Take the lederhosen vs. kilt challenge!

If you watch much TV, you’ve probably seen the Ancestry commercial in which a man’s DNA results contradict his family tradition of a German heritage, so he trades in his lederhosen for a kilt! The irony is, no matter how German you may be, if you test at Ancestry, you won’t get German as a result in your ‘ethnicity’ pie chart; it’s not one of the categories they offer!  (See, perhaps, a more generic ‘Western European’ as one possible alternative.)

Many genetic genealogists have written about how imprecise these predictions are within the continent of Europe. For example, see The Legal Genealogist Judy Russell’s blog post Those percentages if you must. Those estimates may be more reliable, however, in suggesting where some of your ancestors might have lived in the past 200 years or so.

Among DNA testing companies, 23andMe offers a unique chromosome tool to explore our biogeographic origins. It’s probably most valuable for people with ancestors from different continents, but I am going to create a lederhosen vs. kilt challenge for myself and more closely examine 23andMe’s identification of German/French roots in my DNA.


Nana, my dad’s mother, was half German. Her mother’s grandparents came to the US between 1840 and 1850, give or take 5 years; some from Bavaria, some from the French/German region of Alsace. 23andMe does offer French & German as one of their ancestry composition categories. Statistically, 12.5% of my DNA should come from there, but of course, DNA transmission from one generation to the next is random, and anything from 7-17% is probably reasonable from my great-grandmother.

At 23andMe, I select Ancestry from the top toolbar, then from the available reports, I pick Ancestry Composition. If I scroll down that page, I can see that 23andMe offers confidence levels in these predictions; the default is 50% confident/speculative. At that level, they predict I’m 5.5% French & German. At 60% confidence, it drops to 1.8%. By 80% confidence, I’m 1%, and at 90%, I lose all useful distinctions: I’m just British & Irish, Broadly Northwestern European, and Broadly European. See [A] in Image 1 to adjust yours!

I choose to use the 80% confidence level for this challenge. If I then select French & German, the chromosome map alongside highlights which chromosome segments 23andMe has determined were passed down from my French and German roots. See Image 1.

Image 1.

23andMe ethnicity

To see specific chromosome start and end points, I select Scientific Details from the toolbar across the top [See B in the image above], and scroll down to ‘download raw data’ after setting the confidence level to the desired threshold (e.g. 80%).

That produces a short .csv file. I am going to copy only those lines that are labeled French & German, and then I go into my Profile on DNApainter, select add a new match, and paste that information in. I just need a little tweak to change chr5 to 5. I name the match German & French per 23andMe. Because I have a theory that this DNA was passed to me from Nana’s mother, I assign those segments to her group: [ahnentafel #] 011-Emma Miller 1882-1965.) Until now, I haven’t had anyone in her group. FYI, Emma’s paternal grandfather was a Mueller; the name became Miller after time spent in New York.

In Image 2, you can see how it appears against other DNA segments I’ve already mapped to other ancestors. I don’t have any paternal matches on these segments yet

Image 2.

23andMe ethnicity 2

NOTE: DNApainter offers the ability to copy in your entire ancestry composition .csv file at once. See “import ethnicity” as an option under the key. To be honest, for my mostly British, Irish, and broadly European heritage, it would just clutter everything up in my profile with unhelpful information. So I’m just adding the interesting ancestry composition segments manually.

Updating my profile with new matches is an ongoing (and fun!) affair. The challenge now is to monitor those updates to see if anyone lands in these regions on my paternal copy of chromosome 5. And if so, do our common ancestors appear to be German? I don’t have answers yet.

Nana was an only child, so I can’t recruit any second cousins on that line to test. It may take months or years to get an answer… Germans and even German descendants don’t appear to have embraced DNA testing yet. But that is changing.

A future match on this segment doesn’t need to have tested at 23andMe. As long as they have a chromosome browser and as long as I can confirm he or she is a paternal or maternal match, I can add them to my DNA Painter profile.

Perhaps instead I’ll discover some Irish matches who triangulate on that paternal segment and I’ll have evidence that these segments don’t map to French & German roots after all.

I love how genetic genealogy encourages me to be a citizen scientist. Do you have a lederhosen vs. kilt challenge in your DNA?



Ann Raymont © May 2018


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