23andMe Makes More Improvements to Ancestry Features

23andMe’s popular Ancestry Composition just got a little better.

The feature estimates what percentage of your DNA comes from populations around the world, breaking down the Asian, African or European ancestry to give you insight into the geographic origins of your ancestors going back many generations.

African American Example

An example of an African American’s customer’s Ancestry Composition.

Customers should start seeing the update to their Ancestry Composition over the next several weeks. It will offer people with African or Asian ancestry greater detail than they had before. We added several additional reference populations — for a total of 31.

Customer’s ancestry results are broken down by region, and then subregions and then even finer detail. So for example, we may breakdown the results of someone of African Ancestry by first identifying the percentage of “Sub-Saharan African Ancestry.” That in turn might be broken down between percentages of west, African, central and south African.

The update allows 23andMe to offer individuals with African ancestry more detail into whether their ancestors came from eastern Africa, western Africa, southern Africa or central Africa. This is similar to how 23andMe reports out data for people of European ancestry, but 23andMe is not yet able to break down African ancestry by country or tribe. We are currently working on an African Ancestry Project, which we hope will ultimately improve results for people with African ancestry.

An example of an Asian American's ancestry results.

An example of an Asian American’s ancestry results.

Customers with Asian ancestry will get much more detail into their ancestry, breaking ancestry between eastern Asia, southeastern Asia and south Asia. In addition the update will now provide much more detail for customers with East Asian ancestry by breaking down that ancestry among five countries — China, Japan, Korea, Mongolia and eastern Russia (people with Yakut ancestry).

23andMe is conservative in making ancestry assignments, so in many cases we may list a certain percentage of a customer’s results as “non-specific” to a particular region. A customer’s results may include a certain percent of “Non-Specific Northern European” ancestry, for example. That simply means that while 23andMe has identified the broader region of their ancestry, we do not have enough information to be able to predict the country of origin for that ancestry. We do offer customers the opportunity to select a more “speculative estimate,” which can sometimes give them more detail.

  • http://hartford.tumblr.com/ Tiffany H

    Anything more specific for South Asians this time around?

  • Sb

    Why do some of the options have question marks next to them for me? For instance, all of the Sub-Saharan African categories, the East Asian subcategories, and the Southeast Asian category? They’re where the percentage would be on the left side. I don’t know if that just means they need to be loaded for me in time, or if there’s something I should be seeing or what? Thanks for the help.

    • Sb

      Never mind, someone pointed out if I hovered over the question marks (I had tried to click on them, but not hover) that it said “Not computed yet” :)

  • Michael Belgrove

    I was wondering why Ashkenazi is now green instead of blue like the rest of Europe

    • 23blog

      So it is more easily identifiable.

      • Michael Belgrove

        Any particular reason why you would want to make it more identifiable among Europe? Are Ashkenazi that different?

        • Jean-Paul

          Yes, a Middle Eastern group with a smaller than surrounding populations admixes (more homogenous group), living in Central and Eastern Europe. This will mean that they definitely have a distinct genetic makeup.

  • Gerald Alexander Lopez Castell

    By using the Biaka/Mbuti and the San for “Central” Africa is very much useless for new worlders as none of us have direct ancestry from them, but rather indirect via the congolese/angolan, and i nkow you guys dont have these samples, but essentially all of us new world african descendants will come out like almost exclusively West African, with small bits of Pygmy which you guys are calling central-south african, and small bits of East African which is really Masai/Ethiopian, using the publicly available dataset of sudanese nilotes would make a nice extra east african category, i applaud the new technology and intiative but honestly, none of us are going to get much of a breakdown like this…. It would have been much better to use South-African bantu’s and the Luhya in Kenya for a “Bantu” cluster, or two bantu clusters, ive done this myself on admixture using only like 100k snp’s im sure you guys can do it bette, i dotn understand why this wasn’t done instead of using the pygmy populations which none of us come from.

  • puddytoes

    I was wondering that too.

  • Nabil

    Why are southwest asian populations like the Bedouins, Palestinians, Saudis and Yemenis grouped under *North Africa*? A *South Middle-East* or *Arabian* component wouldn’t be more appropriate for these populations ? The actual *Middle-East* could be a *North Middle-East* component and the *North Africa* will only refer to real north African populations like Tunisians, Mozabites(Algerians), Algerians and Moroccans

    • hernandayoleary

      Because the majority of people living in north africa today moved there during the colonial period from parts of the Ottoman empire in west asia like the Middle East. Remember this test goes back just 500 years.

      For the majority of north africans whose ancestors come from the middle east, your dna is going to come back as middle eastern so the 2 are just lumped together.

      Many of the modern North African people are genetically indistinguishable from Palestinians, saudis, yemenis, and people from the former ottoman empire aka “arab” countries. hence it actually makes sense. For instance, I am shown as having mozabite dna but its not listed as arab or north african but rather west african. Yet mozabites are algerian berbers, I guess its just the way they chose to seperate out indigenous algerians from ones with recent immigrant ancestry.

      • jemel

        Never heard anything so wrong. and i’m polite.

        “majority of people living in north africa today moved there during the colonial period from ottoman empire in west asia”
        Are you serious when you write this ?
        Every single wrod that you wrote is wrong.
        -> the majority of north african people are from berber ethnicity or egyptian ethnicity (in egypt).
        -> the people from west asia didnt came with ottoman period but came with islam around 8th century and with banu hilal tribes (around 11th century)
        -> the arabs who came were a minority in north africa. They have been mixed with the indigenous people but the local ethnicity is still the majority.
        -> people who came with ottoman empire are extremly rare and we know them by the type and by their family names.

        The 23andme “north african” group is a joke.
        It is made with 146 north african sample and 103 midle eastern arab samples.
        And the “middle eastern” group is made with turks, cyprus, persians etc….
        im totally disapoint with their methods.

        And if you don’t see the difference between a saudi or koweiti and an north african, it just mean you don’t know anything about these populations.
        Even a blind can see the differences between them.

        23andme should split their “north african” sample into real north african and south middle eastern or should change it title and write “arab and north african” instead.of the fake “north african” title.

        • Youcef

          Thank You Jemel.

  • Anthony

    I’m h
    aving some doubts that 23andme’s African Ancestry Project will get a decent turnout. I’ve talked to probably over 50 West African residents on Facebook and only like 3 of them said they’d check it out, which doesn’t mean that they will check it out or that they will participate in it. Some others said flat out that they are not interested, and the rest just ignored it. I don’t think there will be a good turnout for the project. I hope I’m wrong.

  • Anthony

    African Americans will still get the low single digit “unassigned” and most will still get the less than 2% “East Asian & Native American” which is most likely statistical noise?

  • Yashna

    Are there any plans to expand on South Asian ancestry? Because all my analysis shows is South Asian and I would really like more details on that.

    • 23blog

      Yashna, We are continually updating the ancestry features. The team that worked on those features created a sort of “learning algorithm” so that as we get more data we can return more results. We will continue to make improvements and improve the results customers get.

  • 23blog

    Just to clarify, 2 percent is not likely statistical noise. Under 1 percent perhaps but over 1 percent while low is significant.

  • 23blog

    Anthony, we’ve actually been very fortunate to have a lot of individuals respond and have gotten a lot more individuals in a short amount of time than we thought. The sign up is still open at the moment.

  • April Harkness

    Uh, Just East Asian? This HAlf Filipina is DISAPPOINTED. There’s more to Asia than Korea, Japan and China- like all of SOUTHEAST ASIA. How about Vietnam, Cambodia, Indonesia and heck the Philippines..etc. Let me guess. I’ll be lumped into China….

    • Patriarchy Pete

      East Asians are mostly African anyway, so you’re covered. :)

    • Seriously6kids?

      You should learn how to read more carefully before posting a comment shouting how disappointed you are. It says it’ll break it down into different parts of Asia (
      South, SE and East) and those that are East Asian can now be further broken down into the five sub-groups. You will not be lumped into China. SMH.

  • Sucheta Potnis

    Hi. I am Indian and would like to participate. I am guessing this isnt a problem due to the DNA sample traveling over the distance? Also have some specific worry about a medical condition from my son in law’s family being passed on to my grand child. Would the DNA analysis of both parents help with predicting what are the chances for this? Thanks and look forward to hear your advice.

  • 23blog

    It depends on the medical condition. Here is the link to the health reports we do: https://www.23andme.com/health/all/.

  • Jean-Paul Armache

    I recently realized that my ancestry composition changed dramatically. From less than 1% estimate of one of the populations, now it indicates 13.5. Is it due to a growing number of participants and more detailed information, or could it something else ?

    • Scott23H

      We have added in additional reference populations and added more individuals to the database. Using that information we’ve been able to recalculate Ancestry Composition so some individuals are seeing changes. More often they are smaller changes, but in your case it looks much more dramatic. What was less than 1 percent that is now 13.5 percent? I’m assuming this was reassigned from a nonspecific category.

  • Scott23H

    I’ve got a comment from a guy that said his AC went from 12 percent Italian now that’s not indicated but it says he has 1 percent Middle Eastern.
    We’ve updated reference populations and also added more people to our database so that we are more able to accurate predict ancestry composition. As for the change in your AC some of this is a function of people with South European ancestry. Particularly people with Italian ancestry. Those predictions are a bit more difficult because of known similarities to Middle Eastern and North Africans. That said the Ancestry Composition we now return to customers is more accurate.

  • Scott23H

    We do now have additional Asian and African reference populations, but we also have a lot more customers. The prediction for AC is improved with that larger dataset.

  • Scott23H

    I’d say in general yes. The more numbers we get the more precision we can get in prediction. The predictive model built by our researchers improves as the database grows. Regarding your last question, are you asking about your Central Asian ancestry results or asking about our reference populations?

  • Stan

    I am quite disappointed with the updated to AC. I am not sure how to trust the new information as it is so different from the statistics that I used to see before the upgrade. It just shows that the level of “accurateness” it so flexible that with “another” upgrade you fill find yourself in a completely different category.

    • Scott23H

      I’m not sure about what was changed, so it would be hard for me to respond to your criticism. A more common experience is that the new assignments are more specific.

  • Scott23H

    Jean-Paul, Yes as we grow our database we will likely improve our ability to make Ancestry Composition predictions. And yes if we get additional reference populations — not just in Asia but in Africa as well — we will be able to return more detailed results to customers with ancestry from those regions.

  • Diana

    Are there any plans to divide Southeast Asia into specific countries? I just found out that I am 5% Southeast Asian and would like more details. Thanks!

  • Derek T Pomaranski

    I have a question. About a year or two ago my 2nd cousin on moms side took your test. He showed up as 99.4% European and 0.5% sub-saharan african. We share his mothers paternal side. His fathers parents are from Poland and his mother claims she has traced her mothers line back to the 1000AD. Her fathers line we have traced back in some cases to the mid 1700s. I do geneology as we’ll and neither she nor I have come across anythjng to make us suspect any african ancestry. In fact we are all very European looking. My mother and brother tan fairly we’ll, but her father is half Hungarian and he tans we’ll. these results do not reflect HIS lineage. What I am curious about is could this be a mistake, just “noise” as I have read, or somethjng else?

    • hernandayoleary

      Adjust ancestry composition to conservative, if it is still showing .5% sub-saharan then you with 90% or more confidence have sub-saharan dna. That is not surprising, the dna can go very far back particularly in the neolithic and ancient period there were many sub-saharan migrations into europe. .5% african is not enough to affect your appearance. There have been people with as high as 20-35% african dna and appear to be normal looking white people. One famous example is robin thicke’s son who is 25% african dna and appears to be blonde hair white.

      And although you may be able to trace your ancestry back in Poland to 1000 A.D. how do you know that some of those ancestors were not black? Polish doesn’t always equal white.

      Władysław Franciszek Jabłonowski was a black polish brigadier-general who fought with Tadeusz Kościuszko in the Kościuszko Uprising against imperial russia and Prussia. He was the leader of the 6000 man danube legion there were other black Polish in the 1700s of prominence like George Bridgetower famous classical musician. And this was in the 1700s. The only reason we know he was black is because he is mentioned in a letter by Napolean and Davout who were his classmates. Had he not been of prominence no one would ever know he was black and he would just be assumed to be Polish and therefore white.

      You might find there was actually a sizeable presence of sub-saharan people in north/central europe during the late middle ages, some of them like dumas, pushkin, king medici, gannibal and queen charlotte, Chevalier de Saint-George even rose to prominence as aristocrats, kings, queens, generals, world renown writers and commanders in the army. Some are more controversial like louis xiv as some documents describe him as black, he was calld the sun king and he has a daughter whose portrait appears black Louise Marie-Therese, the black Nun of Moret but his portraits appear to be white. Europe has been multiracial and multiethnic for a very long time. I’d be more surprised by someone who was only white than someone with small 5 or 10% african ancestry at this point. Just read around the board, there are few of us here who have no african ancestry regardless how we look.


    Why 23andMe ignored Central Asian populations in its AC composition?
    They put some Central Asian like Uygurs and Hazaras in wrong compositions (south Asian) and put aside others like Kazakhs, kyrghyz, Uzbecks…
    Is any plan to put them in AC in the future or not?

    • Scott23H

      Ulghan, Central Asian populations are not being ignored, but we still need to add to our reference populations to be able to more accurately make Ancestry Composition estimates. We are constantly updating and improving those estimates and hope to have more to offer in the future.

  • Rick Nuthman

    How does ‘speculative’ work? Is this just an educated guess as to where the unspecified regions represent?

    • Scott23H

      Hi Rick,
      For each section of your DNA, Ancestry Composition assigns a probability to each reference population for a given segment of DNA. We have our own threshold where we have a very high confidence in the estimate we report to you, but we give customers the ability to adjust that threshold using either a conservative or speculative estimate.

      The default Standard Estimate corresponds to 75% confidence. You have the option to make the estimate more strict (the Conservative Estimate is at 90% confidence) or more lenient (the Speculative Estimate is at 50% confidence).

      You can read more about how the confidence threshold works in the “Aggregation & Reporting” section of the Ancestry Composition Guide.

  • Was wondering if your Native American results will get better in time. I downloaded my raw data and sent it to Dr. Doug McDonald who confirmed, in his words, a “very real” 1.3%-1.4% Native American. But, 23andMe does not show it. If I put it on Conservative then it shows 1.4% Unassigned. I don’t feel that is a coincidence. So, in time if that 1.4% Unassigned is indeed Native American will it show eventually?

  • ResourceDragon

    I think quite a lot of customers would be pleased to see Central Asia included. Those of us who have little traces of East Asian and no obvious connections are left wondering if the algorithm is trying to say Central Asian but can’t get the words out – or alternatively if the algorithm is missing Native American ancestry.

  • vermontsilkie

    I am surprised that British and Irish results are lumped together when in fact the two are so distinct. I hope that in the future 23andme will collect the data necessary to make the distinction between those.

  • 23blog

    I’ll attempt to answer that question. We look at both your recent ancestry — finding relatives within the last six generations — and your “deep” ancestry tracing back before the great migration. We do this because our genotyping tests not just the autosomes, but also the X and Y and the mitochondria. So the answer to your question is that we will give you information about both your recent and deep ancestry. If our Ancestry Composition tool reports that your are mostly Italian, that means that your parents would also have to be mostly Italian as well as your grandparents, etc. But we also can report on your maternal and paternal lines. This gives us insight into much deeper origins.

  • 23blog

    Great migration refers to the age when humans were able to migrate to the new world on ships. So that goes back 500 years ago. The reason this is important is that before that time geography typically kept populations isolated. Modern migration first by ship and then in the last 100 years has largely blurred those geographic boundaries.

    • Rick O’Shea

      This is better. Thank you.

  • 23blog

    Hi Rick,
    I think we’ve exchanged messages before, but I’ll try and answer your question.
    It’s best to look at this in two ways, one is looking at deep ancestry which we can trace following your paternal and maternal lines. This links you to your ancestry back through thousands of years because there is little change from generation to generation on the maternal and paternal lines.
    Then we look at your more recent ancestry, that is something that helps us connect you to close and distant relatives with whom you share a relative within the last five or six generations.
    When we predict your ancestry we can do that by comparing your DNA to about 31 reference populations.
    When we report back your ancestry it is not looking at deep ancestry but ancestry within the last five to six generations. Although you may be say Italian, you may learn something about your maternal or paternal haplogroup that gives you a deeper insight into your Italian ancestry.

    • Rick O’Shea

      You actually answered my question before, a couple of weeks ago. My daughter had her test done, I did not yet, though my wife and I will do it soon. I am North African as far back as I can ascertain, which is less than 150 years ago, and my wife is Anglo-Swiss going back at least 500 years. Our daughter is showing (speculative) almost 84% European and 14.6% North African. So I was surmising that I am also mostly European (no great surprise in my part of the world.) I will be sending for my test very soon anyway and I will find out for sure, but am I right or wrong in my speculation based on my daughter’s test ?

      • 23blog

        It’s hard for me to say, but you may be correct in your speculation.

        • Rick O’Shea

          Thanks. My wife and I will be sending for our tests soon.

  • ShakeJ

    wow I Thought that I was Afrian America/Native American however my distinctive look comes from the Yakut Nation in Russia

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