On May 6th, Family Tree DNA released myOrigins as a free feature of their Family Finder autosomal DNA test. This autosomal biogeographic feature was previously called Population Finder. It has not just been renamed, but entirely reworked.
Currently, 22 population clusters in 7 major geographic groups are utilized to evaluate your biogeographic ethnicity or ancestry as compared to these groups, many of which are quite ancient.
Primary Population Clusters
- Anatolia & Caucasus
- Asian Northeast
- Bering Expansion
- East Africa Pastoralist
- East Asian Coastal Islands
- Eastern Afroasiatic
- Eurasian Heartland
- European Coastal Islands
- European Coastal Plain
- European Northlands
- Indian Tectonic
- Jewish Diaspora
- Kalahari Basin
- Niger-Congo Genesis
- North African Coastlands
- North Circumpolar
- North Mediterranean
- Trans-Ural Peneplain
Blended Population Clusters
- Coastal Islands & Central Plain
- Northlands & Coastal Plain
- North Mediterranean & Coastal Plain
- Trans-Euro Peneplain & Coastal Plain
Each of these groups has an explanation which can be found here.
Prior to release, Family Tree DNA sent out a notification about new matching options. One of the new features is that you will be able to see the matching regions of the people you match – meaning your populations in common. This powerful feature lets you see matches who are similar which can be extremely useful when searching for minority admixture, for example. However, some participants don’t want their matches to be able to see their ethnicity, so everyone was given an ‘opt out’ option. Fortunately, few people have opted out, less than 1%.
Be aware that only your primary matches are shown. This means that your 4-5th cousins or more distant are not shown as ethnicity matches.
Here’s what the FTDNA notification said:
With myOrigins, you’ll be able compare your ethnicity with your Family Finder matches. If you want to share your ethnic origins with your matches, you don’t need to take any action. You’ll automatically be able to compare your ethnicity with your matches when myOrigins becomes available. This is the recommended option. However, we do understand that sharing your ethnicity with your matches is your choice so we’re sending you this reminder in case you want to not take part (opt-out). To opt-out, please follow the instructions below. *
- Click this link.
- If you are not logged in, do so.
- Select the “Do not share my ethnic breakdown with my matches. This will not let me compare my ethnicity with my matches.” radio button.
- Click the Save button.
You can get more details about what will be shared here. You may also join our forums for discussion. * You can change your privacy settings at any time. Thus, you may opt-out of or opt back into ethnic sharing at a later date if you change your mind.
Let’s take a look at the My Origins results. You can see your results by clicking on “My Origins” on the Family Finder tab on your personal page at Family Tree DNA.
Ethnicity and Matches
Your population ethnicity is shown on the main page, as well as up to three shared regions that you share with your matches. This means that if you share more than 3 regions with these people, the 4th one (or 5th or 6th, etc.) won’t show. This also means that if your match has an ethnicity you don’t have, that won’t show either.
Above, you see my main results page. Please note that this map is what is known as a heat map. This means that the darkest, or hottest, areas are where my highest percentages are found.
Each region has a breakdown that can be seen by clicking on the region bar. My European region bar population cluster breakdown is shown below along with my ethnicity match to my mother.
And my Middle Eastern breakdown is shown below.
A great new feature is the mapping of the maternal and paternal ethnicity of your Family Finder matches, when known. How does Family Tree DNA know? The location data entered in the “Matches Map” location field. Can’t remember if you completed these fields? It’s easy to take a look and see. On either the Y DNA or the mtDNA tabs, click on Matches Map and you’ll see your white balloon. If the white balloon is in the location of your most distant ancestor in your paternal line (for Y) or your matrilineal line for mtDNA (your mother’s mother’s mother’s line on up the tree until you run out of mothers), then you’ve entered the location data and you’re good to go. If your white balloon is on the equator, click on the tab at the bottom of the map that says “update ancestor’s location” and step through the questions.
If you haven’t completed this information, please do. It makes the experience much more robust for everyone.
How Does This Tool Work?
The buttons to the far right of the page show the mapped locations of the oldest paternal lines and the oldest matrilineal (mtDNA) lines of your matches. Direct paternal matches would of course be surname matches, but only to their direct paternal lines. This does not take into account all of their “most distant ancestors,” just the direct paternal ones. This is the yellow button.
The green button provides the direct maternal matches.
Do not confuse this with your Matches Map for your own paternal (if you’re a male) or mitochondrial matches. Just to illustrate the difference, here is my own direct maternal full sequence matches map, available on my mtDNA tab. As you can see, they are very different and convey very different information for you.
By way of comparison, here are my mother’s myOrigins results.
Let’s say I want to see who else matches her from Germany where our most distant mitochondrial DNA ancestor is located.
I can expand the map by scrolling or using the + and – keys, and click on any of the balloons.
Indeed, here is my balloon, right where it should be, and the 97% European match to my mother pops up right beside my balloon. The matches are not broken down beyond region.
This is full screen, so just hit the back button or the link in the upper right hand corner that says “back to FTDNA” to return to your personal page.
Family Tree DNA has provided a walk-through of the new features.
How did Family Tree DNA come up with these new regional and population cluster matches?
As we know, all of humanity came originally from Africa, and all of humanity that settled outside of Africa came through the Middle East. People left the Middle East in groups, it would appear, and lived as isolated populations for some time in different parts of the world. As they did, they developed mutations that are found only in that region, or are found much more frequently in that region as opposed to elsewhere. Patterns of mutations like this are established, and when one of us matches those patterns, it’s determined that we have ancestry, either recent or perhaps ancient, from that region of the world.
The key to this puzzle is to find enough differentiation to be able to isolate or identify one group from another. Of course, the groups eventually interbred, at least most of them did, which makes this even more challenging.
Family Tree DNA says in their paper describing the population clusters:
MyOrigins attempts to reduce the wild complexity of your genealogy to the major historical-genetic themes which arc through the life of our species since its emergence 100,000 years ago on the plains of Africa. Each of our 22 clusters describe a vivid and critical color on the palette from which history has drawn the brushstrokes which form the complexity that is your own genome. Though we are all different and distinct, we are also drawn from the same fundamental elements.
The explanatory narratives in myOrigins attempt to shed some detailed light upon each of the threads which we have highlighted in your genetic code. Though the discrete elements are common to all humans, the weight you give to each element is unique to you. Each individual therefore receives a narrative fabric tailored to their own personal history, a story stitched together from bits of DNA.
They have also provided a white paper about their methodology that provides more information.
After reading both of these documents, I much prefer the explanations provided for each cluster in the white paper over the shorter population cluster paper. The longer version breaks the history down into relevant pieces and describes the earliest history and migrations of the various groups.
I was pleased to see the methodology that they used and that four different reference data bases were utilized.
- GeneByGene DNA customer database
- Human Genome Diversity Project
- International HapMap Project
- Estonian Biocentre
Given this wealth of resources, I was very surprised to see how few members of some references populations were utilized.
In particular, the areas of France, Germany, Norway, Slovakia, Denmark and the Ukraine appear to be very under-represented, especially given Family Tree DNA’s very heavy European-origin customer base . I would hope that one of the priorities would be to expand this reference data base substantially. Furthermore, I don’t see any New World references included here which calls into question Native American ancestry.
Family Tree DNA typically provides a webinar for new products as well as general education. The myOrigins webinar can be found in the archives at this link. It can be viewed any time. https://www.familytreedna.com/learn/ftdna/webinars/
How did they do? Certainly, Family Tree DNA has a great new interface with wonderful new maps and comparison features. Let’s take a look at accuracy and see if everything makes sense.
I am fortunate to have the DNA of one of my parents, my mother. In the chart below, I’m comparing that result and inferring my father’s results by subtracting mine from my mother’s. This may not be entirely accurate, because this presumes I received the full amount of that ethnicity from my mother, and that is probably not accurate – but – it’s the best I can do under the circumstances. It’s safe to say that my father has a minimum of this amount of that particular population category and may have more.
|Region||Me||Mom||Dad Inferred Minimum|
|European Coastal Plain||68||17||51|
|Trans Ural Peneplain||11||10||1|
|European Coastal Islands||7||34||0|
|Anatolia and Caucus||3||0||3|
*The Undetermined category is not from Family Tree DNA, but is the percentage of my father not accounted for by inference. This 40% is DNA that I did not inherit if it falls into a different category.
Based on these results alone, I have the following observations.
- I find it odd that my mother has 34% North Mediterranean and I have none. We have no known ancestry from this region.
- My mother does have one distant line of Turkish DNA via France. I have presumed that my Middle Eastern (now Anatolia and Caucus) was through that line, but these results suggest otherwise.
- My mother’s Circumpolar may be Native American. She does have proven Native lines (Micmac) through the Acadian families.
- These results have missed both my Native lines (through both parents) and my African admixture although both are small percentages.
- The European Coastal Plain is one of the groups that covers nearly all of Europe. Given that my mother is 3/4th Dutch/German, with the balance being Acadian, Native and English, one would expect her to have significantly more, especially given my high percentage.
- The European Coastal Island percentages are very different for me and my mother, with me carrying much less than my mother. This is curious, because she is 3/4th German/Dutch with between 1/8th and 3/16th English while my father’s lines are heavily UK. My father’s ancestry may well be reflected in European Coastal Plain which covers a great deal of territory.
What We Need to Remember
All of the biogeographic tools, from Family Tree DNA, 23andMe and Ancestry, are “estimates” and each of the tools from the three major vendors rend different results. Each one is using different combinations of reference populations, so this really isn’t surprising. Hopefully, as the various companies increase their population references and the size of their reference data bases, the results will increasingly mesh from company to company. These results are only as good as the back end tools and the DNA that you randomly inherited from your ancestors.
Furthermore, we all carry far more similar DNA than different DNA, so it’s extremely difficult to make judgment calls based on ranges. Europe, for example, is extremely admixed and the US is moreso. The British Isles were a destination location for many groups over thousands of years. Some of the DNA being picked up by these tests may indeed be very ancient and may cause us to wonder where it came from. In future test versions, this may be more perfectly refined.
There is no way to gauge “ancient” DNA, like from the Middle East Diaspora, from more contemporary DNA, only a thousand years or so old, once it’s in very small segments. In other words, it’s all very individual and personal and pretty much cast in warm jello. We’ve come a long way, but we aren’t “there” yet. However, without these tools and the vendors working to make them better, we’ll never get “there,” so keep that in mind.
While this makes great conversation today, and there is no question about accuracy in terms of majority ancestry/ethnicity, no one should make any sweeping conclusions based on this information. This is not “cast in concrete” in the same way as Y DNA and mitochondrial haplogroups and STR markers. Those are irrefutable – while biogeographical ethnicity remains a bit ethereal.
In summary, I would simply say that this tool can provide great hints and tips, especially the matching, which is unique, but it can’t disprove anything. The absence of minority admixture, which is what so many people are hunting for, may be the result of the various data bases and the infancy of the science itself, and not the absence of admixture.
My recommendation would be to utilize all three biogeographic admixture products as well as the free tools in the Admixture category at GedMatch. Look for consistency in results between the tools. I discussed this methodology in “The Autosomal Me” series.
I asked Dr. David Mittelman, Chief Scientific Officer, at Family Tree DNA about the reference populations. He indicated that he agreed that some of their reference populations are small and they are actively working to increase them. He also stated that it is important to note that Family Tree DNA prioritized accuracy over false positives so they definitely took a conservative approach.