Calling HOGWASH on 23andMe’s Ancestry Timeline

Every now and then, I’m aghast when I look at a product and wonder how the devil it ever escaped the lab.  Is there no quality control?  And who thought it was a good idea, anyway, and why?

23andMe’s new Ancestry Timeline, released last week, is one of those.

Not only is it incorrect, but it deceives people into believing something that isn’t true.

Let’s take a look.


My Ancestry Timeline at 23andMe is shown above. I notice that my Middle Eastern/North African is missing from the timeline.  It’s less than 1%, but then so is my Native American which is included.

You can see in the text underneath the timeline that 23andMe says this timeline reflects how long ago my MOST RECENT ancestor in that geographic location was born.

Let’s compare this with reality.  You may recall that I recently wrote the article, Concepts – Calculating Ethnicity Percentages. In that article, I utilized my known and proven genealogy for my 64 great-great-great-great-grandparents to calculate what my ethnicity results should look like.  I’m referring to the same chart of my 64 ancestors for this exercise as well, since I’ve already done a great deal of the work.  Let’s see how reality stacks up to the 23andMe timeline.

On the chart below, I’ve shown the geographic category, the dates from the 23andMe timeline reflecting my most recent ancestor’s birth, my most recent ancestor from that location, and the accuracy of the 23andMe estimate.

Category 23andMe Dates My Most Recent Ancestor Birth 23andMe Accuracy
British and Irish 1900-1930 1759 – Henry Bolton Utter hogwash
French and German 1840-1900 1854 – Hiram Ferverda Close
Scandinavian 1750-1840 No ancestor More hogwash
Eastern European 1720-1810 No ancestor Hogwash
Italian 1690-1810 No ancestor Hogwash
Native American 1690-1790 Uncertain, mother’s side – early 1600s, father’s side – unknown Not verifiable, reasonable

The part of this equation that I find extremely upsetting is the sheer magnitude of how misleading the 23andMe timeline is.  It’s not just wrong, it’s horribly deceptive – massively inaccurate by any measure possible.

Here’s what the 23andMe white paper says about this new tool:

“Admixture date estimator is a 23andMe feature that enables customers to find out, for each of the ancestries they carry, when they may have had an ancestor in their genealogy who was likely to be a non-admixed representative of that population.”

I’m a seasoned genealogist, so I know unquestionably that my 23andMe Timeline is not only wrong, it’s entirely hogwash in 4 of 6 categories. A 5th category is close, and the 6th is reasonable but not verifiable.

The disparity of the British/Irish dates between 1759 when Henry Bolton was born in London and 1900-1930 is evident without discussion.  I do have a lot of British Isles ancestry, but it’s a result of many ancestors, not one and no one born there even remotely recently, let alone within the past generation. For me, someone born between 1900-1930 would be a parent.

Looking back at the Calculating Ethnicity Percentages article, you’ll note that I don’t have any Scandinavian ancestors in any known generation.  The 8% that 23andMe estimates, if accurate, equates to between a great-grandparent at 12.5% and a great-great-grandparent at 6.25%.  If the Scandinavian was one person, they would have been born in that timeframe (1750-1840) – but there was no one person.  The Scandinavian has to be very ancestral, meaning ancient Vikings or Normans or found in the Dutch population which is often found to be “Scandinavian.”  Regardless, there are no Scandinavian ancestors in my pedigree which reaches back well before 1750-1840.  Neither are there any Eastern European or Italian ancestors. None. Nada. Zip.

Perplexingly, it’s that unverifiable category, Native American, that so many people are desperately researching and scavenge for any possible clue.  There is no way to determine whether that category is right or wrong, so they will assume that it is accurate.  However, judging from the track record of the other categories – it’s more likely to be incorrect than correct.  Resorting to history alone, we know that the first European settlers arrived in North America in the early 1600s and my Native heritage is small, based on both my genealogy and my DNA, so a range of 1690-1790 would be a “good guess” with no genetic information at all.  My proven Native ancestors were born in the early/mid 1600s, but I have not successfully identified all of my Native ancestors, in particular the one(s) from my father’s side and when they were fully Native.

For a beginner or someone with unknown parentage, this timeline is horribly, horribly midleading and will cause novices to make massively incorrect assumptions. A British or Irish ancestor born between 1900-1930? Seriously?  This timeline combined with the 39.8% British/Irish suggests a parent.  Think about what an adoptee would take away from this timeline – and how their research could be derailed as a result.  Without parents available to DNA test, this erroneous information could make someone question their parentage.

Here’s an example of just how misleading this information can be.

In my case, I know beyond a doubt that my mother was primarily descended from German and Dutch recent immigrants with some French and Native American (Acadian) thrown in for good measure.  So, based on this timeline stating that a British/Irish ancestor was born in the British Isles between 1900 and 1930, combined with my ethnicity results of 39.8% British and Irish, OH MY GOD, my father is not who I thought, but is some British/Irish man.  MOTHER………………

All I can say is thank goodness I’ve done the DNA testing that I have and I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that my father is my biological father and not some British man, despite what this timeline suggests.  If I had no other evidence – I certainly would believe that my father was a British man, and I’d be GRATEFUL for this (highly erroneous) information.

On the flip side, many people will utilize this tool to “confirm” suspicions about genealogy.  I’ve already seen this happening on various lists.  With 4 of 6 categories being entirely, provably, incorrect, not to mention that the first category reflecting my largest percentage of ethnicity is so dramatically wrong, one can have absolutely no confidence in any of the other categories. I can’t and neither can anyone else.

I’m not alone either.  This, from another long-time genealogist: “I am dumbstruck.  It couldn’t be further from the truth for me.  I am very colonial on both sides.  Most recent immigrant ancestor was 1797.”  And from another: “No.  Just no.  Not accurate.”

So let me say this again.

You. Can. Have. No. Confidence.

If you already know your genealogy, then you don’t need this tool.  If you don’t know your genealogy, then you’re going to be misled by this tool.

It’s very clear that anyone with many ancestors that came from a particular population, but that haven’t been born in that location in many generations will have an incorrect timeline.  This would include just about everyone with colonial American roots.  The amount of a particular ethnicity does NOT equate to aggregating that ethnicity into a single ancestor and equating the amount of ethnicity to a recent birth in that location.  This logic is predicated on a whole lot of assumptions stacked on top of each other, like a house of cards. And we all know about assume.

23andMe, you should be ashamed of yourself for perpetrating genetic hogwash on your unsuspecting, believing and often vulnerable customers.  Climb down out of your ivory tower, buy a vowel and get a clue.  Statistics in an academic environment and reality sometimes just don’t mesh – and you, 23andMe, have the wherewithal and the customer base to discern the difference. You are supposed to be a science company.  You have no excuse.

I understand the desire to provide new tools to customers, but inaccurate simplicity is never a priority over realism.

I hope 23andMe will have the decency to remove this new deceptive and misleading “feature” that should never have made it past “proof of concept” in the first place.




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133 thoughts on “Calling HOGWASH on 23andMe’s Ancestry Timeline

  1. I would rank this below Bad NADs. Sad to see that 23andMe is advocating this is as a scientific tool.

    I truly miss those tools that did not make it to the new, “improved” 23andMe. The Chromosome Browser that came with Traits (and showed half vs full matches). The download file that I think was also called Ancestry Composition. Even the percents for Neanderthal (but maybe that was misleading).

    Instead we get this …..words fail me.

    • I agree and would add the layout of the website appears to have not been user tested as well. The number of issues with confusing titles and suboptimal navigation are dauntiing.

      The ancestry timeline tool itself has a conceptual problem I think. If like me, you are nearly half scottish and irish and come from the population I come from parking an “irish” bar in the twentieth century picks up my Irish (most recent immigrants circa 1850s but fails completely to deal with a vast array of 18th century Scots in my tree.

  2. I wanted to see what you saw so I went to my 23 and me account to find the tool. For the life of me I could not find it nor was I able to find the tool that paints the chromosomes.
    I am so frustrated and disappointed with 23 and me that when I talk with someone who is contemplating taking a DNA test I warn them to stay away from 23 and me. I wonder if they have taken both tools down? If not, then they make it especially difficult to find the. What is the point in that?

  3. I certainly don’t contest your conclusions, Roberta, but I wonder if perhaps you have left one element out of consideration. For example, you seem to equate the way 23&me uses the term “British and Irish” as meaning definitively born in Britain or Ireland and, therefore, that your most recent B/A ancestor (your parent) was born (!) there in that 1930 time frame. Could one interpret 23&me’s use somewhat differently? Could 23&me simply mean that an ancestor of pure, or at least predominantly, British genes was born in the 1900-1930 period?

    I’m not going to fight my way through your ancestral combinations so I will offer this hypothetical example: suppose all my mother’s ancestors are “pure” Irish even though they came to the US during the Potato Famine. All unions on my maternal side prior to 1845 were in Ireland and all unions since 1845 – until my parent’s marriage – were within the Irish community. And suppose my mother was born within the 1900-1930 time frame. Would not my mother show up in the 23&me data as being pure Irish and therefore, from a genetic perspective (not a citizenship perspective), would I not have a “most recent British and Irish” ancestor born exactly as 23&me suggests.

    Again, I don’t contest your arguments but only suggest an alternative interpretation of the terms used by 23&me (with which I have never tested and have no relationship).


    • I used the exact words 23andMe used. I quoted them. Regardless, my father was born in Tennessee and his ancestors for many generations before him in colonial America. Telling me that my most recent ancestor from Britain/Ireland was born there, in Britain/Ireland, between 1900-1930 cannot in any way be justified.

      • The text under the chart does not state that the recent ancestor is born IN Britain or Ireland. It says they are from a British/Irish population. This population could be non out-marrying and living in Tennessee, Fiji or wherever. Similarly the Scandinavian population might be in Minnesota or parts of rural Scotland/England.

        That doesn’t mean that these labels used by the DNA site necessarily have any validity.

    • Even so, Roberta’s father had Native American and Dutch ancestors, he certainly wasn’t pure “British and Irish” himself. Nor were his parents…

      • I apparently have a “Finnish” ancestor born in the early 1800s. Am I supposed to believe that hogwash? Or am I supposed to believe reality? Reality being I have a LOT of Scottish ancestry and Scots happen to score the highest “Finnish” %s for UKers on genetic tests.

        The timeline is not a tool, it is nothing more than a problem.

  4. Well, they do use the phrase “MAY HAVE” LOL. Because so many people love to indulge themselves. This is just a marketing gimmick. Need I say more.

    • That’s putting it gently. It amounts to keeping the foolish entertained, after they have been fleeced..

  5. Graphic formats are designed to serve one purpose–to display accurate information quickly and clearly. If we have to spend time reading a table or text to interpret a graph, then it’s not served its purpose. For a single point in time, a pie chart is the best way to show ancestry composition. A child knows which piece of the pie is the biggest. To display ancestry composition changing over time, we need, in theory, a moving pie chart. That is awkward. This graph is not a solution to that problem. It is very misleading. Viewing it (which is what we do with graphs), our impression is that your composition is a tiny bit of British and Irish that just flowed into the ancestry stream recently. One would think from viewing the graph that you are mostly Italian, and that those genes entered a couple hundred years ago. Viewers are required to do a lot of reading and thinking to realize that their interpretation of the graph is totally wrong. That is the fault of the graph, not the viewer.

  6. you ask about quality control. there is none anywhere in the genetics industry that is verifiable. they can say anything they want,.. it is up to you, john q public to prove them wrong. now this is a horrible thing. how this has gotten this far without anyone stepping up to the plate and saying enough. i cannot say.

  7. Had I looked at this feature first, I could have beaten you to the article! “23andMe has thoroughly lost its mind!” Except I already sort of used that title. Family Tree DNA and GEDmatch thankfully each have “a clue.” Sigh.

      • The product directors at 23 don’t want to hear any complaints from their customers. They keep their corporate addresses secret from them. 23 has a forum with a moderator, Josie Sayegh. Her name is also kept secret. She is good at telling customers that their concerns will be passed along, but no one knows whether they are or not. Everything is routed through their Customer (we don’t) Care Dept.

  8. Canadians are spared since we are still in the original 23andMe… I wonder if we can request the transition to never happen!

  9. It is appalling that some of the testing companies get away with deceptive advertising and marketing ploys with erroneous information and without oversight from any governmental agency. Perhaps, time will change that. I still get ticked off that Ancestry leads people to believe that a tree match is a dna match without doing segment matching.

    Thank you for illuminating 23’s continued role in the bad information game.

  10. Well, for me, the B&I is correct, sort of, My Irish/Scottish grandmother’s father came over in 1860, her mother’s Scottish came over about 1760. The rest of my line is Colonial on both sides, Mom’s from New England and Dad’s from NY, NJ & PA. I have no known Finnish Ancestors nor South Asian that I can find. I am of English, Irish, Scott, Dutch and German Ancestry. I have yet to find any Eastern European and Scandinavian with in the 1750-1840 range as everyone was here between 1600-1690.

    I HATE the new 23andMe. It is difficult to navigate so I have not been there until today just to see this new ‘tool’. I have found all I need to from the old platform and don’t use it any more. I like Gedmatch and FTDNA much better.

    Thank you for another great article!


  11. Hello there may be a mistake in timing, but can not the place be true?
    How they calculated these geographical locations?
    ”Table 1: Admixture date estimates of simulated data. Using segment data from
    simulations, we tested the ability of the admixture mapping algorithm to estimate
    the correct bin of generations over 2,000 simulated individuals for each generation.
    On average, across generations, we witness an average of 94.5% accurate
    True generation Accuracy (%)
    1 100.0
    2 99.6
    3 99.0
    4 93.0
    5 91.1
    6 99.7
    7 99.8
    8 98.1
    9 86.0
    10 89.5

    what are you thinking?

    • My issue is not with the Britain/Ireland location, but with the fact that they indicated that my most recent non-admixed ancestor from the British Isles was born between 1900-1930 and not only is that NOT true, it’s extremely misleading. I do very clearly know that several of my ancestors, many generations back, were born in the British Isles. However, Scandinavia, Italy and Eastern Europe – nope. That ancestry, if it is accurate, simply cannot be charted to dates because it appears to be remnant ancient DNA in the population, not any sort of recent ancestry.

      • You seem to be quite married to the accuracy of documents over the accuracy of DNA, a very peculiar stance to take. We all know that traveling salesmen, roving rascals, and even sexual predators have left their DNA tracks in unexpected places, which were not at all documented and in fact were hidden by purposely false documentation. If you are descended from a hit and run rascal, you will never know it from documents. The documents that genealogists depend on are mere suggestions of the possible, not proof of truth. The only truth is in our DNA. I understand that you take exception to the way the company presents their results, but you cannot argue that your genealogical research is fact, as you have all over this page.

        • The whole point of DNA testing for genealogy is to confirm that genealogy by utilizing various types of DNA testing in combination with documents and with different types of DNA tests. If you do read the articles, you will see that approach over and over again.

      • Pamela – I apparently have a “Finnish” ancestor born in the early 1800s. Am I supposed to believe that hogwash? Or am I supposed to believe reality? Reality being I have a LOT of Scottish ancestry and Scots happen to score the highest “Finnish” %s for UKers on genetic tests.

        Genetic testing can not differinate northeastern British, such as my grandfather from Tyneside, from Dutch, Germans, or Scandinavians depending on what test done & the references. Does that mean his family really hasn’t lived in Tyneside for centuries? Or, as per a professional genetic test done on a person from Gateshead, should I believe in reality. Given as the Gateshead person had seven times “Anglo-Saxon” DNA versus Celtic. If you don’t know Anglo-Saxon does give a pseudo Germanic match for Brits.

  12. With autosomal DNA, I think the DNA needs to be taken with a “grain of salt”. All three companies have different databases & may use different algorithms. The also use different categories for the areas. None of the 3 companies (23&me, FamilyTree DNA & Ancestry) could agree on the portion of my DNA that wasn’t basically British/Irish about . My Dad’s mother was born in Ireland. And 23&me timeline is in right time period, and that same line had Scots. Some of other dates in timeline don’t match up with documented research.

  13. This is pretty exciting! “You most likely had a fourth great-grandparent, fifth great-grandparent, sixth great-grandparent, or seventh great (or greater) grandparent who was 100% Yakut. This person was likely born between 1670 and 1760.” The Yakuts are from the Russian Far East. The farthest east any of my ancestors are from is France … and I do have a number of lines back to 7th great grandparents. If “or greater” can mean 97th great grandparent, then maybe!

  14. If you actually read the white paper ( it states, “The admixture date provided is based on the ancestry segments estimated by Ancestry Composition, and is, consequently, dependent on their accuracy and specificity for accurate date estimation. Any genealogical history or ancestries that are not well captured by Ancestry Composition estimates may result in poor admixture date estimation, which typically results in older estimated dates of admixture.” In other words if your “Ancestry Composition” is not accurate, then this isn’t going to be accurate either.

    And continues, “Secondly, the admixture date is based on all segments of a particular ancestry. If multiple genealogical ancestors contributed independently, the admixture date may reflect these multiple ancestors in a complex way.” In other words if you have multiple lines from the same region, this isn’t going to be accurate.

    And continues, “If many segments, from independent ancestors, recombine to form longer segments, the estimated admixture date may be shifted towards a more recent date. This is especially likely in the case when segments cover over 50% of a genome. On the other hand, if many older genealogical ancestors contribute discrete, shorter segments, the estimated admixture date may be pushed back, reflecting a weighted average over the multiple ancestors’ generations.” In other words, this can be really, really inaccurate.

    Then concludes, “Lastly, it is important to note that the inheritance of segments in one genome from a genealogical ancestor is a highly stochastic process, resulting in overlapping inheritance patterns that are not distinguishable the further back in time you go, even under otherwise ideal conditions. Thus, some amount of uncertainty is inherent in the data, so we present admixture date results in bins that allow for some of this inherent randomness.” In other words, DNA ethnicity is a crap shot and that makes this possibly really really inaccurate.

    So, basically if your grandparents or great-grandparents all come from different regions that 23&Me can measure then this tool might be useful. Otherwise, it is likely to be really really inaccurate.

    • Yes, and my point is that nothing this incorrect should ever be displayed prominently while that verbiage is buried. It misleads people and the majority will simply accept their visible “answer” without reading the white paper or understanding what it means.

    • It goes that this concept of ‘ethnic’ ancestry analysis remains garbage. Garbage in, garbage out. So my parents are shown as having 20% British Isle in their grand parents. To go with Roberta – HOGWASH!!. No British Isle individuals in the family trees for 8-10 generations when the paper trail runs out. Anything which points to a British Isle component is wrong. In fact it should be recognized that that level of component probably represents the Angle, Saxon, and Viking contributions from Europe and be extracted out of the Isles. If that were to occur then maybe some of these fabrications could move into the realm of fantasy.

    • It would appear at this point in time the greatest Value in Biogeographic Analysis (BGA) or ethnic admixture is its Entertainment Value.

  15. Can you trade segments with other players and get more points? I have a Sardinian segment I can’t match to anyone in my known ancestry but someone else may have more luck with it …any takers? Is a Sardinian segment worth more than a Belarusian segment from any other company? Which segment do I play first? Ooops! Wrong game — sorry.

    • Marie, I had to laugh at your comment. But honestly, I have a Sardinian segment on chromosome 6 and I figured it most likely was from one of my early French Canadian ancestors. I think you just confirmed this for me! What makes no sense to me is a segment I have that 23&me has identified as Japanese. Really?? So, the Japanese were making there way over to early Quebec or Acadia? Or New England? The only southeast Asian I could have is Native American.

      • Hi, Joan. You know that is funny about your Japanese segment. My phased Native Autosomal DNA segment turned Asian Japanese when I passed it to my youngin’ — as seen on 23andme. As an aside, this same youngin’ holds my Native A2f1a mtDNA passed through generations of mothers from Anne Marie Pinet Rimbault; however, through the miracle of 23andme, when my phased Asian Native Autosomal DNA segment was passed by way of normal inheritance it turned Japanese! Our mtDNA didn’t do that. Passed from generation to generation, our mtDNA signature stayed the same, easily traced, marker for marker — with nothing lost in translation.

        Have you LOOKED at the Island of Sardinia on a Map? Now I’ve drawn a Sardinian segment, next hand, I’ll probably draw a Corsican — and how will I play that one???

        • My mother is showing some Asian as Yakut at 23andMe, but through GEDmatch we can see it is Native American, most probably Mi’kmak from where they lived. Ancestry has decided it is Melanesian… of course all less than 1%, which is reality because it is far back in time.
          For Sardinian – I find that too. In that case, it probably is from the south of France, but because Sardinia is somewhat unique in its genetic make-up, it has been studied a lot, so samples from there are probably overrepresented in the database and France is under-represented – so it picks the closest…

      • Marie and Suzanne, thanks for your helpful comments like the phased Asian Native autosomal DNA segment turning like that. I’ve never heard of this before. I’m going to safely assume this is what happened in my situation. It’s amazing how the mtDNA signature stays intact as it’s passed down, though. I have yet to figure out GEDmatch, I just got my 23&me results a few days ago…is that something I can even use since I did my DNA with 23&me?

        I haven’t looked at Sardinia on a map yet, but photos of it are beautiful! I would love to pack up and go there! Don’t give up that Sardinian segment yet, Marie!

      • Talking of odd ethnicities in these test, any of your girls have “Asia Minor” at FTDNA? My father has 4% and should only have French Canadian and Penobscots in his pedigree (plus Priscilla Melanson)…

      • Yes Marie, thank you for saying that about NA turning into Japanese. I have <.1% attributed to Japanese at 23andMe and, apart from assuming it's noise and ignoring it, I've thought that if it isn't it might be NA, but I wasn't sure because it is so specific. I take all Roberta's points about the timeline; at the same time, they put this 'Japanese' at 1690-1780'. Like so many American families mine has a tale about a NA. I have always just disregarded it since these stories are so often false. Despite the limitations of the timeline, I guess I won't rule out NA ancestry on one of my colonial lines. Japanese, uh, no.

        • Might it be some missionary or trader type European
          ‘contaminated’ the ethnic Japanese pool with some sequence that has persisted and incorporated into some measurable subset of Japanese samples?

        • Lol. I have tracked the Native American piece down to a specific reservation in Canada, but my relatives were also French. It also cracks me up how they keep changing all the Northern European countries and that they just cannot fool me with. I know about all the French, German, Scotch and Irish… so why would they change it now and I also know about the southern European; will they be changing that too? Maybe it is like the astrology thing where every couple years they want you to buy new volumes and new books and they change the planet names, etc…. I refuse to spend anymore money on those things.

  16. Thank you Roberta for you review on this new feature. I have not been to pleased with 23andMe. This is also the same company that told me that *You are not likely to have red hair*. This is funny because I was born with Red hair I show this result to my friends and they laugh when they see it. Major fail of 23andMe.

  17. I do not understand the negative emotion. For the complete beginner, this is interesting. A lot of people were asking questions like – when approximately did my Afro-American ancestor live?
    For a more advanced users (genetic genealogist), I am sure there will be plenty of secondary information (blogs,, forums) so even if you do not read the white paper, you will understand this expects pure ancestors. If you have a lot of mixed ones, the numbers are overly recent.
    The white paper explains these topics very well and you taking some sentences from out without citing the more relevant ones is not scientific at all. Rather a tabloid approach…

  18. A couple thoughts:

    * 23andMe is a tool for people to discover their ancestry and it’s done probabilistically. I don’t think it’s claimed to do anything otherwise.

    *. Sometimes our genealologies are incorrect in terms of documentation and biological parentage. How could we possibly know every sensitive family situation back eons? Even 100 years?

    *. It Does indeed bring real families together. I’ve seen this personally.

    *. Using the word “hogwash” actually repeatedly hurts the argument. You may have great points I. here, but I was distracted from the tone. It just read like an opinion piece.

    • As a 73 year old woman, I respond as a “Child of the South”. You think it reads like an opinion piece? Roberta IS a professional genetic genealogist who gives her opinion based on facts as she interprets them. That is why we subscribe to her blog: To read her opinion.

      “Hogwash” is a southern colloquialism and southerners are not offended by the word used multiple times. Perhaps, you would prefer the British equivalent and euphemistic “Poppycock”.

      • Its fine with me, but the value of the article (a lot of thought went in to her analysis) can be diminished in the eye of the reader with a lot of colloquialisms.

        Essentially, this reader was distracted from an otherwise thoughtful piece. Just a point of feedback.

  19. Hello Roberta,I love your articles. I was looking at the 23andMe ancestry timeline along with the chromosome painting and came to the same “Hogwash” conclusion. The top of the set of each chromosome in the chromosome painting is supposed to represent the country (region) of origin of my mother’s DNA that she passed on to me as she has also tested with 23andMe and I know they are wrong. I’ve done the tedious task of mapping me and my sisters maternal and paternal inheritances. (MY father was able to test with FTDNA before he passed on.) Also, the TV commercials really bother me, because they give the false illusion that a person can automatically know their heritages if they test with them. We know that unless a person does the family tree research and DNA confirmation using the reputable tools provided by FTDNA and Gedmatch a person won’t truly know. Why emphasizes this, knowing that these heritage prediction are cute, but in many cases wrong, I can’t understand. I guess it’s their need for money even at the risk of making their DNA department even more irrelevant than it already is. Thanks for your good work, /Rich PacotBillings, MT

    —————————————–Cc: Sent: 17-Jan-2017 19:06:05 +0000 Subject: [New post] Calling HOGWASH on 23andMe’s Ancestry Timeline

    robertajestes posted: “Every now and then, I’m aghast when I look at a product and wonder how the devil it ever escaped the lab. Is there no quality control? And who thought it was a good idea, anyway, and why? 23andMe’s new Ancestry Timeline, released last week, is one of”

  20. I am very disappointed in 23 & Me. I have been trying to straighten out several issues with them, to no avail. I have spent the money to have the DNA for about 15 known relatives and 2 that turned out to be just family friends. I have most of these names on my profile page. One person, with their permission, that I’ve been trying to get put on my profile without success. Another issue is trying to establish my paternal line without success. This problem has been maddening. Then they toss in a half sister, that I know is really a double first cousin. Then the latest problem is that I received an email of a supposedly cousin, that I can’t even find. When I called in a representative with limited English and a heavy accent answered, she couldn’t understand me, and I couldn’t understand her, after 15 minutes of trying, I gave up and discontinued the call. Thank you for lending me an ear. I enjoy your emails. Very informative. Gail

  21. Thanks for the answer.I wanted to be Ashkenazi and Eastern European.Ancestry Timeline is exactly like this.I was surprised by it, but it did not make any sense.What do you recommend for someone who is at the beginning level.Which company is more reliable? Which method is more important in DNA etc.

  22. Just thought I’d throw my two cents in. My ancestry timeline has five categories, quite varied in years and lengths, and, at least according to my family tree, it’s perfectly accurate. Not to say that 99% of others might be hogwash.

    Don’t we always have to keep in mind that our family trees only show marriages? Not who is actually having sex with whom?

      • I’m not so naive as to believe I’m really made up of all the people on my family chart. The most active genealogist in my family was adopted. She doesn’t care a whit about finding her birth family. She believes that who she is was most influenced by the character and experiences of those who raised her, and those who raised them, generation upon generation… not on whose sperm ended up where. But I guess this is another subject…

  23. The fundamental flaw in 23andMe’s reasoning is to act as if the intermingling of different “immigrant streams” in America only happened recently.

    Let me give you an example of what I’m talking about. My father was born in central Pennsylvania in 1930. His parents were also born there, as were his parents, and their parents. In fact, my father’s ancestry in PA goes back to the mid-18th century.

    Now, of all the places from which people were immigrating to Pennsylvania during that period, two that stand out are: the British Isles and the German Palatine. And my father’s ancestry not surprisingly consists of a pretty even mix of these two.

    From that standpoint, 23andMe’s estimate that he’s 45.0% “British & Irish” is actually probably not far off the mark. (The “French & German” estimate of only 20.5% is another matter, and may reflect that Germans themselves have long been fairly admixed.)

    But these two strains of ancestry — British & German — didn’t wait until recent times to begin intermarrying. So while 23andMe says that it was probably a “parent, grandparent, or great grandparent” of my father who was likely “100% British & Irish”, it definitely was not that recent.

    In fact, as nearly as I can tell, the most recent of my father’s ancestors who might have been “100% British & Irish” was a Scots-Irish 3rd great grandfather (4th great grandfather to me). Even this person’s ancestors, however, had been in America long enough to have become joined to other ancestral groups — I just don’t know.

    Again, I don’t think this is anything unusual. If you tested every person in my father’s hometown, they’d probably almost *all* show up with a combination of British ancestry and German. Some would also include Italian, or Eastern European, or both. This ancestry would almost certainly be through *both* parents, unless one was from outside the area.

  24. Roberta, I think you make several valid points about problems with the new Ancestry Timeline feature that 23andMe has introduced. However, I think you might be judging it a bit harshly.
    Unfortunately, we all know that 23andMe isn’t very good responding to user inquiry, tends to be defensive when it does respond, and is less than opaque at communicating how it calculates certain things (despite the white paper which provides “technical details” on how the timeline works—clearly, their understanding of technical details and mine are worlds apart). On top of all this, 23andMe made some decisions in how to display which further opens up the possibility of misleading interpretations.
    First, although their calculations and presentation is based on number of generations (as all of genealogy and genetics must be), they have chosen to include approximate dates as well to help us interpret these generations, and be able to compare generations for people born at different times. [For examples, in the profiles I manage, the timelines start with each decade from 1900 to 1940 — which correspond to the parental generation for the individuals concerned.]
    Because of this, any comparisons made to check the validity of the timeline predictions, should be calculated based on generation from subject rather than actual years of birth.
    Furthermore, to compare the timeline predictions with our immigrant ancestors fails to recognize that it is not immigration that delineates origin, but rather admixture.
    So, for example, while I do have several German immigrant ancestors between seven and nine generations back; my timeline says my most recent “French & German” ancestor was between two and four generations back. “Hogwash,” I thought. And then I realized that although my great grandfather had been American for eight generations, every single one of those intermediary Americans was 100% German — all their ancestors were descended solely from Germany immigrants, even though the last one had come over in 1692!
    I’m not saying that the timeline is perfect, any more that the early ethnicity tools were (or are) perfect. However, at least for my family line and two lines of in-laws, while I can’t confirm everything the timeline implies, I have been surprised at how accurate it tracks what I do know.
    One last comment, since I tangentially referred to it, and you brought it up in more than one context in your post. Ethnic percentages are no guide either to whether a group will be included in the timeline, nor position on the timeline, which after a bit of reflection should be no surprise. The ethnicity figures have to do with “how much of” something is present, whereas the timeline has to do with “how unbroken” that something is. So it is not unusual to see on the timeline something with a lower ethnic concentration while something with a higher concentration doesn’t even appear.

  25. I also would like to note a difference between 23andMe’s approach, and Ancestry’s. Both companies, of course, are sometimes guilty of exaggeration or generalization, but Ancestry does do one thing I think is very helpful.

    To see it, you have to look beyond the percentages. If you actually click on one of your ancestries, they you can see the *range* of the results of the 40 tests runs they do; the percentage they show you is actually the *average* of these runs.

    But in addition, Ancestry not only says where a particular ancestry is “primarily found”, they also tell you where it’s *also* found. Let’s say, for example, that Ancestry says you have 2% Scandinavian ancestry — as they do for me — and you scratch your head, because as far as you know, you don’t have any.

    Well, while they tell you that this ancestry is “primarily found” in Sweden, Norway, and Denmark — i.e., Scandinavia — they say it’s “also found” in “Great Britain, France, Germany, Netherlands, Belgium, the Baltic States, Finland”.

    Further, they show how “natives of this area” score in Scandinavia component. It turns out, according to Ancestry, that a “typical native” doesn’t score 100%, but just 84%. And *some* people in their sample collection scored as low as 29%.

    There’s also a section that talks about “other regions commonly seen in people native to the Scandinavia region”. Interestingly, nearly a quarter of folks in Ancestry’s sample showed some percentage of “Great Britain”. So clearly there must be some sort of connection between “Scandinavia” and “Great Britain”. (There was historically, so why shouldn’t it show in DNA testing?)

    There are a lot of things Ancestry *doesn’t* get right — like the failure to provide some sort of chromosome browser — but here, I think, they do a somewhat better job than 23andMe at presentation. You just have to dig a little bit.

  26. I have tested autosomal with all three sites mentioned. Mainly to confirm quality assurance. My results were very close. I have also done Big Y and full mTDNA with FT. I am a mongrel which is fine with me. My brother’s ethnicity percentage is considerably different than mine and my half brothers is also different. The cM validates our genetic relationship as to all the other cousins tested. I love using GEDmatch. I did chuckle some on the results of the current topic here. Mine looked pretty flakey.

  27. I also had some discrepancies with 23 and me. I am sure that I have Iberian and Northern European roots as well as Middle Eastern and Native American Roots. All of the ethnicities I mentioned, are within four generations and not 6 to 8. Do you know of another reliable test I could try? I have done the national geographic one already. Thanks

  28. “Money talks, bullshit walks.” Bad enough that 23 dabbles in genealogy. They know even less about history, but pretty graphics sell, and ignorant consumers are impressed with it. 23 certainly knows how to make money by peddling bullshit.

  29. Thank you, this article has been very helpful! I was unaware that 23andMe had recently changed their features. I recently submitted my first (and possibly only) sample. I am now prepared for the disappointment. This is frustrating because I chose to submit my half brother’s sample; he is becoming excited about genealogy, but I am having a difficult time making him understand the importance of accuracy. He is the type that is a bit too eager to find his supposed link to whatever “royalty” he descends from. Now I’m regretting giving him another tool to support his myths.

    • 23 is useful in a few ways, but disappointing in many others. With all that you now know, you will need to find a way to break it to him gently – or bluntly, depending on the situation, your assessment of it, and your relationship with him. Once anyone is able to get over the fantasy of their genealogical expectations, we all become faced with the reality of who we are and those from which we came. Some are embarrassed or feel shamed by their ancestral past; some glorify themselves in it, some deny it, and some ultimately accept everything about themselves, both past and present – good, bad and indifferent. Those who are of the latter have reached a higher level of understanding about themselves. Involvement with genealogy can be a first and important step toward that understanding. Some ‘get it’, and some never can. Either way, the process usually and often involves the passage of time.

  30. Now last year, my mtDNA line was Ashkenazi Jewish and related to Katie Couric, Meryl Streep and Stephen Colbert. Now this year, 2017 they say something totally different. Is our ethnicity going to change every year? Lol! Am I German, Scotch, Irish and English or Jewish? I know for a fact the French and Indian is true, but the rest is so confusing. It’s kind a like astrology; they ( whoever they are) keep changing things, so you can buy new books to find your horoscope. Profit is in there somewhere

    • Just curious are you in the K group and which subtype? i’m k1a1b1b, and had Colert and Streep posted, too. if you are not, then the Hogwash is even hoggier since it places the shared ancestor so ridiculously far back as to be meaningless.

        • That’s exactly what I suspected – they are telling all K group people we have a common ancestor which across groups would put the theorized common ancestor so many dozens of thousand years back as to be meaningless. Deceptive I call that.

          Notably, the subgroups K1a1b1b and K1a1b1a for example are so different as to be uninterpretable, the first being a relatively recent British Isles subtype while the latter has significant associations with Ashkenazim in Europe. I’ve never even looked to see what the origiins of K1a are.

      • Supposedly Meryl Streep and Stephen Colbert are my mother’s third cousins… does that mean we are cousins?… At least this week according to 23 and me.
        The K1a group is linked with Ashkenazi

  31. Thank you for sharing. This was very educational as well as informative. I however will not get this done as I was going to but not no more.

  32. Hi,
    Has anyone on lost their DNA shared green leaves? My mother lost 47 green leaves in one day, and now she only has 5 left. My Aunt Judi lost 16, and I lost nearly 8. I called Ancestry support, and they said that there was a glitch in the system. That was four days ago, and nothing has been fixed. Many of our DNA matches did not change their trees.

  33. My only question is, what if someone cheated on a husband somewhere way back when and got pregnant, then wouldn’t what the records say be different than what DNA actually is? I don’t know how accurate these DNA tests are but I think there is wiggle room for many possibilities to arise.

  34. I’m beyond grateful for this article. My ancestry is not well known but the timeline still threw me off.
    I’m 84% West/Sub Saharan African with 14% British and Irish ancestry along with small bits of Native, S.E Asian, and Iberian.

    The timeline shows my most recent ancestor as being 100% black. And the others are further back about 5-8 gens ago. I’m confused that the African ancestry doesn’t also go back that far. It just shows as appearing in the 1880s.

    Im honestly at a loss here. And this was my first time getting DNA tested…did I make a horrible mistake in choosing 23andMe??

    • I wouldn’t say you make a horrible mistake, but you didn’t pick the best and you picked the most difficult to unravel. What were you hoping to discover? Family Tree DNA offers much more specific testing. You can read about the different kinds of DNA testing here:

      Family Tree DNA is the only one to offer the Y and mitochondrial DNA testing. Ancestry has the largest autosomal data base. Most people, who are serious, test at least at Family Tree DNA and Ancestry, and then sometimes at 23andMe. You just went in the reverse order. But where you test and which tests depends on what you wanted to discover in the first place.

      • Roberta, I had my autosomal test done with 23 and did the DNA transfer to FTDNA with the unlock for all the features. The test results are so different between the two companies.
        23 shows 0% Scandinavian, FTDNA 19%. 23 shows 2% Southern European, FTDNA has 24%. 23 has 17% French/German, FTDNA has 0% Western Europe (on paper I’m 1/4 French Canadian/Acadian on my mom’s side and another 25% French/German on my dad’s side.) They were close with the British/Irish results, but that’s it. These are big variances in the numbers and both companies are way off. Are the “My Origins” results done differently for a DNA transfer person like me? Thanks

        • They can only utilize the limited number of locations that are the same between FTDNA and 23andMe, V4, which is the current chip level. It’s only about half of what FTDNA tests for utilizing their own test. So you’re going to get less reliable results with a transfer file than if you test with them on their own platform. There is a $59 upgrade option for anyone who has paid the $19 unlock fee that gets you a test on their own platform.

          Ethnicity from any vendor should be considered estimates. This article might help you understand.

      • A friend told me about Family Tree after I already paid for 23andMe unfortunately. I wish I had known about them before.
        I wasn’t too sure about Ancestry. But I can see how it’s so difficult to unravel. I just wanted to get a head start on understanding my ethnicity and the origins of my ancestors.

      • Ok, thanks Roberta. That makes more sense to me now and has me thinking to go for the upgrade. With my 58% British/Irish, I figured that I might have some Scandanavian, but to go from zero to 19%, what a jump!

  35. Roberta, surprisingly my percentages adjusted quite a bit, and my kit is an autosomal transfer. Some of the changes make sense like the Scandanavian dropping from 19 to 5%. It even shows some trace amounts now for West Middle East. However, now I suddenly have 32% Eastern European, which is totally new. Is the V4 chip you mentioned in previous post still throwing off percentages? I also dont see the $59 upgrade option anymore. Has that gone away? Thanks

    • I believe the $59 upgrade option is still in place. Did you click on the blue upgrade button on the top right? V4 kits from 23andMe and V2 from Ancestry can expect a lot lower resolution because FTDNA only has half as many markers to work with. V3 23andMe and V1 Ancestry should be the same as having tested at FTDNA.

  36. Pingback: Which DNA Test is Best? | DNAeXplained – Genetic Genealogy

  37. Pingback: 23andMe’s “Your DNA Family” Feature | DNAeXplained – Genetic Genealogy

  38. I read this chart differently. I presume their estimates are based on the quantity of genetic material found in the subject that are commonly found in each ethnicity. Owing to the fact that as you go back in time you have less and less percentage of each great grandparent. So I would presume she has mostly British & Irish “genes” followed by German & French, then Scandinavian, and less and less percentages of the remaining ethnic genes. So the British and Irish are most certainly from both parents and 4 Grandparents. The German and French most likely from 8 Gr GP and 16 2x Gr GPs. Scandinavian , Eastern European, and Italian, likely from some of the 32 3x Gr GP thru 258 6x Gr GP or more…. and so forth. I don’t believe that out of more than 500 Great Grandparents that NONE had Scandinavian, Eastern European or Italian in them. I wouldn’t be so quick to cry foul.

  39. lol, I guess it does not apply here the famous quote; “…guilt by genetic association.”
    In my case, based on the small amount of information that I do have, that is, the timetable seems logical. Checking on my data, using US Census 1910 thru 1940, family info.,etc., In my first generation, as in 23andme Timeline, that is, my parents were born in 1925, and 30, so there is nothing in the table, but mentions 1930. The second one says nothing, but 1900, and, again, very certain, since my grandparents, on both sides are from 1898, and 1900. I knew my Great Grandmother on my mother’s line, who was born around 1870, which the timeline reflects as my third generation. That’s the generation from which I always heard stories of been descendants from Spaniards. So, there is a bar from my 4th thru 7th generations showing an Iberian descendant. The other bars, beneath it are associated to it, I think, due to the admixtures occurred in Spain by times: British and Irish, West African, (this one I expected it nearest in time), Italian, Sardinian, …Native American, all from the 6th thru the 8th+ generations. Sounds logical, to me! Test performed during July 2017. Maybe they improved on it !!!

  40. Not saying you have strong reasons to be suspicious, but you can only really trust the maternal line in your family tree. People would be surprised at how much uh, you know, hanky panky has gone on in the past. Particularly among European populations, the results would hardly be noticeable (visually). And then some of these categories seem arbitrary, especially given any knowledge of the history. e.g. Why are English-Irish, French-German grouped together but not Italo-French or Franco-Spanish or 100’s cluster groups within Europe alone.

  41. I returned to 23andMe when they e-mailed me of their updates. I found that some of the percentages had changed but what really suprised me was this new function. First let me explain a bit about myself. Born in the UK all known family born in the same county for hundreds of years inland away from coastal ports and sailors 😉 lol Farming farming families all. Fathers line IM-223 Mother HV9.

    I’m not saying the findings are wrong (though they don’t agree with all the other commercial and academic studies I’ve taken part in) but this latest function is suggesting that each generation I one or both sides of my family either were members travelling circus crossing Europe or unknown communities have been in rural Yorkshire for centuries without anyone knowing.

    I had been led to believe my Sardinian component was related to my Y line IM-223 going back to the ice age. Doesn’t seem to fit in 500 years?

  42. Good to see a good and sober opinion on this matter. I think what a lot of people here are not getting is that these genetic testing services rely on algorithms based upon reference populations. Given how many groups have shared ancient ancestry and complex dynamics, this makes for results which may confuse people. Also, there’s the factor of simple statistical noise.

    I score a little bit of Yakut on there. I don’t suppose I have any actual Turkic/Siberian ancestry. At least from the historical era. Rather, this is just how the program interprets some ancestry shared among northern Eurasians in general.

    This stuff is dangerous because it has the potential to pollute people’s knowledge of their own family history and how they pass it on to their kids. 23andme is a product and let’s face it- a lot of people purchase it to “discover” some farflung ancestry exotic to their expectations. I’m not saying testing itself is “dangerous”, but the way parts of the mainstream services are presenting the results. It’s partly sensationalism.

  43. I had a small amount of Sub Saharan African that showed up and it was not on this timeline either, yet a region in which I received a lower percentage did. I don’t get it at all.

  44. i am from the south of india. apparently, i have a 100% finnish ancestor who may have been born between 1700-1790. its hilarious! the only connection i have with finland is that my language is tamil which belongs to the same linguistic family as sami and estonian and hungarian..called finno-ugric family of languages. the old 23andme reports said that i may have east europeon/turkish ancestors. i can only guess that it is not genetic at all, but maybe they are looking at migratory patterns and linguistic family roots. i have a feeling its code gone rogue.

    • Lol… I had a ton of matches from Iberia which is where my family is from and they all had northern and western African genetics… however I tested with another company and now they are telling me I am Oceanian and Australian! This was hilarious to me so I am the only one in my family who has Southeast Asian gene flow … lol! Hogwash ( stealing everyone’s comment ) ! I should be mostly French, Iberian and Native American! Maybe, they think I want to get some money from the government, however we are not even American Indians; we are Canadians… lololol!

  45. Thank you for this article. I ordered the National Geographic DNA testing for my parents several years ago when the haplogroup studies were starting and my mother’s side showed as expected some Native American. Weird question this because the only one we knew to be Native American of any percentage was her mother who is thought to be either hundred percent or half-breed who ended up location we at the end of the Trail of Tears but at wrong time. In approximately 2015 I took a 23andMe test to get the raw data for medical reasons. It has been helpful in that at least one mutation almost fully explains some issues I’ve had. But genealogical e it shows that I have zero Asian and almost full European only even though both my parents had mixed heritage’s according at least two the information available in the National Geographic study. I would love for someone to Trace back or even confirm my mother’s mother and father but I am unsure if that will ever happen. Maternal grandmother was put into foster care as a toddler and “passed as white” , supposedly, her whole life. We’re not really sure about any of this the only thing we do know is that we caught her in lies constantly and she even would move out in the middle of the night when she became dependent on her children to find homes or apartments for her in her later years. The sort of behavior is understandable if she truly was taken from a tribe put in the foster care system and forceful about herself and an early age, we had hoped DNA testing might provide some clarification. But of course now my DNA testing through 23 Me shows that my mother isn’t my mother I always wondered why she didn’t really like me much compared to my siblings.

  46. I know a great deal from my family tree and when my daughter told me about the timeline she got from 23andme, I was surprised. It was about 100 to 200 years off 😀. I have one ancestor I was curious about, because her name was Beatrice Roccatagliata and was born about 1625 in Goor, in the Netherlands. Now, this is a village near Genoa and we know that General Spinola travelled to Holland around 1600 and set up camp in … Goor. So I was pretty sure we had Italian or Iberian in the results, but … Nada! There was Sardinian however and that could be that connection, because of the percentage (< 0.1% 😂 ). The only one in the timeline which was correct, was her mother, 100% Thai, and my daughter was exactly 50/50 European/South-East Asian …. well, I could have told her 🤣. I think it is amusing and ordered too, because I am now curious how my daughters result will compare to mine … well, got to spit first! 😃

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