23andMe’s New Ancestry Timeline

Robin Smith, 23ndMe Senior Scientist

When did that 2 percent Yakut ancestry make its way into your family tree? The newest 23andMe Ancestry feature may have the answer for you.

This feature is another first for 23andMe, which broke new ground by offering customers a detailed accounting of their genetic ancestry with the Ancestry Composition report. Customers who have connected accounts with a parent can also see what ancestries were inherited from each side of the family tree. The Ancestry Composition report also allows customers to dig deeper into their genetic ancestry with a genome map of their ancestry. (To learn more about this feature, see the Meet Your Chromosome Painting blog post.)

Now, 23andMe has added a fourth analysis to the report, which we call “Ancestry Timeline.” This feature allows customers to go back in time and learn approximately when a particular ancestry entered their family tree.

Ancestry Timeline was made possible through pioneering work by 23andMe Research Scientist Kasia Bryc, whose previous research provided insights into the American melting pot.

23andMe determines your Ancestry Timeline by analyzing the pattern of ancestry in your genome. It looks at both the number and size of segments that derive from a particular ancestry as well as their distribution across your chromosomes. Large segments of ancestry in your genome that all come from the same population suggest a recent ancestor, while shorter segments suggest a more distant one.

 About half of Sarah's genetic ancestry is of Ashkenazi Jewish origin. Antonio's is about 20 percent Iberian (Spanish or Portuguese). The Ancestry Timeline feature puts these results in a new context. Sarah has a recent ancestor (1-2 generations ago) who was 100 percent Ashkenazi Jewish, while you have to go pretty far back on Antonio's family tree to find someone who was 100 percent Iberian (5-8 generations ago).

About half of Sarah’s genetic ancestry is of Ashkenazi Jewish origin. Antonio’s is about 20 percent Iberian (Spanish or Portuguese). The Ancestry Timeline feature puts these results in a new context. Sarah has a recent ancestor (1-2 generations ago) who was 100 percent Ashkenazi Jewish, while you have to go pretty far back on Antonio’s family tree to find someone who was 100 percent Iberian (5-8 generations ago).

An important caveat of the Ancestry Timeline feature is that it assumes that your ancestry from each population originally comes from a single (recent or distant) ancestor. It also says nothing about where a particular ancestor was born—only their genetics. Therefore, a British & Irish ancestor born in Philadelphia would look the same as one born in Dublin. Ancestry Timeline also has the same limitations as Ancestry Composition, in that it doesn’t report contributions by recently admixed populations (e.g. “Mexican” ancestry is reported as a mixture of European, Native American, and African ancestry) and trace ancestries (e.g. <0.5 percent) should be taken with a grain of salt.

For a more technical explanation of how the Ancestry Timeline feature works, read our white paper.

  • 23blog

    Hi Simon,
    If you have not yet transitioned to the New Experience — international customers have not yet been migrated into the new experience for instance — then this feature isn’t yet available. Otherwise simply go into the Ancestry Composition section of your Ancestry Reports and you’ll find the timeline just below the Ancestry Composition percentages.

    • Kieran

      Any idea when the new experience is coming to international customers?

      • 23blog

        Hi Kieran,
        We expect that international customers will be migrated to the new experience in the near future.

        • Amy Cater

          I was told you would be migrating Canadian and International customers over “soon” and that it “is a Top Priority” over a year ago now. Just be upfront and honest about the fact it isn’t likely to happen. Thank goodness I told family members to hold off on buying kits wayyyy back after I did mine, and will just tell them to forget about it and use one of the other places instead.

  • pertarlo

    Any idea if this will be added to international customers, specifically from UK? And if so when? Many thanks.

    • 23blog

      The timeline will be added once international customers are transitioned to the new experience. I don’t have a fixed date but expect that to happen within a few months.

  • 23blog

    Hi HopperKowalski,
    This is a hard question to address without knowing the more about your results. You could email our customer care team (https://customercare.23andme.com/hc/en-us/requests/new). It is possible that Ancestry Composition (due to its own limitations) would not have called your great-grandparent as 100% of the ancestry you’re referring to. The intent of Ancestry Timeline is to provide rough estimates as to when particular ancestries may have come into your family tree. The science of tools like this is most evolving and any insights gleaned from it should be weighed and judged against other pieces of information you’ve learned about your family history.

  • Stephanie F

    In my make up it is showing French and German over 22% I have no known German or French relatives but I do have relatives from the Netherlands would that fall under that same category French and German

  • Richard

    I’m a bit confused by how ancestry that makes up the largest part of my dna occurs so much farther in the past than ancestry that is a smaller part and occurs more recently. And what about my more immediate ancestry- grandparents? Parents? My data seems to stop with great-grandparents. Nearer ancestry interests me because I am adopted and do not know my parents history.

    • thenfixit

      Richard, I am not sure, but I would assume that your parents and grandparents weren’t 100%, but a mixture, that’s why it isn’t registering. My father is registering for me, but my mother isn’t, because she isn’t 100%. With that being said, for my mom’s side I am getting great grandparents as 100%. I hope I made sense. Good luck!

  • 23blog

    It won’t be in a couple of years. I just don’t have a specific date yet.

    • Daniel Stefanescu

      It’s too bad that after 1year and 2 months the new experience is not available for all your customers (including me). This raises the question of your ability to deliver new features.

  • marialeonora

    I need a little clarification, Im trying to find my biological father. on my dna result I was linked to a person says shes my 2nd to third cousin 2.31% shared 7 segments. This is confusing to figure out which direction to go and what does this mean. please help

    • 23blog

      Hi Marialeonora,
      That’s a pretty significant amount of shared DNA so they are a relatively close cousin. We use a prediction algorithm to estimate how close.
      A good way to look at cousins is that first cousins share grandparents, second cousins share great grandparents and third cousins share great great grandparents.

  • Aysha

    I am an American customer and I still do not have
    this new feature. When will I see it? My daughter already has it, but she did her testing just a few months ago, while mine was was done years ago.

    • 23blog

      I’ve forwarded your question to our Customer Care team.

  • 23blog

    Start with Share and Compare. Also the split view of your Ancestry Composition will be interesting to look at and you’ll be able to see which ancestry came from which parent.

  • 23blog

    Hi Catherine,
    You are not meant to ignore it, but that small percentage is within the margin of error. It’s possible that it is “noise,” but it is also possible that it is showing a real admixture. Some people are able to tap into other information about their ancestry and family history to give the proper context — sort of triangulating their result. That may be one way to figure out whether this is real or not.

  • Shahar

    I am a US customer and cannot see this new feature. When are you planning to roll this out?

    • 23blog

      You should be seeing this in the Ancestry reports. I’m forwarding your question to our customer care to see if they can help you out.

  • 23blog

    There is a distinction, and we do report out German and French ancestry. But in parts of Germany and France the borders have been so fluid that it is very difficult to accurately make the distinction. In those cases we make a more broadly European assignment. As for Irish and English, we currently do not call out the distinction.

  • 23blog

    Hi Heather,
    Currently 23andMe has several features that can reveal genetic evidence of Native American ancestry, although they are not considered a confirmatory test or proof of such ancestry in a legal context, so for instance your names for enrolled tribal members shouldn’t be impacted by your test.

    But we are also very confident in the science behind what we do, that’s why we publish the scientific detail for the reports. You can see the how we use reference populations, links to published papers and an explanation of how we calculate ancestry.

    It is important to note that even if an individual in your family tree was considered to be Native American, your own DNA may not reveal the Native American ancestry because evidence is lost each generation.

  • 23blog

    We hope to. We continuely to update our Ancestry Composition to improve the amount of detail we can offer customers. That includes adding new reference populations and improving how we do the estimates.

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