Wednesday, 4 April 2018

The 23andMe Ancestry Composition update is finally here!

My 23andMe Ancestry Composition has finally been given the long-expected update.

The main novelty is the so-called Recent Ancestor Locations (hereafter abbreviated as RALs). A RAL is a country where 23andMe predicts you have ancestors who lived within a relatively recent timeframe. As 23andMe states,

We can do this by looking for exact DNA matches between a customer and over 130,000 individuals of known ancestry from 120 regions across the globe. If a person exactly matches with five or more individuals from one of those specific regions, that region is assigned as a “recent ancestor location.”

There are 120 possible RAL countries in addition to the 31 admixture categories that existed prior to the update, giving a grand total of 151 possible categories in the new Ancestry Composition.

I am assigned "Norway" as my most significant RAL. This, of course, is no surprise whatsoever, since I was born in Norway and more than 4 out of 5 of my known ancestors are ethnic Norwegians! I'm excited about it precisely because it fits with my paper tree and because it shows that 23andMe's new analysis has a high level of accuracy.

Here's my main Ancestry Composition page, with the map and all the percentages. (By the way, I don't like the Mercator map projection that they're using; it skews proportions, making Europe and North America look huge, while Africa and South America look tiny).

When I click on "Norway", it zooms in on the country and gives me some details about the timeframe of my Norwegian ancestry:

Below is a complete list of my RALs, not all of which are shown on the map page. The higher the number of dots, the stronger the genetic connection to that country, but even a single dot implies a recent connection. Zero dots implies no detectable recent connection. According to 23andMe, RALs are subject to change and will be updated in real time.

The Scandinavian countries are spot on. I have known ancestry from Sweden within the last 200 years, and from Denmark somewhat further back in time (which would explain the lower match strength). The United Kingdom match is extremely interesting because it is further confirmation of the family story that my great-great-grandfather Nils E. Lister (born Davidsen, 1857-1911) was the son of an Englishman (probably Joseph Lister, 1827-1912). 23andMe's estimate is that my ancestor from the UK lived within the last 200 years, which fits perfectly.

Other changes

The new layout is a bit different from the old one. The map looks better (higher resolution); the colours of some of the categories have changed (Finland, for example, is no longer black); the pie chart shows the most downstream subregions (e.g. Scandinavian, not just Northwestern European), which makes it more informative; and in the percentage list, the "broadly" categories are now listed together below the more specific ones. I also know that several admixture categories have been renamed ("Oceanian" is now "Melanesian", for example), but mine are the same as before.

My percentages have changed slightly, and my regional spread is now a practically perfect match with my FTDNA myOrigins results: Majority European with a little bit of East Asian (which I'm sure is real because it shows up so consistently; at 23andMe, it remains at 70% confidence but goes Unassigned at 80%). As for the European DNA, 23andMe confirms what FTDNA has said all along, namely that Scandinavia and the British Isles are my main ancestral regions within Europe. As we have seen, my genetic connections to those two regions are so strong that 23andMe is able to predict RALs for me.

Sadly, I seem to have lost my East African and Native American, which were both at <0.1%. Looking at my chromosome painting, I see that the Native American has been incorporated into the East Asian, while the East African (which I still believe is real, based on other analyses) is now read as "No Data Available". I must say I'm a bit disappointed with the disappearance of the EA and NA, mostly because I'm a fan of diversity and mixing and appreciate any signs of it in my own DNA. At least I've still got the Asian, as well as a good spread within Europe. And these changes do not, of course, affect the results of my relatives, such as my great-uncle, whose South American and African admixture (via Haitian ancestors) has been verified through various means.

Strangely, the EA and NA still show up on my Timeline, at the same generational distance as before. This is confusing, and I don't know what to make of it. Below is a screenshot, and as you can see, the Timeline is in the new colours, which means that it has been updated. If you know the reason for the discrepancy between the percentage list and the Timeline, please leave a comment.

Edit: The Timeline has now changed. It looks like this:

Another interesting change is that at 50% confidence, the standard view of the Ancestry Composition, I no longer have any Unassigned DNA at all. This should be cause for celebration. However, the disappearance of my <0.1% Unassigned seems to be due to the fact that my old Unassigned segment, located right next to the East African one, has been reassigned as "No Data Available".


  1. I've been wondering if I should add 23andMe to my DNA "portfolio" since I already have Ancestry, FTDNA, Gencove, Geneplaza, MyHeritage, and DNAland with not a lot of agreement within the results of those companies. All of those are based on my initial test at Ancestry. 23andMe would require a new test since they don't allow you to upload raw data from Ancestry. Do you think it would be worth it? My birthday is coming up in a couple of months, so I could justify the expense as a birthday present to myself. That's what I did last year with the mtDNA test at FTDNA. :)

  2. Well, personally I find 23andMe to be the best of all the companies when it comes to admixture. I haven't been able to connect with very many genetic cousins there, but I did connect with one, and that connection proved to be very valuable genetic confirmation of a specific family line.

    If you're testing mainly for admixture, then I'd say go for it. As you probably know, they also give you info about your haplogroup(s) as well as Neanderthal admixture and health/trait reports. All in all, an interesting package.

  3. Just got my 23andMe results yesterday! I'm 38.2% British and Irish; 13.5% Finnish; 10% Scandinavian (Norway); 8.9% French and German (Netherlands); 29.2% Broadly Northwestern European; 0.3% Broadly European. I already knew what my mtDNA haplogroup was, U3a, and they confirmed that. They also said it wasn't very common (1 in 2,600 of 23andMe users have it) and they highlighted the fact that the Roma have the greatest percentage of that haplogroup, which I found interesting. My Neanderthal variants were 296, and are greater than 79% of users, another surprise. I love the chromosome painting for each of the countries on my chart and overall am quite happy with what 23andMe came up with. Thanks for recommending them!