Living DNA - June 2017 updates

Living DNA produced their first update.  An update by a "DNA for Ancestry" business can sound like an admission of failure.  To some, it could sound like a recall due to product failure.  "Your previous ancestry was a mistake".  This only applies if you have bought into some marketing campaigns, that autosomal DNA tests for ancestry actually work even close to 100%.  Surprise, they don't!  They are cutting edge, in development, and far from accurate below a Continental level. They are still somewhere in the twilight between being nothing more than a genetic lottery, and actually becoming a tool that is useful.  Therefore "updates" are to be welcomed.  They are a sign that the business wants to improve the test accuracy.  That is to the credit of Living DNA.

My latest results?  First of all, a quick recap on my actual ancestry, as supported by family history, local history, ethnicity, and by a traditionally researched record based family tree that includes over 270 direct ancestors over the past 380 years.  I'm English.  Indeed, all of my direct ancestors, appear to have been South East English.  More precise, I'm East Anglian.  On family history and recorded genealogy, I'd suggest that between 75% and 85% of my direct ancestors over the past three centuries were East Anglian, almost all from the County of Norfolk.  Others on my father's side, if not in East Anglia, still in Southern England.

That I feel, makes me an interesting subject for ancestral auDNA testing.  You see, my ancestry is very localised here in South East England.  DNA tests such as 23andMe that claim to accurately plot ancestry over the past 300 - 500 years should get me.  But they don't.  This is because their algorythms, and reference data set designs fail over different ages.  They also (although they sometimes deny it), fail to discriminate against older population background.  We East Anglians and South East English have been heavily admixed with non-British populations on the European Continent.  Not so much over the past 500 years, so much as over the past few thousand years.

The new Results.

Below are my Living DNA regional ancestry, based on Standard Mode.

Below are my Standard Mode results broken down into sub regions.

Below is a table, comparing my recorded ancestry, with my early Living DNA results in Standard, now my revised results.

Living DNA has now introduced two new modes of confidence called complete and cautious modes.  First the Complete results:

Below are my Complete Mode results in regional:

Below are my Complete Mode results for sub-regional:

Now the Cautious results:

Below are my Cautious Mode results in regional:

Finally, below are my Cautious Mode results for sub-regional:


No auDNA test, by any DNA-for-ancestry company has yet come close to assigning me 100% English or even British.  They don't get me.  23andMe gives me 32-37% "British & Irish".  FT-DNA gives me "36% British".  Therefore, to be fair, Living DNA, giving me 70% "Great Britain or Ireland", give me the best result.  However, Living DNA has started out with the largest, best quality British data-set of any DNA-for-ancestry company, and is often accused of a bias towards Britain in it's results.  If so, then my 70% still looks weak.  They are planning on producing similar quality data sets soon for Ireland, Germany, then France. Therefore any results, will as I started out saying at the beginning of this post, be perpetually progressive.  Businesses that do not improve data sets or algorithms, will not get any better.  They are not progressive.

I get Southern European in other tests besides this one.  Living DNA points to Tuscany.  FT-DNA before a recent update gave me 32% Southern European, although they have revised this down to a little noise from South-East Europe!  23andMe gives me 2% Southern European - but this appears nothing unusual for an English tester.  None-the-less, I am interested in trying to better understand, why some of these tests give me this "Southern European" admixture, for which my family history, local history, and recorded genealogy has absolutely no account.  It equally reflects in ancient calculators that give me a little bit more Neolithic Farmer than for other English, which on average, already have a little more Neolithic Farmer than other British or Irish populations do.

The New Complete and Cautious Modes

How do I feel about these?  At Sub-Regional level, the Complete mode starts to get silly.  For the first time, Living DNA at this level, starts to even suggest some ancestry from Wales, SW Scotland, and Northern Ireland.  Only small percentages - but I just don't buy them.

However, the Cautious Mode, I start to like.  My British ancestry doesn't increase, but it looks more realistic, although with strange enigmatic suggestions still of Italian ancestry in the mix.  At Sub-Regional level, Cautious Mode also looks a little more likely.  My East Anglian remains at 37%, I however, lose Lincolnshire (which does exist in my record), but retain Cornwall.  I think Cornwall unlikely - however, there is just a small hint that something could be there, in surname evidence of a brick-walled great great great grandparent.  So maybe, just maybe.

East Anglia

I seriously doubt that my East Anglian ancestry over the past 300 years genuinely falls much below 75%.  Living DNA only appears to recognise a half of it at 37% - but they claim to be easily able to identify East Anglian DNA.  They call it "Distinct" because of it's high levels of Continental admixture.  They have admitted that based on their early data sets, that it was hard to separate from Germanic.  I don't know why it isn't stronger in my results.  I honestly do believe that the test underplays it on my results, even though it is the strongest of any population in my test results.  My East Anglian ancestors lived mainly in Eastern, Central, and Southern Norfolk.

Living DNA also provide a chart of the Continental "contributing regions" to East Anglian ancestry:

Finally, a chart breaking down their proposal of my British ancestry at Cautious mode:

I'm not disappointed with Living DNA.  That it does identify me as 37% East Anglian is I believe, incredibly good, and far advanced over any other DNA-for-ancestry test.  I'm looking forward to more updates in the future.  Well done Living DNA.

Who Do You Think You Are? Live 2017

I caught four workshops!

Workshop 1. Total Genealogy. This one was a little disappointing. I hoped that it would combine genealogy with DNA, landscape archaeology, local history, etc. Instead it was surname study - genealogical collecting of all records of a surname and applying it to a database - then trying to work out the connections. Would have benefited if the speaker had also applied Y DNA projects, but I sensed that he was a DNA skeptic. Lots of those in British genealogy, although the number of DNA stalls and workshops clearly suggests that the tide might turn, although it was corporate money funding a lot of it. I say that, but a later speaker suggested that 85% of DNA testers have no or little family tree. They are not all traditional genealogists.

Workshop 2. The Y-DNA and mtDNA Landscape (of Britain).

This was presented by Mark Jobling, Professor of Genetics at Leicester University. He discussed the history of genetic studies of European and British populations, starting with blood types, moving onto STR, a few SNPs, mtDNA, then onto the flood of information over the past few years, including autosomal DNA and POBI (image above).

A few observations - that the Yamnaya R1b is of a different basal lineage, that they found that 1) POBI failed to recognise the Danish contribution to Britain as being ingrained into the Anglo-Saxon - along with later migrations from the Continent, 2) that the Anglo-Saxon event appears male mediated rather like the Steppe signal, and 3) that some British R1a (not all) do look likely to be "Viking". He also said that surprisingly, they had not yet found genetic evidence of Vikings in Ireland in the modern population.

Workshop 3. High Definition Ancestry DNA Testing across the World. This was lead by the Living DNA team. David Nicholson company MD started with the company profile and philosophy. Dr Martin Blythe, their bioinformatician head then took over, followed by Alex Cocker, their anthropologist. Observations that I noted: they are very proud of their fineStructure algorythm, the chip, and of their computation ability. They claim that their system works better at finding shared patterns on admixed populations than do some older systems still used by other companies. Nicholson duruing questions told us that they plan to (and he did state over the next 3 - 5 years for some of the following):

  • Complete the three confidence modes (very soon)
  • Map Ireland with 13 or 14 sub regions using POBI principles
  • Map Germany next with 26 - 28 sub regions
  • Map France
  • Enrich and fine tune the British data set
  • Introduce genetic matching / matches
  • Promote inter-company and 3rd party matching
  • Introduce parent and relative phasing

Above, Dr Mark Blythe of Living DNA.

Workshop 4. Outside the Law? Illegitimacy 1700 - 1987

This was presented by Professor Rebecca Probert. An interest to myself, but not perhaps of great interest here. It detailed the history of changing legislation towards children born outside of marriage in England & Wales.

Otherwise, I purchased a few Family FHS CD-ROMs, and a few small books. Talked to a number of specialists and FHS members. No exciting discoveries this year, but enough material to feed off for a while. I will just say that I had a lengthy chat with Dr Martin Blythe of Living DNA. I was highly impressed. He was a really nice guy, and clearly loves his job, and is enthusiastic as hell about what he and his company can do in the future. Kudos to him. I saw Debbie Kennett during a part of her workshop, and she would love to chat with her sometime. I've noticed a distant match between two of our kits.

Another great day, loved it.

Thoughts in understanding ancestry DNA

Above image.  My Global 10 Genetic Map coordinates:  PC1,PC2,PC3,PC4,PC5,PC6,PC7,PC8,PC9,PC10 ,0.019,0.0272,0.0002,-0.0275,-0.0055,0.0242,0.0241,-0.0033,-0.0029,0.0015.  The cross marks my position on a genetic map by David Wesolowski, of the Eurogenes Blog

The above map shows genetic distances between different human populations around the planet.  Look how tightly the Europeans cluster.  Razib Kahn recently blogged on just this subject.  The fact of the matter is that the greatest diversity exists between populations outside of Europe, particularly within Africa, and between African and non-African populations.  However, we obsess over tiny differences within European populations, when in truth, most Western Eurasians are very closely related.  We share ancient ancestry from slightly varied mixes of only three base ancestral groups, with the last layer arriving only 4,300 years ago.  This obsession in the Market drives DNA to the consumer businesses to largely ignore non-European diversity, and to focus too closely on differences that blur into each other.

The above image is from CARTA lecture. 2016. Johannes Krause of the Max Planck Institute. It shows the currently three known founder populations of Europeans and their average percentages.

However, at the same time the new Living DNA service seeks to zoom in closer on British populations, attempting to detect ancestry percentages from such tiny zones as "East Anglia".  They appear to be having a level of success with it as well, although that blurriness, that overlap and closeness of populations in Europe gives problems.  Germans are given false percentages of British, Some Scottish appear as Northern Irish, and the Irish dilute into false British areas.  However, I've seen enough results now to suggest that it is far from genetic astrology.  They get it correct to a certain level, particularly for us with English ancestry.  Ancestry DNA customers expect perfection.  I don't think that we will ever get that from such closely related populations at this resolution, but it does provide a new genealogical tool that can point us into some revealing directions.

Above image.  My Living DNA Map.  Based on my recorded genealogy, I estimate 77% to 85% East Anglian ancestry over the past 250 years or so.  Living DNA at Standard Mode gave me 39%.  I'm impressed by that.  That a DNA test can recognise even at a 50% success, my recent ancestry in such a tiny zone of the planet.  I have doubts though that this sort of test will ever be free of errors, and mistakes.  The safest DNA test for ancestry is still one that is based on more distinct populations, and outside of Africa, that can be as wide as "European".  23andMe for example in their "Standard Mode" (75% confidence), assign me 97.3% European, and 0.3% Unassigned.  That is a pretty safe result.

Autosomal DNA tests for ancestry, particularly for West Eurasian (European and Western Asia) descendants, are not reliable at high resolution.  If you want to get really local, then sure - do it.  However, only use the results as an indication, not as a truth.  Populations in Western Eurasia are closely related, and share recent common descent.  There has been a high degree of mobility and admixture ever since.  Some modern populations tested do not have a high level of deep rooted local ancestry in that region.  They overlap with each other.  Keep researching and meander through different perspectives of what your older pre-recorded ancestry could have been.

Above image by Anthrogenica board member Tolan.  Based on 23andMe AC results.  My results skew away from British, and towards North French.  He generated this map, plotting myself (marked as Norfolk in red), and my Normand Ancestral DNA twin Helge in yellow.  My results fall in the overlap with French.  Helge is Normand but in AC appears more British than myself.  I am East Anglian yet in this test appear more French than he does.

Will ancestry DNA tests tell me my family origins?

I have taken several DNA tests for ancestry, including those provided by the FT-DNA, 23andMe, and Living DNA companies.  Unusual for a tester, I am actually of a single population, very local, well documented ancestry here in East Anglia, South-East England.  I'm not someone in the Americas or Australia, that might have very little clue what parts of the world that their ancestors lived in, previous to immigration.  I know my roots, I'm lucky.  I live them.  You might ask, why did I feel the need to test DNA for ancestry?  The answer is, curiosity, to test the documented evidence, fill the gaps, look for surprises, and in particular, to understand the longer term, to reach further back into my ancestry.

I have though, become a bit of a skeptic, even a critic, of autosomal DNA (auDNA) tests for ancestry.  They are the tests presented by the businesses in results called something like Ancestry, Family Ancestry, Origins, Family, Composition, etc.  Instead of testing the haplogroups on either the direct paternal (Y-DNA), or direct maternal (mtDNA), these tests scan the autosomal and X chromosomes.  That's good, because that is where all of the real business is, what makes you an individual.  However, it is subject to a phenomena that we call genetic recombination (the X chromosome is a little more complicated).  This means that every generation circa 50% of both parents DNA is randomly inherited from each parent.  I said randomly.  Each generation, that randomness chops up the inherited segments smaller, and moves them around.  After about seven or eight generations, the chances of inheriting any DNA from any particular ancestral line quickly diminishes.  It becomes washed out by genetic recombination.

Therefore, not only are the autosomes subject to a randomness, and genetic recombination - they are only useful for assessing family admixture only over the past three hundred years or so.  There is arguably, DNA that has been shared between populations much further back, that we call background population admixture.  It survived, because it entered many lines, for many families, following for example, a major ancient migration event.  If this phenomena is accepted - it can only cause more problems and confusion, because it can fool results into suggesting more recent family admixture - e.g. that a great grandparent in an American family must have been Scandinavian, when in fact many Scandinavians may have settled another part of Europe, and admixed with that ancestral population, more than one thousand years ago.

DNA businesses compare segments of auDNA, against those in a number of modern day reference populations or data sets from around the world.  They look for what segments are similar to these World populations, and then try to project, what percentages of your DNA is shared or similar to these other populations.  Therefore:

  1. Your results will depend on the quality and choice of geographic boundary, allocated to any reference population data set.  A number of distinct populations of different ancestry and ethnicity may exist with in them, and cross the boundaries into other data sets.  How well are the samples chosen? Do they include urban people (that tend to have more admixture and mobility than many rural people).  Do they include descendants of migrants that merely claim a certain ancestry previous to migration?What was the criteria for sample selection?
  2. Your results might be confused by background population admixture.
  3. You are testing against modern day populations, not those of your ancestors 300 - 500 years ago.  People may well have moved around since then.  In some parts of the World, they certainly have!

It is far truer to say that your auDNA test results reflect shared DNA with modern population data sets, rather than to claim descent from them.  For example, 10% Finnish simply means that you appear to share similar DNA with a number of people that were hopefully sampled in Finland (and hopefully not just claim Finnish ancestry) - not that 10% of your ancestors came from Finland.  That is, for the above reasons, presumptuous.  It might indeed suggest some Finnish ancestry, but this is where many people go wrong, it does not prove ancestry from anywhere.


This is my main quibble.  So many testers take their autosomal (for Family/Ancestry) DNA test results to be infallible truths.  They are NOT.  White papers do not make a test and analysis system perfect and proven as accurate.  Regarding something as Science does not make it unquestionable - quite the opposite.  The fact of the matter is, if you test with different companies, different siblings, add phasing, you receive different ancestry results.  Therefore which result is true and unquestionable?

A Tool for further investigation

So what use is DNA testing for ancestry?  Actually, I would say, lots of use.  If you take the results with a pinch of salt, test with different companies, then it can help point you in a direction.  Never however take autosomal results as infallible.  Critical is to test with companies with well thought out, high quality reference data sets.  Also to test with companies that intend to progress and improve their analysis and your results.

For DNA relative matching, then sure, the companies with the best matching system, the largest match (contactable customer) databases, and with custom in the regions of the world that you hope to match with. There is also, GEDmatch.  Personally, I find it thrilling when I match through DNA, but in truth, I had more genealogical success back in the days when genealogists posted their surname interests in printed magazines and directories. 

The results of each ancestry test should be taken as a clue.  Look at the results of testers with more proven documented and known genealogies.  Learn to recognise what might be population background, as opposed to recent admixture in a family.  Investigate haplogroup DNA - it has a relative truth, although over a much longer time, and wider area.  Just be aware that your haplogroup/s represent only one or two lines of descent - your ancestry over the past few thousand years may not be well represented by a haplogroup.  Investigate everything.  Enjoy the journey.  Explore World History.

Living DNA - my early results are in!

After a four month wait, my initial results have arrived today from Living DNA.  The wait has, I feel been understandable for a launch company.  The results are still limited to standard mode only.

Living DNA Standard mode

100% European
74% Great Britain & Ireland
10% Europe (South)
7% Europe (North and West)
10% Europe (unassigned).


39% East Anglia
8% South Central England
5% South East England
5% Lincolnshire

2.5% Cornwall
2.4% North Yorkshire
2% South England
1.9% Devon
1.6% Central England
1.5% North West England
1.3% South Yorkshire
1.2% Northumbria

3.5% unassigned Great Britain & Ireland

10% Tuscany (Europe South)
5% Scandinavia (Europe North and West)
2% Germanic (Europe North and West)
9.7% Europe unassigned.

My initial response?  Enthralled and highly impressed.  A little disappointed that the East Anglia percentage was not higher.  I suggest 77% based on my documentary record.  Living DNA gave it 39%.  I still find that a very good result.

However... let's get this into perspective to 23andMe and FT-DNA tests.  Documentary evidence suggests that I am 100% British over the past 300 years.  23andMe said 32%.  FT-DNA said 36%.  Living DNA gets it so much closer at 74%!  That is a whole lot more accurate.

What about the remaining 26% on regional level, where do Living DNA say that comes from? All European.  It suggests 9.7% unassigned European, 9.6% Tuscan (Southern European), 4.6% Scandinavian, and 2% "Germanic".  The Tuscan is interesting, but I'm not convinced yet that it is not ancient and population based.  The Scandinavian is also most likely ancient - in my opinion.

Two things please and impress me about my results on the sub regional level:

1) Based on documentary research, I estimate that 250 years ago, 77% of my ancestors were in East Anglia.  Living DNA indeed, sees it as by far my largest sub regional percentage.  At 39%, a little low, but very impressive.  They correctly identified me as East Anglian.

My next main region, in my Family Tree, I have circa 12% ancestors from "South Central England".  Living DNA saw this, and it is indeed, my second  largest percentage at sub regional level.  I get South Central England with 7.5% - incredible.  The small "South England" would also tied to this line.

Then I get 5.4% South-East England.  It could be over spill from the East Anglia ancestry, but I do have one 3xgreat grandfather Shawers In London, that I do not know the origins of.  I wonder now?

Then it's "Lincolnshire" with 4.8%.  Brilliant!  I had a 3xgreat grandfather from the southern parts of Living DNA's Lincolnshire sub region.  That fills my documentary record almost perfect.  The small "Central England" percentage would also tie to this line.

Then follows a number of low percentages from all over Southern and Eastern England.  They might tell a story, or might not.  Surprisingly Cornwall and Devon show up in low percentages, as does Yorkshire.  Did my Shawers line actually come from one of those regions?  I have seen Shawers in Devon, Cornwall, Shores in Yorkshire, and Shawers in Lancashire.

2) What is excluded can also demonstrate the accuracy of such a test.  No Welsh, Northumbrian, French, Normand, Irish, Scottish, or Iberian ancestry suggested.  Not that I'd have any objection against descent from any of these, or anywhere - but that this test successfully sees that I am NOT descended from these close regions, is to my mind, a great success, and a vast improvement on any past autosomal DNA tests for ancestry by other businesses.  The truth is, that the English are so like these other populations!

On mtDNA they get my haplogroup down to H6a1a.

They have not yet completed my Y-DNA analysis.  I guess L in an English tester might have thrown them a bit.

No other DNA test has ever existed quite like this.  My initial response is - an amazing test.  The future of autosomal testing for Ancestry.

Two Fathers and more Online Genealogy

The above photograph is of my great great grandfather, William Bennett Baxter, born at Gressenhall Workhouse, Norfolk, England, in 1846.

Well, I've finally updated my Gramps genealogical database for the first time for months.  It's grown!  It now includes details for over 1,600 ancestors and family relatives.  I have to admit, a lot of the swell is down to online genealogical research, using,, Norfolk FHS, BMD,, etc.  I DON'T ever resort to copying off other people's trees, although I do at times, when I'm stuck, check them to see how other's think, as the hints that they should be.  To be honest though, I often don't agree with their conclusions.  

I do use Search.  I do use transcriptions - but whenever the original image is available (as it increasingly is now), I do verify with it.  Quite often, transcribers get it wrong.  I do also enjoy browsing through digitalised images of parish records, looking for siblings and clues.

Two Fathers

With traditional documentary-based genealogical research, we of course cannot prove a biological line.  We can rarely identify NPEs (Non-Parental Events).  All that we can do, is do our very best to track names through family interviews, documents and records.  Wherever possible, we should verify connections, check and record sources, look for correlations.  This isn't however always possible.  The genealogist has to then decide whether they have enough evidence to connect an ancestor.

For quite some time, I was proud that I had recorded all of my ancestors up to and including great great grandparent level.  However, at great great great grandparent level (Generation 6), I had three missing direct ancestors.  All three of them were the unrecorded father's of three great great grandparents, born illegitimate in Norfolk during the 19th Century.  I had 29 out of 32 biological ancestors recorded for Generation 6.

Then recently, I cracked two of them!  At least I have one evidence for their names.  Two of my illegitimate born great great grandparents, William Bennett Baxter, and Harriet Barber, were actually a married couple.  They were both illegitimate, and had both been born in Gressenhall Union Workhouse close to East Dereham in Norfolk.  William was base-born there  to a pauper named Eliza Baxter.  That she gave him the middle name "Bennett", and there had been Bennetts in the area, always made me suspect that his biological father was believed to have belonged to a Bennett Family, but which?

Then some research online, and it was a back to basics research that cracked it.  I was sure that I had seen their 1866 marriage certificate or entry, at nearby Swanton Morley before, probably years ago.  But if I had seen it before, and I now suspect that I hadn't, then I missed the key.  They BOTH named their alleged biological fathers in their marriage register entry!  How could I have not seen this before?

William Bennett Baxter claimed that he was the son of a labourer, by the name of ... William Bennett.  Harriet Baxter (nee Barber), claimed that her father was a labourer by the name of William Barker.  It's only their word, on their marriage entry - to their knowledge, but I've accepted that testimony, and have added ancestors on those lines.  I haven't yet found much about William Bennett. But I did quickly find more on my 4 x great grandfather William Barker.  He was a shoe maker in East Dereham, the son of a master boot maker.  Perhaps his family didn't approve.  Two years later he married an Elizabeth Wales.

My Fan Chart of Direct Ancestry, updated. I now have 234 direct ancestors named.

Other New Ancestors

The majority (but not all) of my newly claimed ancestors have been Norfolk ancestors on my Father's paternal side, balancing things up rather nicely.  Some of the newly discovered branches include a substantial number of new ancestors recorded both in Dereham, Norfolk, and in the nearby village of Swanton Morley.  They were two very ancestral homes in my tree.  I've recently extended the Baxter of Dereham line back safely to the 1760's.  I've also traced more of my great grandmother Faith Brooker's (nee Baxter) tree, including her direct maternal line to a Rachael Bradfield of Dereham.  Her daughter Elizabeth was baptised there in 1745.  In 1767, Elizabeth Bradfield married our 7 x great grandfather Solomon Harris at Swanton Morley.

I've also extended the line going back from my paternal grandmother (Doris Brooker nee Smith).  I've found more of her ancestors in the South Norfolk village of Hedenham, stretching back to a James Goodram, the son of John and Lydia Goodrum.  James was baptised at Hedenham in 1780.

Finally, I've tidied a few dates on my mother's side, and even started to reassess the ancestry of my children's mother.

Here is a count of direct ancestors from a Gramps report:

Generation 1 has 1 individual. (100.00%)

Generation 2 has 2 individuals. (100.00%)

Generation 3 has 4 individuals. (100.00%)

Generation 4 has 8 individuals. (100.00%)

Generation 5 has 16 individuals. (100.00%)

Generation 6 has 31 individuals. (96.88%)

Generation 7 has 55 individuals. (85.94%)

Generation 8 has 53 individuals. (41.41%)

Generation 9 has 44 individuals. (17.97%)

Generation 10 has 16 individuals. (3.52%)

Generation 11 has 6 individuals. (0.59%)

Total ancestors in generations 2 to 11 is 235. (11.68%)

That's enough genealogy for a while!  Living DNA report next.  Sample was activated and returned.

Living DNA Kit

Well, the kit arrived in good time!  Living DNA only just announced yesterday afternoon, on their Facebook Page, that the first batch of kits were ready for despatch - and it was here in Norfolk this morning!

Unfortunately, I can't activate it until the service goes live on Friday midday.  So I've got to wait a few days.  Ugh.  I also notice that the return address for the completed sample, is back to their base in Frome, Somerset.  So I'm guessing that they'll pile them up until they ship them to the lab in Denmark.  Must be patient!