Those Green Leaves


Anyone who has taken the AncestryDNA test is aware of the iconic green leaf, known officially as the ‘shared ancestor hint.’ This is a tool that reveals a potential shared line of descent with your DNA matches. This does not conclusively demonstrate that the shared DNA is from those ancestors, but there is a likelihood that it might be the case.

My grandmother, Margaret Pittman, passed away in February 2016 at the age of 97. I had her tested several years ago using AncestryDNA though, and I can see from her kit that she has 32 Shared Ancestor Hints. I recently had my DNA analyzed by AncestryDNA too. The admix results were pretty good, and I will get to that later, but for now I will focus on the Shared Ancestor Hints of which I had only 17, just 10 of which I have in common with my grandmother (and two of those are my grandmother herself, as well as my father John).

That leaves eight Shared Ancestor Hints in common between my kit and her kit. Mathematically, this makes sense. I only inherited at most a quarter of my DNA from my paternal grandmother. So approximately a quarter of 32 is 8. The more interesting question is which quarter did I inherit, or from which ancestors did I inherit DNA?

Four of my eight matches (50 percent) descend from the marriages of Graham Collins and Nancy Arline, or the marriage of Thomas R. Collins and Polly Arline, in Gates County, North Carolina, in the early 1820s. It’s hard to tease these lines apart, because you have an example of a set of siblings marrying another set of siblings.

The remainder of my common matches with my grandmother descend from associated families — the Arlines, either through Jesse Arline, the father of Nancy and Polly, or through his father, James Arline, the Revolutionary veteran, or his mother, Mary Kittrell’s family.

This is really fascinating to me. It shows that my blog has been focused on the very people whose DNA I inherited.

I also match someone who descends from my ancestor William Howell and his wife Jerusha Rawls of Nansemond County, Virginia. I was aware of the Howell match through a relative who contacted me via 23andMe. However, I do not match my grandmother’s Rawls, Pittman, Scoggins, Maget, Cross, or other matches. I assume that a) I did not inherit DNA from those ancestors or b) There are other descendants, carrying other segments of their genomes who have not yet tested or identified their ancestors by building trees online. You can get a better sense of these families here.


Anyway, this has been a fun exercise in an entertaining way to use AncestryDNA. As for the admixture results, this time I was rather pleased. My main way of gauging results is not necessarily if they match my tree, but if they match the results of other family members testing by the same service. For instance, 23andMe does not give my mother or me any South Asian ancestry. However, AncestryDNA showed that both my mother and I carry about 2 percent South Asian, or Asian Indian, ancestry, which is a result that multiple GEDmatch calculators have produced. DNA.Land also said I had 2.3 percent Gujarati ancestry and assigned my mother’s kit 3.3 percent Gujarati ancestry. I tend to believe these results have some validity and are not noise.

Here are the breakdowns for my father, mother, and me, according to AncestryDNA. They are pretty accurate. Obviously, if my father is 51 percent Italy/Greece and my mother is 33 percent, I should be about 46 percent. 23andMe showed me as 49 percent “Southern European” which seems somewhat in line with these results. If you add up the 46 percent Italy/Greece, with the 3 percent Middle East, plus the other non-Northern European ancestry, you get about 50 percent. I am curious though about results like European Jewish, Finnish, or Europe East. I can imagine that for my parents, this represents some kind of Balkan ancestry, inherited from the Italian sides of their families. The Finnish though is more mysterious — our Scandinavian results are so small that it’s odd that some part of it would be identified as Finnish, not to mention that Finns and Scandinavians are not actually genetically similar. Maybe it’s noise, or maybe some component of any Amerindian ancestry is being read as such. DNA.Land, for instance, gave my father about 2 percent Native American ancestry, but my grandmother, his mother, about 7 percent of something called ‘North Slavic.’ Family Tree DNA also gave my grandmother a 40 percent (!) Eastern European result. When I have looked through the admix matching populations I can see that the Amerindian result grows higher as you head east. So that Ukrainians, or Mordovinians, have amount the same amount of Native American ancestry as my grandmother, who was primarily descended from British colonial settlers, does.

Here are the results. Perhaps this is helpful or interesting to some of you.

                               My father               My mother          Me

Italy/Greece       51%                          33%                         46%

Europe West      27%                           2%                           6%

Ireland                8%                             15%                         15%

Scandinavia      7%                             4%                           6%

Great Britain     3%                            25%                         9%

Europe East        2%                            6%                           7%

Middle East        <1%                             –                             3%

Caucasus            <1%                           7%                           <1%

Euro – Jewish      –                                 5%                           3%

Asia South           –                                 2%                           2%

Africa North       –                                  1%                          <1%

Finland                –                                    –                                1%

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