Ancestry’s Mythical Admixture Percentages

“The Emperor’s New Clothes” is a tale by Hans Christian Andersen about two weavers who promise an Emperor a new suit of clothes that is invisible to those unfit for their positions, stupid, or incompetent.  When the Emperor parades before his subjects in his “new clothes,” no one wants to admit that they can’t see the kings clothes but a child cries out, “But he isn’t wearing anything at all!”

Ok, Ancestry’s emperor has no clothes, not a stitch.  I’m saying it outright – he is BUCK NAKED!!!

I’ve been exercising restraint, I’ve been trying not to say anything negative, then I was trying not to be overtly negative.  But you know, my patience has run out.  If you think this posting is harsh, well all I can say is that you should have seen the first few versions before I softened it substantially.

I grew up on a farm with a wonderfully eloquent step-Dad of very few and very simple words.  When he said anything, you listened.  According to Dad, if it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s probably a duck….or in this case, it’s a naked emperor.

And I’m not done yet, in fact, I’ve only just begun.  Here, let me put it in a way that cannot be misunderstood…

Dearest Ancestry – We are NOT STUPID!  Make no mistake.  Nor are we lemmings.  Yes, I’m shouting, so Ancestry, sit down and listen up.

A day or so ago, someone posted this link showing a video where Ancestry provides some education on how to use their AncestryDNA results.  I applaud Ancestry (yes, I did say that) for providing this educational tool, but some of the content simply infuriated me.  It insults the intelligence of all genealogists.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KiClHKiWcGI&feature=youtu.be

I spent decades in the technology industry and I understand beta code.  I understand pre-release and release and tweaking.  I understand making a mistake, and fixing it.  And I understand being the “last kid” on the block to play the game. If you want to compete, being last and late with a less than stellar reputation, you have to offer something to attract people, or have a captive audience, or both.  Enter Ancestry’s AncestryDNA $99 autosomal test.

The problem is that their admixture percentages are simply WRONG.  Period.  Not a “tiny error”, not “needs tweeking,” utterly, entirely wrong.  Throw it out and start over wrong.  There are no secret Scandinavians hiding in the bushes, or in everyone’s family tree, and the fact that they are embracing their error and trying to turn a dime by telling people that they DO have a huge amount of mythical Scandinavian blood and they just need to use Ancestry’s tools to search longer and harder is not only infuriating, it’s unethical and self-serving.

Several bloggers and others have pointed out that after taking many of these types of tests, Ancestry’s results are the only ones showing large amounts of Scandinavian heritage.  So every other company and population geneticist is wrong and Ancestry has made a monumental discovery?

Ancestry has been put on notice by many individuals.  The gal, Crista, in this video who has the unfortunate job of telling this whopper publicly and attempting to convince you of this newly found “truth” even said that people have been challenging those results and are “confused.”  No doubt, they should be.

But instead of looking at the reference population data validity (that Ancestry refuses to share), or the math, for possible issues, Ancestry is lauding this inherent error as a discovery, as stated by their executives at recent conferences and elsewhere in the press, and using is it as a marketing ploy.  Well, it is the season for politics and “spin” but this is reprehensible.

Christa Cowan, on this video, uses her own father’s results and genealogy as an example.  He has 47% Scandinavian ethnic percentage according to Ancestry, yet his pedigree chart showed line after line of Scotland, England and Wales as his ancestral origins, with holes, of course, representing brick walls, like we all have.  Crista was trying to convince us, and probably herself too, that in spite of all that British Isles ancestry, and no discernible Scandinavian pedigree heritage, that in fact this was ALL attributed to Scandinavian ancestors – because her father had NO British Isles heritage, according to Ancestry.

Here’s a screen shot of his results, from the video.  The video resolution was poor, so this is too, but you can still see that Scandinavia is colored blue and the British Isles have no coloration.

Crista said “We’re discovering that there is a lot of Scandinavian blood out there.”  No, Crista, you’re discovering that you have been offered up as a sacrificial lamb by a naked emperor.

Let’s look at this another way.  Crista said that she knows 365 of the 1022 people who are her 7th generation ancestors.  If that is true, then she knows 36% of them.  That means, since there seem to be no Scandinavian ancestors in that 36% (isn’t that amazing), that the balance of the 47% of that ancestry, or another 480 ancestors are Scandinavian, and she has managed to somehow in her genealogy miss every single one of those 480 and find 365 others who weren’t Scandinavian.

Do you really believe that half of her ancestry is Scandinavian and she managed to miss all of them in the one third she has discovered?  Unlikely.  Crista, if you’re really that unlucky, don’t even bother to buy a lottery ticket.

Crista said that none of her Scotland, Wales and England ancestors showed up as British Isles because this test is picking up deep ancestry.  Really?  So all of those people married other people of Scandinavian heritage in the British Isles and none, not one, married Angles, Saxon, Jutes, Celts or Picts from the British Isles for the hundreds or thousands of years they lived there?  Now that is absolutely amazing.  How do you propose that happened?  Were there records to keep that all straight in secret guilds someplace?  For a conspiracy of that magnitude to work, there must have been records.  Where are they and where is the history of that conspiracy?  Or are those ethnic groups supposed to show up as Germanic?  That would mean that no one shows up as British Isles because everyone was continental before migrating to the British Isles.  So we’re supposed to believe that Ancestry is picking up ancient ancestry but nothing contemporary, nothing from the British Isles in hundreds or thousands of years?  And how does that happen, exactly?

Now we know that mutations have happened in the British Isles in the thousands of years they have been inhabited and those mutations are measureable.  Anyone with any doubts, just refer of the Niall of the 9 Hostages Y-line mutation (R-M222) in haplogroup R, among others.  So what we’re supposed to believe is that pretty much everyone came from Scandinavia and they had some very effective secret club that kept them from ever marrying anyone from the British Isles?  Does this sound ridiculous to you?  Well, it does to me too.

Ok, so if Ancestry has made such a monumental discovery, why then has this not been documented and academically published?  Other companies do this in conjunction with academia.  Perhaps because this is based on flawed science?  It looks to me like it’s worse than guessing.  Could it be intentional?

I know that some of Ancestry’s AncestryDNA customers have British Isles ethnicity percentages, because I do.  Here is a screen shot of my results at Ancestry.

You’ll notice that I have 80% British Isles, 12% Scandinavian and 8% uncertain.

Some years back, I did a pedigree analysis of my genealogy in an attempt to make sense of autosomal results from other companies.

The paper, “Revealing American Indian and Minority Heritage using Y-line, Mitochondrial, Autosomal and X Chromosomal Testing Data Combined with Pedigree Analysis” was published in the Fall 2010 issue of JoGG, Vol. 6 issue 1.

The pedigree analysis portion of this document begins about page 8.  My ancestral breakdown is as follows:

Geography Percent
Germany 23.8041
British    Isles 22.6104
Holland 14.5511
European by   DNA 6.8362
France 6.6113
Switzerland .7813
Native   American .2933
Turkish .0031

This leaves about 25% unknown.  However, this looks nothing like the 80% British Isles and the 12% Scandinavian shown by Ancestry.  Where are my heavily German lines?  I have the German church records for generations on many families.  Where are my Dutch lines?  I have those records too.  And France, I have records there too?  Where are they and how are they represented at Ancestry?

They aren’t just incorrect, they are entirely absent, and in their stead, more British Isles and Scandinavian.  And no, I’m not buying the concept that half of my unknown 25% is really Scandinavian.  Sorry.  Try again.

So, here we are.  Ancestry is wrong, blatantly, unquestionably wrong, and arrogantly so.  Instead of testing and comparing against known and proven genealogies and pedigree charts before release, they have plowed new ground and invented Scandinavian ancestry where it doesn’t exist.  They have ignored hundreds, probably thousands of people who have documentation, and have complained, instead trying to convince the Crista’s of the world, along with the rest of us, that despite their well-documented ancestry in the British Isles, that they have none and instead they are Scandinavian.  Ditto my German, Dutch, etc.

Everyone makes mistakes.  People and companies with integrity step up as soon as a problem is identified, take responsibility, apologize (that goes a long way) and then they fix the problem.  But Ancestry not only didn’t test adequately, they won’t even consider that there might be a problem, they are arrogantly claiming “discovery” when in fact, they are a buck naked emperor extolling their own virtues because certainly no one else will.  They are insulting our intelligence and demeaning our ancestry.  With it they are sacrificing their own integrity.  Indeed, as my old farmer Dad used to say, integrity is like virginity, you only get to lose it once.  Yea, Dad, you’re right.  Ancestry’s is long gone.

It’s a shame that our own genealogy is being exploited, used as a tool by Ancestry to manipulate us by virtue of their flawed science and results to “stay subscribed” and to search for ancestors we can never find because they don’t exist.  That’s a pretty good marketing ploy, right up until someone exposes the truth.  According to Ancestry, it’s not that they have bad science, but that we have bad genealogy.  Really?  All of us?

Shame on you Ancestry.  I don’t believe this is an error or a mistake anymore.  Companies fix mistakes, not exploit them.  I would hate to think this was an intentional marketing or promotional ploy.  I wonder how the people responsible for this can look at themselves in the mirror every morning, knowing what they are doing with and to our genealogy, exploiting their customers, defiling our ancestry, which genealogists consider to be sacrosanct.

I encourage everyone to do a basic pedigree analysis and send your results to Ancestry.  Let them know if your ethnic percentages are substantially wrong.  They need to hear your voice and apparently, many voices, before they are willing to take notice.  Even if they don’t answer, they can apparently count, judging from their recent decision to release the raw autosomal data in 2013 after input from customers.

So let me say this again.  We are NOT STUPID and we are NOT SILENT.  Ancestry, you need to step up, fess up and FIX this problem, now.  It’s time to do the right thing.

356 thoughts on “Ancestry’s Mythical Admixture Percentages

  1. Pingback: 2013 – DNA-eXplained in Review | DNAeXplained – Genetic Genealogy

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