Living DNA Ancestry Test Review

Table of Contents:

  1. Baltic Admixture
  2. Tuscan Admixture
  3. Germanic Admixture

In this article, I’m going to review Living DNA’s ancestry test with the main focus on the accuracy of the assigned ancestral populations and how these populations are defined. As I only have access to my own results this analysis will have to be limited to the ancestral populations assigned to myself: Germanic (Northeast, South and Northwest Germanic), Baltic and Etruscan.

Firstly, we’re going to take a look at my overall results (updated on the 31st of January 2020):

Results portal Living DNA, Recent ancestry overiew.

Living DNA assigns different modern populations to your test results based on comparing your DNA to that of thousands (possibly hundreds of thousands) of people, who have taken the test before. These people, together with yourself, define the different regions that can be assigned to you. For example, if you’re from Surrey, England and all of your ancestors (or at least for the last two generations) came from this region then you’d be a pretty good example of what the average “native” of Surrey looks like genetically.

In the case of the British Isles Living DNA has actually achieved this differentiation of regions on a very small and very precise level by doing just that and they were planning to do the same thing with Germany, but haven’t been able to do so yet. What they have done, however, is to cut the German and Dutch (and to a small degree Danish and Gutnish (a Swedish dialect)) up into three distinct groups: Northwest Germanic, Northeast Germanic and South Germanic. But back to the example.

Baltic Admixture

Whilst people of unmixed descent are ideal for creating reference populations, very few of us actually are these days, which quite obviously was the case with myself as well. Here is where the problems start ,however: Although I am of mixed Germanic descent (out of my eight Great Grandparents three were Swabian, two were Bergisch, two were Prussian and one was Silesian), there was no Tuscan or Italian in my family, which I know of. The 15.1 % Baltic admixture is understandable if you take into consideration, that two of my Great-Grandparents were from Northeastern Prussia, which up to the late Middle Ages was still split between Germans, who themselves were to a degree descendant of the native Baltic or Old Prussians, and the native Latvians. This part of Prussia was only fully Germanized within the next few centuries, with the language surviving up to the early 18th century (cf. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Old_Prussian_language, 24/04/2020). Living DNA themselves recognize the fact that even today the admixture typical for the Baltic was influenced by early German settlers: “Germans migrated and settled in the region in large numbers from the 12th century. Influences from this migration can be seen in the different branches of Christianity within the region, such as the Lutheran Church that is dominant across Latvia and Estonia.” (Living DNA results platform, https://my.livingdna.com/ancestry/recent/f01a4721-3214-11ea-9bc6-0242ac130003, 23/04/2020).

Ethnic composition of Northeast Prussia, “Spread of German Settlement to the Eastward, 800-1400”, Map by William S. Sheperd.

Tuscan Admixture

But Italian, specifically Tuscan remains inexplicable. Living DNA suggests a link between the ancient Etruscans and modern Tuscany, although it seems highly unlikely to me that modern Tuscans draw much of their ancestry from this ancient people. Tuscany was probably by a considerable degree settled by Latin Romans after the subjugation of the Etruscans by Rome and possibly by Celts from Cisalpine Gaul (roughly modern-day northern Italy) as well. If this is true then this might explain the Tuscan admixture: The region of Swabia, were three of my Great Grandparents are from, was first settled by Celts and/or possibly Rhaetians, a people possibly related to the Etruscans, and consecutively by the Romans and then by the Alamanni/Suebi, which is where the region got its name from. If we assume that at least a few Celts, Rhaetians and Romans remained in the area after the Germanic Alamanni/Suebi arrived, then this could explain the assigned Tuscan ancestry at least partially. 12% per cent, however, seems to high a value, especially if we take into consideration that the region of Swabia lies within what Living DNA defines as “South Germanic”.

Germanic Admixture

Which brings us to the next proposed modern reference population. The South Germanic admixture spans from northern Belgium in the west, over southern Switzerland in the south, all the way to western Czechia in the East. Whilst I can, to a degree, accept the proposed Northwest and Northeast Germanic reference populations, based on the regions histories, saying that people from Belgium are genetically very similar to people from western Czechia seems absurd. Belgium and Czechia had very little to do with each other historically apart from the fact that they were both part of the Holy Roman Empire at one point. Apart from that, the formation of both countries, or to be exact, the Belgian region of Flanders and the Czech Region of Bohemia, which northern Belgium and western Czechia roughly corresponds to, had nothing to do with each other from an ethnological point of view.

Flanders is inhabited by Dutch (Flemish) speakers and was so for much of its history. Before the Flemish, the Belgian tribes, probably Celtic with a Germanic influence, inhabited the area and gave Belgium its name. Additionally, Belgium was part of the Roman Empire some time and has possibly seen some migration from other parts of the Empire as well. Bohemia, on the other hand, was inhabited by a mix of Germans in the west and Slavs in the east for most of its history. The region draws its name from the Celtic Boii tribe.

Whilst both regions were settled by Celts first, they were occupied by completely different Germanic peoples thereafter and in the case of Czechia by Slavs as well. So taking the ethnolinguistic history of both regions into account, it would make more sense to include Flanders in the Northwest Germanic admixture block and add a completely new region for Bohemia.

Conclusion

Whilst Living DNA has definitely improved their results by adding new, more differentiated reference populations there is still room for improvement. Altogether, the results were somewhere between 80 and 90 per cent accurate, which is a good enough score for me, especially if they keep improving their results as they have done in the past.


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