Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Monday, March 13, 2017

My DNA: Eskimos, Gypsies, India and the Middle East

What do Eskimos, Gypsies, India and the Middle East all have in common? They are some of the percentage results obtained from DNA tests recently. I started thinking about this subject when I read about the results from Louis Kessler's DNA test results from Louis compares a test he previously took from FamilyTreeDNA with the one he recently took from MyHeritage in a blog post entitled, "My MyHeritage DNA Results Have Come In." My wife also received her results from a MyHeritage DNA test. All three of us have done extremely extensive "paper" genealogy research tied to sources and worked on for years. Louis' results come up with a small 1% match to Eskimo/Inuit. My own DNA shows 1.2% South Asian (India and surrounding area) and my wife's DNA test shows a small percentage of Middle Eastern.

I have some basis for speculating about the origin of my South Asian connection to possible Romani (Gypsy) ancestors, but neither Louis nor my wife have any idea where their small percentage connections may have originated. I recommend reading Louis' blog post. He gives an in depth and perceptive analysis of the differences between the two DNA test results that he has so far.

I have a surfeit of relatives. I commonly meet people who share a common ancestor with me. I have multiple surname books showing my cousins and ancestors back eight and nine or more generations. I have neighbors who are my cousins. I also realize that many people do not have such an extensive collection of relatives. So what was the point in my taking a DNA test? I did it ultimately because I write this blog. It is that simple.

DNA has become a promoted fad among genealogists and would-be genealogists around the world. I certainly do not want to diminish the impact that a DNA test can have on any one individual. The greatest impact comes from tests that clarify 1st and 2nd generation relationships. With each step backwards, the relationships become more tenuous and more open to statistical error or random noise. My small Southern Asian relationship could possibly be a random match where a more complete analysis might show that there was no real connection. What are the chances that 1.2% of my DNA randomly matches some arbitrary selection of Southern Asian DNA? The match could be a construct of the way the matches are selected rather than a valid indication of an ancestral relationship. This issue is highlighted by a statement made by Louis Kessler in his blog. I quote:
The second inaccuracy in ethnicity percentage is because a person does not get the same amount of DNA at each ancestral level from each ancestor. For example, the normal case is having 32 great-great-great-grandparents. Therefore, each should average just over 3% of your ethnicity makeup. So if two of your g3-grandparents were from Sweden, you’d expect that 6% of your ethnicity report would be from Sweden. But DNA does not pass down evenly. The amount of DNA passed down from each g3-grandparent can vary greatly. You might not get any from some and could get as much as 6% or even 8% from others.
 Last night I was talking with a couple who had almost every conceivable challenging family relationship issues: unidentified parents, foster children, adopted individuals etc. The wife has already taken two or three DNA tests, but none of the tests yet give enough information to resolve or even identify some of the mystery areas of her family's past. The basic reason for this lack of resolution is the paucity of matching DNA tests from other related individuals. In my case, for example, ideally, I should find some other relatives who are "descended" from the suspected Romani connection to confirm that the match was not just a random correspondence.  But the way the DNA testing procedures and results are structured, discovering these connections would be a monumental task.

For example, my DNA test from MyHeritage shows me matched to a cousin who is categorized as a "1st cousin once removed - 2nd cousin twice removed." This is based on the following DNA Match quality:
Shared DNA 2.4% (175.6 cM)
Shared segments 8
Largest segment 35.8 cM
How am I related to this person? This person's family tree has 487 people and I have 46 Smart Matches. But without even looking at the Smart Matches, I can tell by the person's surname how we are probably related. In looking closely at the Smart Matches, this assumed relationship is confirmed. I would consider this person to be a 3rd cousin. However, the information contained in this person's family tree on is simply duplicative of what is found in the surname books that have been published, so I have no incentive to contact this person or collaborate. In fact, so far, I have no real incentive to contact any of my DNA matches, but they probably do have an incentive to try and contact me. 

Additionally, none of the DNA matches yet share the family line that contains the potential Romani connection. 

My wife and I are both going to take the DNA test and, of course, this whole process of discussing and analyzing the DNA test results is far from over.


  1. In your discussion of your DNA testing, could you cover how My Heritage comes up with their relationship calculations? I can't find it explained on their web site. My wife was asked by My Heritage to be part of their Founders Project because her family has lived in the same part of western Norway basically forever except for one small part from eastern Norway and one great-grandfather who invaded from Sweden.

    One of her DNA matches is supposedly something between a 1st cousin twice removed and 4th cousin.

    We were able to take that match’s tree and extend all applicable lines back several generations through the excellent Norwegian parish registers. Those show that through different lines of her mother’s side which converge back together, my wife and the DNA match are 6th cousins, 8th cousins and 9th cousins.

    Can your sources at My Heritage explain if this multiple inheritance through different lines is what throws off their relationship calculation?

    1. I haven't seen anything about this either. Perhaps your comment will get some response?

  2. It is common to get different results when testing with different companies. I did a comparison of my results from AncestryDNA, 23andMe and Family Tree DNA here:

    I've also done the Living DNA test which, for British people at least, provides much more accurate results than the other companies:

    Apparently MyHeritage said at Rootstech that people who had done the free transfer would be given a free admixture report but I don't yet have one.

    1. Thanks for the links. I will check them out.