Adventures in DNA.Land

DNAAND NOW FOR SOMETHING completely different. If you are like me, and mostly of European descent (or at least think you are), you may feel a bit disappointed by commercial admixture reports. Sometimes they can be quite vague (23andMe says that I am 8 percent “Broadly European”) and sometimes they can confuse you (my closest matching population, according to National Geographic, is Bulgarians.)

The best approach that I have found, is to test at as many companies as possible, and to use as many free tools as possible. From a composite of many different test results, one can begin to pick up patterns and discern between the “real” and “unreal.” How do I know, for instance, that my grandmother’s Amerindian result is not just noise? This is the result of seeing the signal over and over again from multiple tests, on the same chunks of chromosome.

DNA.Land, a non-profit site run by the New York Genome Center and Columbia University, promises free admixture reports using their own tools. Out of pure curiosity, I decided to submit four kits for analysis. The results, while slightly “blurry” — if you can think of them that way — seemed to reconfirm other test results. That being said, the variability between reports shows that each analysis is different, and the results should be considered an alternative, rather than a definitive analysis.

Here I will breakdown the results of my paternal grandmother, my father, my mother, and me.

Margaret Pittman

Grandma

This is my grandmother’s AncestryDNA data as reanalyzed by DNA.Land. First question, does it measure up to her genealogy. My grandmother is unique (compared to my parents and I) in that a full three-quarters of her ancestors were colonial settlers. That means that we assume they came from the British Isles, yet have almost no paperwork to prove it. They could have been French Huguenots, for instance, or Dutch traders, and we just wouldn’t know. My grandmother’s admixture results have truly puzzled me. Both Family Tree DNA and AncestryDNA gave her unusually high amounts of Europe West (74 and 62 percent, respectively), and Doug McDonald’s tailored analysis called her as French.

This is perplexing, as there are both British and Irish options available in both reports. Yet my grandmother, for all of the English surnames in her family tree — Pittman, Collins, Howell, Rawls — just doesn’t look very British genetically. There is the wild card of her maternal grandfather, a man named Robert Riedel (1865-1954) who came from Sebnitz, Germany. Sebnitz is a small market town on the border with the Czech Republic.

Yet even with a full quarter of German ancestry, it does not explain how the remaining half of my grandmother’s ancestry “looks French” and not British. Things get more interesting when you toss her Geno 2.0 results into the mix. Geno called her as 42 percent Northern European, 41 percent Mediterranean, and 16 percent Southwest Asian. A typical British sample is 50 percent Northern European and 33 percent Mediterranean. A typical Dane is 53 percent Northern European and 33 percent Mediterranean. Of all matching populations, my grandmother is closest to the Spanish and Portuguese.

DNA.Land’s analysis, though truncated into some different categories, seems to bear this out. It gives her a Southwestern European result of 25 percent, plus an Italian result of 4.7 percent, in addition to a high (as should actually be expected) Northern/Central European perspective of 64 percent. That being said. My grandmother, as far as I know, has no Spanish or Portuguese ancestry. Yet DNA.Land makes it clear that its “Southwestern European” result is based on comparisons with “Basque/French and French in (South and 1 other site) France and Basque/Spanish and Iberian Population in Spain.” Which is to say that there is a reason why my grandmother looks French. She is, in a sense, French.

Or, we could look at it another way. The Iberian people, the people of France, and some people in the British Isles all match each other. There is historical evidence that the border area of Virginia and North Carolina where my grandmother’s ancestors settled was populated by Quakers from a city called Caernarfon in northwest Wales.

 

The families in her tree — Howell, Jones, Cross, and others — have been traced, by some genealogists, back to this area of Wales. Moreover, in recent generations, some even bore Welsh personal names — Etheldred Cross and Hopkin Howell to name two. So it could be argued, that my grandmother’s Welsh DNA is similar to people from France and Spain, the original settlers of coastal Europe.

John Petrone

My father

Yet this strong “Southwestern European” result is almost entirely absent from my father’s DNA.Land results. In a generation, according to DNA.Land, Grandma’s 25 percent Iberian heritage was whittled away to 1.4 percent. Her 64 percent Northern/Central European reduced to 38 percent. That’s not surprising given the ancestry of my grandfather, both of whose parents were born in a village called San Giorgio Albanese, in Calabria, the toe of the boot of the Italian peninsula.

Grandfather

A family photo circa 1946, from left to right, my young uncle Mike, aunt Madeleine Petrone, my grandmother Margaret Pittman Petrone, aunt Loretta Petrone, and my grandfather Jerry Petrone.

We would expect my grandfather’s component to boost my father’s Italian result to 50 percent, but DNA.Land called it as 58 percent, which is way too high. I can only assume here that my grandmother’s high Welsh/Mediterranean result caused my father to look more Italian than he actually is. (Note, DNA.Land also called 4.7 percent of my grandmother’s DNA as Italian.)

The Native American result is interesting. My Grandmother typically has about 2 percent Amerindian heritage using the reliable GEDmatch calculators. Here it manifests itself in my father’s result. Knowing our ancestry, it is difficult to discern how much Native heritage she actually has. My grandmother’s father, Tom Pittman, apparently had some ancestors among the local Algonquian populations. Note, my grandmother did have a “North Slavic” result of 6.7 percent. This could be explained by either her grandfather’s proximity to the Czech border, the Algonquian ancestry, or both. DNA.Land’s “North Slavic” samples are sourced from a “Belarusian in Belarus; Estonian in Estonia; Lithuanian in Lithuania; Mordovian and Russian in Russia and Ukrainian in (East) Ukraine.” To me, this shows that both my father, and grandmother, have a Siberian element to their ancestry, the root of which is likely my grandmother’s father’s Algonquian ancestry.

My great grandfather Tom Pittman (1896-1971) as a young man (left) and older (right), the likely source of my grandmother’s “North Slavic” result, and father’s Native American result. Both delivered by DNA.Land, but in different categories.

Now, let’s have a look at my DNA.Land result, and the only way to make any sense of this is to look at my mother’s as well.

Christine Abbatecola

This is my mother’s result. It accurately reflects her ancestry in that 48 percent is “North/Central European,” which includes, according to DNA.Land, “Scottish Argyll_Bute_GBR and British in England; Icelandic in Iceland; Norwegian in Norway and Orcadian in Orkney Islands:” Her mother, Annabelle Miller, whose surname was actually changed from Menagh by her father, has immediate ancestry in Ireland and England. Almost all of her ancestors arrived to North America from Ireland, Northern Ireland, and England, in the 19th century. Therefore, we would expect to see about half of my mother’s ancestry as “North/Central European.” In this sense, DNA.Land is quite accurate.

Its interpretation of her father’s heritage as 38 percent Italian and 11 percent Mediterranean Islander, is also correct. Her father’s parents — Domenico Abbatecola and Maria Panza, were both from Bari, on the Adriatic coast of Italy, facing Greece. Mediterranean Islander is, according to DNA.Land, “Cypriot in Cyprus; Italian/East Sicilian and Italian/West Sicilian in Italy and Maltese in Malta.”

DNA.Land also picks up the South Asian result that AncestryDNA delivered for my mother and for me. AncestryDNA said that she was 2 percent Asia South. DNA.Land says that she is 3.3 percent Gujarati. Again, for her DNA.Land was quite accurate.

Now, let’s look at my results.

Justin Petrone

 

With a mother who is 48 percent North/Central European and a father who is 38 percent, it’s no surprise that I have a 43 percent North/Central European result. Moreover, it is directly in line with my 23andMe result of 42 percent “Northwestern European.”

In this prediction, DNA.Land was, again, accurate.

But notice what it did to my recent Italian heritage. Remember, four of my eight great grandparents were born in Italy. My father is 58 percent Italian, according to DNA.Land (which seems skewed, but factors in some kind of Mediterranean contribution from Grandma.) My mother is 38 percent Italian and 11 percent “Mediterranean Islander”. I should be 50 percent Italian, right?

No. According to DNA.Land, I am only 26 percent Italian, the lowest result for the trio of my father (58 percent) and mother (38 percent) and me. Meanwhile, the Mediterranean Islander component has risen to 26 percent, seemingly out of nowhere. Now, a 26 percent Italian and 26 percent Mediterranean Islander result would add up to about 52 percent. Somehow though, my father’s submerged Med Islander result has become more apparent in me. What’s interesting — this almost exactly mirrors my 23andMe result. 23andMe similarly had me as 27 percent Italian, 18 percent “Broadly Southern European,” and 4 percent Balkan (the only vendor to pick out the deep Albanian ancestry of my paternal great grandparents fro San Giorgio Albanese).

Likewise, I have apparently inherited my mother’s South Asian ancestry. 23andMe did not pick up this signal. But DNA.Land, and some GEDmatch calculators, notably the Globe10 and Globe13 calculators offered by Dodecad, do show that I have some South Asian ancestry. Southern Italy absorbed many waves of emigrants, and people from the East were most certainly among them. I am of course curious what my 2.5 percent ambiguous results are. It’s possible that they are also this Siberian component that my father and grandmother have. I imagine that finding that result, alongside Northern/Central European, Italian, Mediterranean Islander, and Gujarati, would be a bit confusing.

My final take on DNA.Land is that it was fairly accurate and informative for a free admix tool. At the same time, those wildly fluctuating numbers for components of Mediterranean descent — Italian, Mediterranean Islander — show that one has to test at a number of companies and conduct many other analyses to get the full value out of DNA.Land’s results.

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