Dr. Doug McDonald developed what is known at BGA software, meaning Biogeographical Analysis, before either 23andMe or Family Tree DNA offered their products. In fact, Doug contracted with Family Tree DNA to write the underlying code for their Population Finder ethnicity software.
I have worked with Doug for years on several projects. He has always been very gracious with his time and resources in the genetic genealogy community, for which I am always grateful.
There has been a lot of discussion about the meaning of various descriptions of ethnicity, specifically, Orkney and Middle Eastern, in the Family Finder results. I asked Doug about this and his reply is below.
“The Family Tree DNA population database was generated before an English comparison panel became available. Hence, Orcadian had to be used. Irish is quite different from English or Orcadian.
So, to fit typical English, something more southern and eastern has to be mixed in. However, the proportion is usually fairly small, unless French fits well, which it frequently does not. Thus the program chooses some place in Eastern Europe or the Mideast, or, rarely, Pakistan or India. There is nothing “wrong” with this genetically. There is, however, something “wrong” genealogically on a genealogical time scale. Pop Finder was designed to do as well as possible on a recent time scale. That it does, but this leads to seeing, sometimes, these “strange” results.
The problem is that the people using these results from FTDNA and Ancestry are genetic genealogists and not population geneticists and at the genealogical level it seems that many people are taking their results far too literally so I was really trying to caution against this approach. If people see that they have this Middle Eastern percentage they are sometimes trying to find explanations in their recent ancestry. They think that the Middle Eastern component might represent Jewish ancestry, Native American ancestry, Moorish ancestry, etc, whereas in reality this is mostly not the case at all, if the rest is Orcadian/Irish.
Mideast won’t represent American! But it does mean something! There are several possibilities.
1) If a person is shown as mostly Orcadian and just a few percent Mideast, the Mideast probably means that they are, as mentioned above, on average from a few percent of the way from the Orknies to the Mideast. If the Mideast percentage is getting up to 15% or more then one must start considering that the Mideast is real and recent.
2) If a person is listed as mostly from somewhere in France or Spain, then the first thought for Mideast is that it is real. Small bits of African listed make it likely that there is North African.
3) People from far southern Italy (Calabria), Sicily, Malta, Greece, etc. should expect large amounts of Mideast listed along with Spanish/Italian/Tuscan. Part or all of the Mideast in these cases is usually listed as Jewish, for two reasons: these people derive from the same ancestral populations as the Jews, and large numbers of Jews moved to Sicily after the Inquisition.
4) Native American is listed as just that. It is quite uncommon for it to be listed in error … except for genuine people from Siberia and Saami. FTDNA does not mistakenly show American as Asian. “Mayan” is the usual listing for any Native American north of Panama, through all of Mexico, and east of the Rockies in the USA and Canada.
5) South Asian also sometimes appears in otherwise near-pure Europeans for the same reason as Mideastern.
6) People who are highly mixed on a continental level are generally fairly accurately represented. However, FTDNA does have a fairly high threshold for listing small components, like Native American in Europeans or Afro-(European)Americans.
For the genetic genealogist, a single “canned” report like provided by FTDNA can provide valuable clues on a continental level. For a clearer picture on a detailed level, people need more analysis from third party tests on their raw files. There are several ones out there, of varying nature.
The best place to start other than my own reports are those from Dienekes Pontikos, such as “DIYDodecad” and “Dodecad Oracle” which “cover the field” and are very accurate. Some of these are somewhat user unfriendly, however, because they require you to load programs on your computer and run them.
People often suggest that data on more populations will help with the “Mideast in Europe” problem. It would, but only for people who are of one, unadmixed, present-day European population. Otherwise it will just muddy the waters.”
I want to thank Doug for his explanation. Doug’s analysis is complementary, but you’ll need to contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and send your raw autosomal data files.
I noticed that at www.gedmatch.com, John Olson offers an admix page where he has included several different software tools to evaluate admixture, including five versions of Dodecad. This eliminates the need to install software on your computer. However, you do need to upload your raw autosomal data files to GedMatch in order to be able use his utilities. You can see instructions for uploading your file from either Family Tree DNA or 23andMe on the home page.
GedMatch is free, but donations are always welcome and needed. GedMatch really is a very useful tool in many ways. You can see by the commentary on their main page that they are experiencing significant issues to to high usage and desperately need a new server. You can scroll to the bottom of the main GedMatch page to donate. I just did!