes, and they received a small smattering of Germanic genes.  This is why northern Italians appear, well, more "northern."  Southern Italian DNA, for the most part is not different because of subsequent influences or invasions.  Southern Italians are generally darker (although not by much) because of the absence of Gaulish and Germanic influences.  But those southerners more closely represent Roman DNA as it was around the years 200 BC - 50 AD.

Wickham also studied the Byzantine (Eastern Roman empire, Greek-speaking), Norman (French Viking) and Saracen (Arab or North African) occupying forces in Italy, and concluded that for peninsular Italy, these forces were tiny, much less than 1% of the population, and that they left no real permanent traces.  Again, this is because these were occupying armies not settlers.  Please note contrary to popular belief, much of the towns and villages of Southern Italy were never physically occupied by ANY of these groups, even though suzerainty and tax payments did change hands.  Was Paris after the Nazis any less French?

Folks like Maciamo also greatly UNDERESTIMATE the effect of Roman colonies throughout the Mediterranean.  Rome, through much of its thousand-year history, was a population EXPORTER.  Romans bred like crazy -- there was never enough land to go around -- and they, as the most powerful people of their era, felt it was their prerogative to seize lands of the conquered and place their citizens' families there, to live long and prosper.  It wasn't like now, where middle class families have 2.5 kids.  Then, (aside from the patricians), a family had as many kids as it could afford -- as many kids as it could feed.  Romans had many kids...

A look at the map of Roman colonies shows just how widespread this practice was.   Note the concentration in Italy and Spain, followed by France and Romania.  Yes folks, there's a reason why the Latin language survived in those regions, and why Romance derivatives are still spoken there today.

Despite the Romans exporting so many people, I have never seen one of these modern, unschooled-in-history geneticists raise the question as to whether the similarities between South/Central Italian DNA and that of say, Greece,or North Africa is due to Roman OUTFLOW of genes.  These idiotic (and perhaps racist?) people only repeat the Quentin Tarantino-esque claims that the similarity between such genes must be from exotic INFLOWS into the population of Italy.

It's really idiotic if you think about it.  Rome locates a colony of 25,000 Italian FAMILIES in some town in backwater Greece (or North Africa), and the town prospers for 1000 years and still exists today.  A Byzantine (or Saracen) garrison of 1000 men holds an Italian town for 100 years and then departs.  But many dummies online ascribe the similarity between Italian and Greek (or North African) genes to the latter?  Incredibly myopic.

Anyway, in conclusion:

Maciamo Hay is an idiot.  He should read some JB Bury, some Sir Ronald Syme, and some Chris Wickham.

Geneticists should realize if they want to find Roman genetics, they should try to discern the similarities between backwater (untouched/remote) towns in Southern Italy and Spain, which were settled around the same time with Roman colonists.  There, you can detect and isolate the signal of Roman genetics.

And genetic similarities between Italy and the rest of the Mediterranean could just as easily be due to pre-Roman factors or Roman OUTFLOWS as they are to post-Roman inflows into Italy.