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:

Conclusions

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.

Time Travelling back through my ancestry timeline - Super Family History

The Dance of Cogul, tracing by Henri Breuil.

A Timeline for my ancestry based on current evidences.

3,000,000 years ago.

In Africa.  Eastern and / or maybe Southern Africa.  Hominids.  We call them Australopithecines, and in some ways, they resembled modern chimpanzees but that were adapting to walking upright bipedally, in open environments.  They made stone tools.  They had an omnivorous diet.  They were my ancestors three million years ago.  As they were for all of us.  Natural Selection was the big, very slow kicker for prehistory.  Things changed very, very slowly,

200,000 years ago.

The first hominids that are regarded rather loosely as Anatomically Modern Human started to emerge in Africa.

At this time, most of my ancestors still lived in Africa, but some of my non-anatomically modern ancestors had already migrated out of Africa, and had dispersed across Eurasia for some time.  They included those archaic humans that anthropologists presently call Neanderthals and Denisovans. 

50,000 years ago.

Most likely by now, most of my hunter-forager ancestors had left Africa.  An early out-of-Africa base appears to have been Arabia and the Middle East.  Some of my ancestors had met now, after long family separations, it was the birth of the Eurasians.  The last Ice Age encroached.

14,000 years ago.

People had been learning to live with the climatic fluctuations of the last Ice Age.  Each hardening of climatic conditions had frozen Eurasian human populations into isolated conditions that increased genetic drift.

Where were my hunter-forager ancestors 14,000 years ago?  Most likely in pockets dispersed across Western Eurasia, from South-West Europe, across to Central Asia, and from Arabia up to Siberia.  My direct paternal (Y-DNA line) ancestor at this time, most likely lived somewhere between what today is Syria, and Pakistan.  He could for example, have lived in the Zagros Mountains of Iran.  My direct maternal ancestor (mtDNA line) most likely lived in another pocket of hunter-foragers somewhere in Central Asia.  Others very likely lived in the Caucasus, Southern Europe, Middle East, and Arabia.

5,600 years ago.

Many people in Western Eurasia were adapting to a new way of living, where farming and agriculture, with a range of domesticated species of animal and plant were spreading, often carried along in waves that are marked in our DNA.  The Neolithic Revolution that had affected my ancestors had occurred a few thousand years earlier in South-West Asia, in an area that we call the Fertile Crescent - the Levant, and down the Tigris and Euphrates river valleys.

My direct paternal (Y-DNA line) ancestor may have lived in one of the Uruk farming settlements in Babylonia, or could have been a Neolithic farmer in a number of cultures spread across what is now Iraq, Iran, or Pakistan.  He alternatively could be one of a number of specialists that early civilisation was generating - a potter, a weaver, or a miner.

My direct maternal line had drifted out of central Asia, and onto the Eurasian Steppe Corridor.  My mtDNA ancestor was most likely living now on the Pontic and Caspian Steppes - what is now Ukraine, Southern Russia, or Kazakhistan.  Her people would have most likely herded domestic livestock including horses, cattle, goats and sheep.  They were mastering the horse and using the first wheeled wagons. On the Steppe corridor, they had access not only to trade with the civilisations south of the Caucasus, but to other cultures, and their materials.  They were experimenting with some of the earliest metallurgy including copper working.

Asides from her, I most likely had a number of other ancestors living in these pastoralist cultures on the Steppes at this time. Perhaps around 28% of my ancestors 5,500 years ago, lived there.

Other ancestors of mine at this time, were dispersed across Europe.  They include the Neolithic European farmers.  They had descended largely from populations in the Levant and Anatolia.  Some could have even lived in Megalithic Britain, but most likely, many of my European Neolithic ancestors lived elsewhere on the Continent, in for example, the Danube valley, or Iberia.  Many of them had ancestry that had hopped westwards along the Mediterranean, the first farmers from Anatolia and the Levant (50% of my ancient admixture), but with a smaller admixture of hunter-gatherer ancestors that had previously lived in Europe (12% of my ancient admixture).

4,600 years ago.

My Copper Age horse riding Steppe ancestors had migrated westwards into Europe.  There they had admixed with the earlier European Neolithic people.  Their DNA appeared in a Copper Age fusion culture across Central Europe (Poland, Germany, Czech, Slovakia, Hungary, etc) that we call the Corded Ware Culture.  My direct maternal ancestors (mtDNA line) were most likely of that culture for a time.  Their mtDNA markers turn up associated with it.

Aside from her, some of my other ancestors would have been in the Corded Ware Culture.  However, the westward movement of DNA from the Steppes didn't end there.  In Western Europe, it triggered the birth of another culture, that archaeologists call Bell Beaker Culture.  Some of my ancestors could have belonged to the Bell Beaker culture in Iberia, or Western France.  However, what is more likely is that at least some of them belonged to a Bell Beaker culture that had settled in the Lower Rhine Valley (The Netherlands and NW Germany).

My direct paternal (Y-DNA line) ancestor was an exception.  He most likely was living somewhere around what is now Iran, possibly as a farmer in the Bronze Age civilisations there.

3,600 years ago.

I want to just stop here, to record that some of my Bell Beaker Culture ancestors had crossed the North Sea from the Lower Rhine (Netherlands) to settle in South East Britain.  Their descendants were living in Bronze Age Britain.  I can't say with any degree of certainty, if my direct maternal (mtDNA line) ancestor was a part of this migration, or whether her line was still on the European Continent, and crossed later.  Either are equally feasible.   I would have had other ancestors, perhaps the majority at this time, scattered across the European Continent, but most likely, some in what is now Germany, France, Scandinavia, and Southern Europe.

My direct paternal (Y-DNA line) ancestor was most likely still in the area of Iraq, or Iran. Perhaps for example, he was an Assyrian.

2,600 years ago.

I'd estimate that perhaps around 38% of my ancestors were now living in Iron Age Britain.  My Iron Age British ancestors would have lived in the round houses and would have farmed the land.    Some people refer to the culture of the British Isles at this time as Celtic.  Some of my ancestors may well have belonged to a tribal federation, that was later known as the Iceni.

This may or may not have included my direct maternal (mtDNA line) ancestor, who could have been a Briton, but may have equally lived along with many of my other ancestors - in an Iron Age Germanic culture in the Netherlands, Northern Germany, or Denmark. Others may have lived further to the south and west in Europe in other cultures  such as the Gauls.

My direct paternal (Y-DNA line) ancestor was most likely still in the area of the Middle East, or Iran. Perhaps for example, he was a Persian.

1,700 years ago.

Lets stop here a moment.  Roman Britain.  Perhaps 40% of my ancient ancestors living here at the time.  Britain had been occupied by the Western Roman Empire for some time.  My ancestors in Britannia would have very much identified as Romans, although they largely descended from the Iron Age Britons. However, there were traders, soldiers, and merchants from further afield here.  That might have even included my direct paternal (Y-DNA line) ancestor, that could for example, have traveled to Southern Britannia from Assyria or Persia, or perhaps even from the Eastern Roman Empire in Anatolia and the Levant.

Meanwhile many of my ancestors were living in Germanic pagan tribes across the North Sea in what is now the Netherlands, Northern Germany, and Denmark.  Others may have been living in Roman Gaul, perhaps even in Southern Europe in places such as Tuscany.

1,000 years ago.

I believe that the majority of my ancestors now lived in early medieval southern Britain, although some may have still lived further to the south in places such as Netherlands, France, Spain, or Italy.  If he didn't arrive earlier, perhaps my direct paternal (Y-DNA line) ancestor arrived in Wessex about now, as for example, a specialist from the Middle East, working for the church.  Many of my ancestors in South-East Britain had arrived from across the North Sea over the preceding centuries, with Germanic tribes such as the Angles, Frisians, Danes and Saxons. 

This would have included Anglo-Saxon ancestors of my mother, that most likely rowed past the decommissioned Roman shore fort at Burgh, and perhaps moored at Reedham.  It may have included Danish ancestors of her that a few centuries later settled the district of Flegg in East Norfolk.  DNA shared on the Continent in places such as modern day Germany, Netherlands, France, Belgium, and Denmark reflects strongly in my ancestral DNA tests.  Much of it may have arrived during these early medieval immigration events.

My direct maternal (mtDNA line) would most likely be in East Anglia or nearby by now.

500 years ago.

Exchange between South East Britain and the European Continent didn't end.  It is possible that I had more ancestors arrive here from Normandy, Medieval France, and the Spanish Netherlands.  However by 500 years ago, It is possible that all of my ancestors now lived in Tudor England.  There is still the chance of the odd later ancestor migrating from elsewhere, although I don't yet see it in any genealogical record.  It is likely that my direct paternal (Y-DNA line) ancestor was living in Southern England, and that my direct maternal (mtDNA line) ancestor was living in East Anglia.   I trace his line back to the Oxfordshire / Berkshire border, and her line back 300 years ago to the village of Bunwell in Norfolk.

It is likely that the majority of my Tudor ancestors were living in East Anglia by now, particularly in the County of Norfolk.  Many of the men would be transitioning from medieval peasant status to that of free rural labourers or some into farmers or tradesmen.

300 years ago.

It is highly likely that by now, all of my ancestors lived in South-East England.  The majority in Norfolk, East Anglia, perhaps as high as 77% East Anglian, also a cluster in the Thames Valley of Oxfordshire and Berkshire, and a smaller cluster around Lincolnshire and Northamptonshire.

Their trades included agricultural labourerers, shepherds, horsemen, marshmen, smallhold farmers, watermen, carpenters, inn keepers, hawkers, etc. They were the English rural working classes of the 18th Century.

Their recorded surnames included:

Moore, Gunton, Mar, Mollett, Portar, Beck, Breeze, Cruchfield, Lewell, Mingay, Wittham, Thurkettle, Gardiner, Ursul, Upcroft, Neale, Neville, Hammond, Bennett, Read, Bradfield, Aimes, Sniss, Wick, Bligh, Frances, Rippon, Saunderson, Goodram, Seymore, Waine, Blaxhall, Jacobs, Yallop Brucker, Gregory, Hardiment, Hardyman, Briting, Hill, Harrison, Brown, Harding, Creess, Tovel, Osborne, Nichols, Bond, Bowes, Daynes, Brooker, Curtis, Smith, Baxter, Shawers, Edney, Tovell, Key, Tammas-Tovell, Thacker, Lawn, Tammas, Hagon, Hewitt, Springall, Porter, Rose, Larke, Annison, Barker, Brooks, Ling, Rowland, Gorll, Dingle, Marsh, Symonds, Dawes, Goffen, Waters, Briggs, Nicholls, Shepherd, Maye, Morrison, Merrison, Norton, Cossey, Harrington, Barber, Peach, Dennis, Durran, Freeman, Hedges, Crutchfield, Quantrill, Page, Dove, Rix, Sales, Britiff, Goffin, Coleman, Tibnum, Mitchells, Ellis, Beckett, Riches, Snelling, Ransby, Nicholes, Harris, Shilling, Wymer, Moll, Ginby, Gynby, Gaul, Edwards, and Gall.

50 years ago.

I was a small child in Norfolk.  Born English, to a local East Anglian family.  Yet look back at my ancestral timeline.  My ancestry is from all over Europe, and even from across Western Asia, and before that from Africa.  We are all cousins in one large global family.  Much of my family timeline, will also be your timeline.


That's time travelling through my own ancestry.

Ancient ancestry - K11 Ancients Common and rarer Alleles, and a fresh assessment

Emmanuel Benner - Prehistoric Man Hunting Bears

Above image by Emmanuel Benner the Younger [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The new K11 Ancients Common and Rarer Alleles tests are being run by Dilawer Khan, creator of the Gedrosia stable of admixture calculators available on GEDMatch.com, and of the EurasianDNA.com website.  This new test uses a new set of principles, based on using ADMIXTURE to produce more reliable ancient results.  I commissioned him to run my own 23andMe file through the tests, to produce the following results and PCA's/

PCA for Common Alleles (my position "Norfolk"):

PCA for Rarer Alleles (my position "Norfolk"):

The K11 Ancients common Alleles results should reflect the older ancestry most accurately.  In summary, that gave me:

  1. 48.6% Neolithic Farmer
  2. 26.5% Copper Age Steppe Pastoralist
  3. 24.9% Western Hunter-Gatherer

Thank you Dilawer.

How have other tests seen similar admixture?

I previously commissioned David Wesolowski (Eurogenes stable on GEDMatch and of Eurogenes Blog) to run my raw file through his K7 Basal-rich test.  He produced the following results:

  1. 57.1% Villabruna-related
  2. 28.8% Basal-rich
  3. 14% Ancient North Eurasian.

These are two very different tests, of admixture between different sets of population, of different time periods.  What I do find interesting is the 14% percentage of ANE (Ancient north Eurasian) relates quite favourably to what I understand it's admixture percentage is to Yamna or Steppe pastoralist.  Dilawer gives me 26.5% Steppe.   I have previously heard that the Yamna were circa 50% ANE, and the remainder of mixture of other Western Eurasian Hunter-Gatherer groups, including Caucasus Hunter-Gatherers.

The K11 Ancients test does suggest that I have a surprisingly high amount of ancestry from the Neolithic Farmers, that were in Europe previous to the arrival of the Steppe migrants around 4,900 years ago.  This is actually consistent with my other Ancient admixture test results.  The K7 Basal-rich test for example, had given me 28.8% Basal.  The Basal Eurasians are a hypo-theoretical "ghost" population that was among the founding admixture of the Neolithic Farmers, in a similar way that the ANE were among the founding admixture of the Steppe Pastoralists.  Again then, the two tests do tally reasonably well in determining where my personal percentages of ancient DNA  originate.

Why do I have so high percentages of Neolithic Farmer and Basal Eurasian I do not know.  My DNA flavour is a slight extreme, and atypical even for an English person, and more so for a Briton.  My recorded genealogy is all SE English, mainly East Anglian.  I would love to see the results of other East Anglians, as I suspect to them, that I am not such an extreme.  However, even if this was the case, it doesn't explain why modern East Anglians would have lower Steppe, and more Neolithic than either West British, Scandinavians, or even ancient DNA from Anglo-Saxons.  Higher percentages of Neolithic ancestry today are usually found to the South, peaking in Sardinia, then Iberia.  A favoured explanation is that the SE English could have had a lot of input from the South, via the French during Norman and Medieval periods.  I'm not totally convinced - yet.

A third new ancient admixture test that I might use here in the MDLP Project Modern K11.  On GEDMatch Oracle, it proposes a number of genetic distances to ancient DNA samples:

1 British_Celtic @ 6.948432
2 Bell_Beaker_Germany @ 8.143357
3 Alberstedt_LN @ 8.426399
4 British_IronAge @ 9.027687
5 Halberstadt_LBA @ 10.273615
6 Bell_Beaker_Czech @ 12.190828
7 Hungary_BA @ 12.297826
8 Nordic_MN_B @ 12.959966
9 British_AngloSaxon @ 12.993559
10 Nordic_BA @ 13.170285

Using 4 populations approximation:
1 Bell_Beaker_Germany + Bell_Beaker_Germany + Corded_Ware_Germany + Hungary_CA @ 1.085814
2 BenzigerodeHeimburg_LN + BenzigerodeHeimburg_LN + Corded_Ware_Estonia + Hungary_CA @ 1.089547
3 Alberstedt_LN + Bell_Beaker_Germany + Corded_Ware_Germany + Hungary_CA @ 1.117882
4 Bell_Beaker_Germany + BenzigerodeHeimburg_LN + Hungary_CA + Srubnaya_LBA @ 1.149613
5 Bell_Beaker_Germany + British_IronAge + Hungary_CA + Karsdorf_LN @ 1.185312
6 Alberstedt_LN + BenzigerodeHeimburg_LN + Hungary_CA + Sintashta_MBA @ 1.226794
7 Nordic_BattleAxe + Hungary_BA + Hungary_CA + Karsdorf_LN @ 1.234930
8 Nordic_BattleAxe + BenzigerodeHeimburg_LN + Hungary_CA + Unetice_EBA @ 1.238376
9 Alberstedt_LN + Hungary_BA + Hungary_CA + Yamnaya_Samara_EBA @ 1.247371
10 Bell_Beaker_Germany + Hungary_CA + Nordic_LN + Srubnaya_LBA @ 1.268124

If I look at four population distances, then based on the samples available in the test, I'm looking pretty European Bell Beaker, with Corded Ware and Yamna appearing. My closest single population in the samples is a surprising British Celtic!  More samples from the European Neolithic might turn those results around.

How not to use online genealogy

I recently decided to invest in an annual subscription to Ancestry.co.uk.  I therefore intend to use it extensively over the next year in order to bolster my tree and to add leafs through their very fat database of resources.

A little background.  I've researched my family tree since at least 1988, but not continuously.  Back in the day, there were no online resources.  the most modern thing were census on microfilm and the Mormon IGI (International Genealogical Index - the ancestor of FamilySearch.org) available in the Local Studies Library.  My tree started, as it should, through interviewing elderly relatives, looking through their photos, the few birth and marriage certificates, and any other artifacts.  Those elderly relatives have all passed on now.  if you are just starting with genealogy - do it now.  I then moved on to the English & Welsh County record offices.  White gloves and pencils, in order to peruse through the original parish registers and other documents - no digitalisation, or even microfilming of them then.  Very little indexing as well.

Then I was ordering GRO certificates from London, paying professional researchers to collect them for me, as it worked out cheaper than having them mailed to me by the GRO!  Then rather than looking for DNA matches, it was searching through surname interests or through the annually published GRD (Genealogical Research Directory) for shared ancestry.  The good old days.

I said it wasn't continuously.  Interests changed, I lived out life recklessly, and moved on a few times, leaving all behind.  I lost pretty much all of my genealogy.  Meanwhile, digitalisation was coming in fast, indexing increasing, and the Internet was giving birth to online genealogy.  During this birth, I had used an early version of Broderbund Family Tree Maker (it installed on several floppy disks) on a personal computer, and even managed to upload data and a GEDCOM file to a few places.

Then maybe 16 months ago, after ordering a 23andMe test, I picked it up again.  I found my old GEDCOM file on a web archive.  Downloaded it, opened it with open source Gramps software.  It worked!  Since then, I've gathered surviving notes (so many lost), photos, and certificates.  I then discovered a remarkable resource.  Online Genealogy.

Online Genealogy

There are many online resources.  The big providers include Ancestry.com (Ancestry.co.uk), FindMyPast.co.uk, MyHeritage.com, and FamilySearch.org.  All but the latter website are subscription fee based.  Asides from these providers, there are many other services for genealogy online.  Of the above, I have heavily used FindMyPast, FamilySearch, and Ancestry.

Online Genealogy using Ancestry.com

The big advantage of Online Genealogy is indexing and the database.  Over the past 25 years or so, armies of volunteers and paid researchers, have been reading through microfilmed, microfisches, or digitalised images of masses of parish registers, parish records, wills, criminal registers, state records, military records, Bishop's transcripts, Headstone surveys, and more - from not only England & Wales but from all over the World, where they are available.  They read the names of those recorded, and add them to computer files with references.  Businesses such as Ancestry.com, buy access to these indexes, and often to the original digitalised images if they exist.  These are all added to their own database.  Their customers search, and find ancestors.

A Few Problems

  1. I can report this for English records, for which I have a lot of experience. The record is still very incomplete.  You might see a Joe Bloggs, but is it your ancestor Joe Bloggs?  Many of the parish records were missing, or damaged.  Parish chests in cold churches can be damp places, the registers pulled out for every baptism, marriage, or burial, thumbed through by all.  Paper was valuable in older records, and the priests and clerks cram their little scribbled lines in them.  There were stories of vicar's wife's using old registers to kindle the fire in the vicarage.  In addition, not ALL parish registers are online at any one depository.  I've noticed that Ancestry.com is very good for Norfolk registers, but abysmal for Suffolk.  FindMyPast is good for Berkshire records.  They are far from complete records.  In addition, some ancestors were not in any parish records.  They were rogues on the run, vagabonds, or even more often ... non-conformists.  Some priests were lazy.  All of this on top of those many missing or damaged records.
  2. The indexers were human beings.  Sometimes volunteers, sometimes more recently I suspect, poorly paid human beings outside of Europe (is this the case?)  They vary in skill at reading 18th century, 17th, even 16th century hand writing that has been scribbled down in often damaged records.  The database searches for names that sound similar (to a computer program), but they miss so many that are incorrectly transcribed.  Try to read through the original images if you can.

So the record is far from complete.  The online record less so.  A brilliant tool, but it's not going to hand you your family tree all perfect and true.  If you understand this problem, and you are more concerned about truth and quality, than about quickly producing a family tree back to Queen Boadicea (I have seen people claim such things!), then you are already aware of this.  The problem is, that you know that an ancestor was called Joe Bloggs.  Online, you find a Joe Bloggs, living 100 miles away, born about the right time.  With a click, you "add" him to the tree, then resume climbing up from him.  What you may not realise, is that there were maybe 20 Joe Bloggs born at about the right time within a 100 mile radius of the next generation.  You just picked the one that your online ancestry service flashed up to you.  He is quite probably not close family, never mind your ancestor.  All above him are not your ancestors.

Truth and quality in a family tree

Do you care?  Is it possible to trace back more than several generations, and to preserve that quality? The 20th and 19th centuries in England & Wales are great.  We have records from a national census every 10 years between 1841 and 1911.  They can be searched with your online service.  We have them as correlations for parish records.  We also have state records to correlate with from 1837!  Before that though, it gets a bit scratchy.  Particularly if your ancestors were not titled - as most of them were not!  Then we are down to scribbles in parish registers, a few tax books, tithes, military rolls.  Great stuff, but increasingly - we lose correlations.  We lose certainty.

When we lose certainty, we have to start to make judgments.  Do we add an ancestor based on little record?  We have to make that judgement ourselves.  We should add the resource, name it, perhaps publish our uncertainty.  We should be ready to remove if doubt grows rather than certainty.

I've not mentioned biological certainty here.  Haplogroup DNA can challenge some very old trees.  Things happen in biology.  We call them NPE (Non Parental Event).  Spouses cheat, lie, prostitute, are raped, commit bigamy, incest, confused.  People secretly adopt, particularly during a crisis.  I have seen a claim of the average NPE happening once in every ten generations on average.  I don't think that we can truly measure this.  Anyway, I'm of the school that although DNA genealogy is interesting in the pursuit of the past, that family is not always just about biology.  Who reared them?  Who gave them their name?  If that is family, it's also ancestry.


But the ultimate mistake with using online genealogy

This one is easy.  It is that companies such as Ancestry.com and MyHeritage.com, allow, sometimes encourage the resourcing of other members family trees.  It has nothing to do with rights or property.  It has to do with the reproduction of mistakes, and bad quality research.  It indeed gives genealogy at online sites like these, a pretty bad name.

Many users of these sites are casual.  They have only used the online resources available through the quick click and collect ancestry of these services.  They are only trying to pursue as far back, as possible, within as short time as possible.  Truth and quality is of very much secondary value.  It's the consume society.  They leave their disjointed trees of fiction all over these web services.  Then Ancestry / MyHeritage, invites you to add them to your own.  Very much internet viral in form - the errors replicate like mutations in a strand of DNA, only with lightening speed.  It's so easy to add new layers of ancestry.  But they are fiction.  I've seen people marrying before they are born, dying before they give birth.  I've seen people marry their parents or uncles.   I myself, recently tried it en mass as an experiment to a tree.  It was incredible.  The discrepancies and errors.  Ugly.

So, if you have to, look at other trees. I strongly recommend that you avoid that temptation to simply click and collect ancestry.  Most of the genuine ancestry on these trees is available to be quickly found with your own use of the services on that site.  Do that, but make your own judgments.  Don't add to the virus trees.  Genealogy is for the long haul.

Total Genealogy

I'm certainly not descended from the bonobos in the above photograph (Credit: W. H. Calvin Ape Bonobo San Diego Zoo.  Creative Commons Attribution 4.0).  However, at some point, perhaps around seven million years ago, we do share common ancestry.  That is a link in the inter-connectivity of Life on Earth.  Also an excuse to post a photo of those wonderful beings.

I recently attended a lecture on Total Genealogy, but I was disappointed that the subject was surname study.  I had hoped that it would relate more to my own concept of the term.  A genealogy that doesn't just embrace documentary research of recorded ancestors over the past 500 years or so, but a more general interest in heritage, that overlaps with DNA, genetics, population genetics, anthropology, physical anthropology, archaeology, local history, national and regional history, cultural and social history, prehistory, linguistics, human evolution, and yes, even our shared ancestry with those bonobo cousins.  Everything ancestral, how we came to be how we are, and above all, time travel in our imaginations.  That is what I mean by Total Genealogy.

Researching the written record, following names is great fun.  Why should the fun stop there though?  Where were my ancestors 12,000 years ago?  Actually, DNA and population studies gives my imagination some good answers to that question.  What did my ancestors 500,000 years look like?  How did they live?  If I could time travel, what would I see?

Total genealogy leads you to bridges, the concept of genetic folding, and of bottlenecks.  You start to relate closer to all humans, and see everyone as a distant cousin.  It embraces a love of heritage, of people, and of the Natural World.  It leaves me in awe.

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.



Medieval Mobility, DNA tests, and the East Anglian

Two men threshing sheaf - Luttrell Psalter c1325-1335 f74v - BL Add MS 42130

Two men threshing sheaf - Luttrell Psalter (c.1325-1335), f.74v  See page for author [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons.  Originally published/produced in England [East Anglia].

My last post on the Norfolk 16th century surname study has made me look at my medieval East Anglian roots a little differently.  It suggests that there may have been a fair amount of mobility and migration in East Anglia, and from outside, from both Northern England, and from the nearby Continent.  Although current commercial autosomal DNA tests for ancestry are clearly contradictory, behind them lays a common pattern.  My auDNA is little bit more similar to people living on the Continent, in places like France, Belgium, Netherlands, Germany, Denmark, and also further to the south - than it is for most British testers.  This is despite my known English family history and recorded ancestry.  These commercial DNA tests usually claim to investigate your family ancestry over the past 250 - 500 years only.  I'm convinced that is untrue.  I can't help but see population background, and shared patterns from testers that have no known, or little known migration or admixture in places such as England, and Northern France.  These appear to represent older migration and population admixture events that are shared across local genomes.

However, maybe there is something that these tests are telling me - but only after taking into account to the results of other British testers.  I now believe that I may have underestimated mobility around East Anglia and England between the fourteenth and seventeenth centuries - that precedes any of my recorded ancestry.  I also feel the need to reassess Continental migration to East Anglia.  It appears it was not all urban or bourgeois.  The Anglo-Saxon fifth century AD may have marked the most significant migration event to south east Britain, but I know believe that I have underestimated how much migration and exchange has occurred across the North Sea ever since.

Focusing first on movements within East Anglia, and England, I have in my last post,  Norfolk surnames in the sixteenth century, provided locative surname evidence.

Let's look at some more historical research.

"Considerable personal mobility existed from the later Middle Ages.  From the mid fourteenth century the loosening of seigneurial bonds allowed English people to become even more mobile.  Landlords complained that tenants were deserting their holdings for better land elsewhere and that servants and labourers were seeking higher wages from other employers.".

"From the sixteenth century, migration and personal mobility becomes better documented.  A study of tax records for Towcester in Northamptonshire showed a considerable turnover of the population between consecutive years.  In 1525 47 of the 278 men taxed in the previous year had left.  This unusually full source shows that six of the 47 had died and 41 had migrated.  This represents a turnover rate of 16.9 per cent a year - higher than any other communities in pre-industrial England.".

The continuity (and discontinuity) of surnames over a period of time indicates the movement of individuals and families with the same surname in and out of the community.  The small 'close' village of Glynde (population 216 in the 1801 census) lies three miles from the East Sussex county town of Lewes.  Between 1558 and 1812 out of 444 different surnames that appeared in the parish register (excluding people whose only connection with the village was to marry in its church) 261 surnames (58.8 per cent) occurred only once and 71 per cent were found only during a period of 25 years or less.".

Source: The English Rural Community: Image and Analysis. Brian short. 1992.

So, maybe I need to discard ideas of my mother's tight cluster of recorded ancestry as having been so localised for so long.  Although, the density of the cluster does suggest that she probably have some direct ancestry in the Reedham area of East Norfolk for a very long time, perhaps back to the early medieval, there is also a good probability that her medieval ancestry stretched much further across the region, England, and to the Continent.  Indeed, her known ancestral proximity to the coast and a tidal navigable river makes that Continental ancestry more likely.  For my father's ancestry - the majority recorded East Anglian, but with known ancestry going back to Oxfordshire, Berkshire, London, and the East Midlands, this might be even more the case.