Not in 2022, either!
Let’s do it again.
Chant along with The Legal Genealogist: they’re just estimates.
Again: they’re just estimates.
One more time: they’re just estimates.
So… we all got our new admixture estimates from Ancestry, right?
And most of us have seen a change. Some of us like it, some of us don’t, and personally I think it’s all amusing.
I mean, really, take a look at the estimates set out in this chart:
Yep, those are all mine. Four different testing companies (top to bottom, it’s Ancestry, MyHeritage, 23andMe and Family Tree DNA).
So… am I 1% Scandinavian, or nearly 67%? Am I 3.6% British Isles, or 51%?
Here’s a better question: does it matter?
My answer: nope, not to me. Not this year. Not last year.1 Nor the year before.2 Nor the year before that.3 Or as far back as the first time I ever described these as cocktail party conversation pieces.4
I’m not saying you might not get useful information comparing two people who’ve tested at the same company if you’re researching an unknown parentage case. Finding evidence of unique ancestral populations in two matches could be a great clue. But for most of us, we need to remember one key fact:
These are estimates.
Folks, seriously, we have got to stop thinking of these numbers as take-them-to-the-bank-snapshots-of-our-ancestors. The DNA testing companies call these estimates, and they do it for a reason.
The reality here hasn’t changed one bit since admixture results were first reported: these estimates are pretty darned good at the continental level, distinguishing between Europe, Asia and Africa, just to name three continents, in their estimates. Once they get below the continental level, to a regional or even country level, all of them start to run into issues: country boundaries have changed; entire populations have moved; people from one area have invaded and intermarried with people from another.
That’s why — quite frankly — I don’t care a whole lot about these “new and improved” estimates. We should know by now just what — exactly — these admixture estimates do: they take the DNA of living people — us, the test takers — and they compare it to the DNA of other living people — people whose parents and grandparents and, sometimes, even great grandparents all come from one geographic area. Then they try to extrapolate backwards into time. Nobody is out there running around, digging up 500- or 1,000-year-old bones, extracting DNA for us to compare our own DNA to.
So coming up with these percentages in these tests requires this fundamental assumption: that the DNA of the reference populations — those groups whose parents, grandparents, great grandparents and more all come from the same area — is likely to reflect what we might see if we could test the DNA of people who lived in that area hundreds and thousands of years ago.
In other words, let’s keep in mind, every time, that these percentages are:
• estimates based on comparisons not to actual historical populations but rather to small groups of people living today, and
• estimates based purely on the statistical odds that those small groups tell us something meaningful about past populations.
These limitations are true of all of the testing companies. As you can see in the chart above, my own results are — literally and figuratively — all over the map.
And I don’t care a whole lot about these because the admixture estimates aren’t really the heart of the value of doing DNA testing. Yes, I get the desire to link to specific ancestral origins, particularly for those whose origins were stolen from them in the Middle Passage. But the real value today and for the foreseeable future in doing this kind of DNA testing is in the matching — the connections to cousins who may have family Bibles or photographs or documents or stories to help us move forward in reconstructing our family histories.
So let’s repeat for the record here — everyone who’s ever taken a DNA test that provides admixture estimate percentages, chant along with me:
“It’s not soup yet.”5
Now let’s get to work on those cousin matches.
Cite/link to this post: Judy G. Russell, “No soup for us!,” The Legal Genealogist (https://www.legalgenealogist.com/blog : posted 22 Aug 2022).
- Judy G. Russell, “Not soup in 2021 either,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 19 Sep 2021 (https://www.legalgenealogist.com/blog : accessed 22 Aug 2022). ↩
- “In 2020, still not soup…,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 13 Sep 2020. ↩
- “And still not soup…,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 27 Jan 2019. ↩
- “Those pesky percentages,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 27 Oct 2013. ↩
- For those too young to remember the reference, the Lipton Soup Company had a string of ads in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The mother in the ad would begin preparing Lipton soup, a child would ask, over and over, “is it soup yet?” and the mother would answer “not yet” over and over until finally she’d say, “It’s soup!” So “not soup yet” means “not finished” or “not ready.” ↩