Tuesday, 11 July 2017

AncestryDNA - Genetic Communities

Back in February, when I wrote about my LivingDNA results, I commented on the upcoming release of AncestryDNA's "Genetic Communities" feature, which I'd heard about through others who could see their communities as part of the beta testing.  Unfortunately, general "busy-ness" got in the way of me posting about my own Genetic Communities, when I received them soon after that.  So this is a 'catch up' post.  I'm not going to cover all the details of how the Genetic Communities work - information about that is already available on the blogs of other genetic genealogists, such as Blaine Bettinger* or Debbie Kennett*, or on the Ancestry site itself. In this post I'm just going to focus on my own results and explore how useful (or otherwise) the information might be.

This is from my AncestryDNA Home Page, showing my general ethnicity and also that I am in three of the genetic communities.

Clicking though to view my "genetic ancestry" gives me the details of which communities I am in, and a map showing both the communities and the estimated general ethnicity areas (I only have traces of 'ancestry' from the "three more regions" so they aren't shown in detail.)

There are over 300 Genetic Communities currently available (Blaine Bettinger has provided a pdf of the full list, from a link on his blog), and it is possible to click down from a continental level, to explore what communities have been identified in different regions of the world, by clicking the "view all" button.  However, I find this a bit inconsistent, and potentially "buggy", when trying to explore the regions where I am in a community.

For example, If I look at the "Scots", which I am not part of, all of the communities show separately in white:

But, when I view a region where I am part of a community, I can only see my own community. For example "The Welsh and English West Midlanders" contains three communities:

But I only seem to get shown the one that I am in, when I try to view these:

This is virtually the same view I get when viewing my own Genetic Community, "English in the West Midlands". 

Based on the list provided by Blaine Bettinger, the "Welsh and English West Midlanders" region also contains the "North Walians" and the "South Walians", but I don't seem able to access the view similar to the one I see for the Scots region, showing all three of the communities in the region - although I can (sometimes) see the whole region, if I access it from the drop down on my own genetic communities view above:

For the other two community regions that I am in, the "English Midlanders and Northerners" and the "Southern English", I seem to be in the overall region but not allocated  to a more specific community within that, but again, the only view I can obtain is the same as my personal view, so I cannot see what the three more refined communities in each of these regions are.

 I would be interested in seeing how the three regions my Genetic Communities are in look like to someone who is not in them.

Comparison to LivingDNA
Since LivingDNA is the only other company that provides ethnicity estimates in fine detail within the UK, I thought it might be interesting to compare the results from them to my Ancestry Genetic Community regions.  My LivingDNA results have been updated since I wrote about them at http://notjusttheparrys.blogspot.co.uk/2017/02/a-slight-sidetrack-my-livingdna-results.html so, for now, I am including an image from both versions of LivingDNA to compare to AncestryDNA's Genetic Communities. (I will do a more detailed post about the updated LivingDNA results later.)

The three Genetic Communities I am in on Ancestry cover a large area of England, but do not include any of Scotland and only cover the border area of Wales.  In some ways, the earlier version of the LivingDNA results was a better match to the Genetic Communities, as it included down into Devon and Cornwall, and did not include much of Scotland, whereas the updated results no longer show any Devon or Cornish DNA, and now include Aberdeenshire.  However, we are talking about fairly low percentages for these counties.  Both Ancestry and LivingDNA place my main 'ancestry' as being from the West Midlands/Welsh Border areas - which does tie in with my known family history.

So I do feel that both companies are identifying connections to similar areas within the UK and, as the details continue to be refined, potentially the results will be very useful in furthering my family history.

Debbie Kennett has pointed out that, given the current predominance of Americans in the database, the Genetic Communities can help those of us in the UK to filter our match lists so as to focus on the more relevant matches, ie those who do have an identifiable connection to the same UK areas that we have.  However, although the Genetic Communities are created initially from the DNA analysis, with pedigrees then being used to supply historical information that helps to 'identify' the community, it isn't necessary to have a pedigree in order to be in a community, so finding the connections to matches who are in communities will usually involve further research (and, ultimately, might still be impossible in some cases). 

But the very fact that a pedigree isn't required, in order to appear in a community, does make the Genetic Communities a useful feature for anyone who does not know their family history, as it can help to identify some "times and places" for them to explore potential connections to their matches.

So, as confirming my family history and discovering new relatives are my main aims in using DNA, how useful are the communities for finding the connections between my matches and my own family history, beyond the general benefit of narrowing down my match lists? 

 The story views on the Genetic Communities help to provide more detail about the places where my matches' ancestors were from.

And also where they went to:

And the connection page indicates some of the surnames that are more prominent in the particular community, as well as indicating my own strength of connection to the Community:

(I love the background photo, by the way - definitely a place with relevance to my family history!)

As you can see, there is overlap between the three communities that I am in.

Just as I am in several communities, so are many of my matches.  The following diagram illustrates the numbers of my matches in each of the overlapping Community groupings:

(For anyone who does the maths, yes, there is an inconsistency between the images, with 23 matches being listed as in the "English in the West Midlands" community, and only 22 shown in my diagram - that's because another person was added in the four days between extracting the community match lists to produce the diagram and then copying the "Your Connection" image above.  Keeping data up to date is not easy!)

Since the "English in the West Midlands" is a subset of the "Welsh and English in the West Midlands", it does seem strange that two of the matches are in the subset but not in the higher level community (but that's just a minor anomaly that I've noticed, rather than something I'm looking into).

It seems clear that, at the moment, whilst it is helpful to know these matches have a UK connection, the Communities don't necessarily narrow that down to a particular branch of my family - partly because my genetic matches and I might both be in the same multiple communities but also because, as Blaine points out in his post, just because a match shares a particular community with me, it doesn't mean that, that is definitely where the shared ancestry is from.  But the Genetic Communities certainly could be helpful 'pointers' to potential connections and I imagine they will also improve over time, so may eventually even hint at specific family lines, especially when combined with other information from known family history and shared matches. 

What about those DNA matches that I have already identified some shared ancestry with - how do the Genetic Communities match up to our shared ancestry? 

Unfortunately, only two of those 'identified matches' appear in the same communities that I am in.  In one case, the match is in three of the communities I am in - the 'Welsh & English West Midlanders', 'English in the West Midlands' and 'English Midlanders and Northerners'.  There is quite an overlap between these three communities anyway, but it is reassuring that our shared ancestry is from around the Bromyard area, in north eastern Herefordshire.  The other match is in both the 'Southern English' and the 'English Midlanders and Northerners'.  In this case, our shared ancestry is in London in the later 1800s and then traces back to Wiltshire by the beginning of that century, so it looks as if the 'Southern English' community may be relevant to this - but, if I didn’t already know the connection, the shared 'English Midlanders and Northerners' could send us looking in the wrong place.

There is one other match who, whilst I don't know exactly how we relate, is known to be related to me on my mother's side, thanks to comparisons at Gedmatch.  They are in both the 'Southern English' and the 'English Midlanders and Northerners', either of which could be relevant to my mother's side of my family.  However, I have noticed that a third match, who is shared between the two of us, is showing as just in the 'Southern English' community, so that may possibly hint at where the shared ancestry is (although that community does take in everything under a line from South Wales to the Wash, so that's hardly narrowing things down :-) )

In another example, I do have a match who is in all four communities that I can see, but is a shared match to someone who is only in one of the four.  So the combination of the Genetic Communities with shared matches may be another topic to explore, to see if it can help indicate the potentially more relevant areas of the country to be researching in. 

However,  this may not be without its problems and may still be misleading to me.  For example, I have a match who shows up in just the 'Southern English' community, but both his profile and a shared match indicate there's likely to be a high level of Welsh ancestry.  Since I assume that I am not seeing any communities that my matches are in, but which I am not in, it's possible that they both share in a Welsh community,  and it's probably more likely that one of my West Midlands ancestors headed into Wales and connects into their trees that way, than the connection being in the south of England.

Shared matches are something I will write about in a separate post soon, so I shall perhaps consider the combined use of these two tools further in that.  I'm certainly grateful to AncestryDNA for the various tools they provide and look forward to future developments.  

I just know that I still have a lot to learn, to be able to work with the tools effectively!


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