23andMe’s New Ancestry Timeline

Robin Smith, 23ndMe Senior Scientist

When did that 2 percent Yakut ancestry make its way into your family tree? The newest 23andMe Ancestry feature may have the answer for you.

This feature is another first for 23andMe, which broke new ground by offering customers a detailed accounting of their genetic ancestry with the Ancestry Composition report. Customers who have connected accounts with a parent can also see what ancestries were inherited from each side of the family tree. The Ancestry Composition report also allows customers to dig deeper into their genetic ancestry with a genome map of their ancestry. (To learn more about this feature, see the Meet Your Chromosome Painting blog post.)

Now, 23andMe has added a fourth analysis to the report, which we call “Ancestry Timeline.” This feature allows customers to go back in time and learn approximately when a particular ancestry entered their family tree.

Ancestry Timeline was made possible through pioneering work by 23andMe Research Scientist Kasia Bryc, whose previous research provided insights into the American melting pot.

23andMe determines your Ancestry Timeline by analyzing the pattern of ancestry in your genome. It looks at both the number and size of segments that derive from a particular ancestry as well as their distribution across your chromosomes. Large segments of ancestry in your genome that all come from the same population suggest a recent ancestor, while shorter segments suggest a more distant one.

According their Ancestry Composition results, Sarah is about 25% British & Irish and Antonio is about 20% Iberian. The Ancestry Timeline feature puts these results in a new context. Sarah likely had a recent ancestor (a grandparent, great-grandparent, or 2nd great-grandparent) who was 100 percent British & Irish, while you have to go pretty far back on Antonio's family tree to find someone who was 100 percent Iberian (5-8 generations ago.)

According their Ancestry Composition results, Sarah is about 25% British & Irish and Antonio is about 20% Iberian. The Ancestry Timeline feature puts these results in a new context. Sarah likely had a recent ancestor (a grandparent, great-grandparent, or 2nd great-grandparent) who was 100 percent British & Irish, while you have to go pretty far back on Antonio’s family tree to find someone who was 100 percent Iberian (5-8 generations ago.)

An important caveat of the Ancestry Timeline feature is that it assumes that your ancestry from each population originally comes from a single (recent or distant) ancestor. It also says nothing about where a particular ancestor was born—only their genetics. Therefore, a British & Irish ancestor born in Philadelphia would look the same as one born in Dublin. Ancestry Timeline also has the same limitations as Ancestry Composition, in that it doesn’t report contributions by recently admixed populations (e.g. “Mexican” ancestry is reported as a mixture of European, Native American, and African ancestry) and trace ancestries (e.g. <0.5 percent) should be taken with a grain of salt.

For a more technical explanation of how the Ancestry Timeline feature works, read our white paper.

  • 23blog

    Hi Simon,
    If you have not yet transitioned to the New Experience — international customers have not yet been migrated into the new experience for instance — then this feature isn’t yet available. Otherwise simply go into the Ancestry Composition section of your Ancestry Reports and you’ll find the timeline just below the Ancestry Composition percentages.

    • Kieran

      Any idea when the new experience is coming to international customers?

      • 23blog

        Hi Kieran,
        We expect that international customers will be migrated to the new experience in the near future.

        • Amy Cater

          I was told you would be migrating Canadian and International customers over “soon” and that it “is a Top Priority” over a year ago now. Just be upfront and honest about the fact it isn’t likely to happen. Thank goodness I told family members to hold off on buying kits wayyyy back after I did mine, and will just tell them to forget about it and use one of the other places instead.

  • pertarlo

    Any idea if this will be added to international customers, specifically from UK? And if so when? Many thanks.

    • 23blog

      The timeline will be added once international customers are transitioned to the new experience. I don’t have a fixed date but expect that to happen within a few months.

  • 23blog

    Hi HopperKowalski,
    This is a hard question to address without knowing the more about your results. You could email our customer care team (https://customercare.23andme.com/hc/en-us/requests/new). It is possible that Ancestry Composition (due to its own limitations) would not have called your great-grandparent as 100% of the ancestry you’re referring to. The intent of Ancestry Timeline is to provide rough estimates as to when particular ancestries may have come into your family tree. The science of tools like this is most evolving and any insights gleaned from it should be weighed and judged against other pieces of information you’ve learned about your family history.

  • Stephanie F

    In my make up it is showing French and German over 22% I have no known German or French relatives but I do have relatives from the Netherlands would that fall under that same category French and German

    • Emerson Verissimo

      Yes, you get it when you have ancestors from the Netherlands. A Dutch result always shows a considerable percentage of French and German, British and Scandinavia.

  • Richard

    I’m a bit confused by how ancestry that makes up the largest part of my dna occurs so much farther in the past than ancestry that is a smaller part and occurs more recently. And what about my more immediate ancestry- grandparents? Parents? My data seems to stop with great-grandparents. Nearer ancestry interests me because I am adopted and do not know my parents history.

    • thenfixit

      Richard, I am not sure, but I would assume that your parents and grandparents weren’t 100%, but a mixture, that’s why it isn’t registering. My father is registering for me, but my mother isn’t, because she isn’t 100%. With that being said, for my mom’s side I am getting great grandparents as 100%. I hope I made sense. Good luck!

  • 23blog

    It won’t be in a couple of years. I just don’t have a specific date yet.

    • Daniel Stefanescu

      It’s too bad that after 1year and 2 months the new experience is not available for all your customers (including me). This raises the question of your ability to deliver new features.

  • marialeonora

    I need a little clarification, Im trying to find my biological father. on my dna result I was linked to a person says shes my 2nd to third cousin 2.31% shared 7 segments. This is confusing to figure out which direction to go and what does this mean. please help

    • 23blog

      Hi Marialeonora,
      That’s a pretty significant amount of shared DNA so they are a relatively close cousin. We use a prediction algorithm to estimate how close.
      A good way to look at cousins is that first cousins share grandparents, second cousins share great grandparents and third cousins share great great grandparents.

  • Aysha

    I am an American customer and I still do not have
    this new feature. When will I see it? My daughter already has it, but she did her testing just a few months ago, while mine was was done years ago.

    • 23blog

      I’ve forwarded your question to our Customer Care team.

  • 23blog

    Start with Share and Compare. Also the split view of your Ancestry Composition will be interesting to look at and you’ll be able to see which ancestry came from which parent.

  • 23blog

    Hi Catherine,
    You are not meant to ignore it, but that small percentage is within the margin of error. It’s possible that it is “noise,” but it is also possible that it is showing a real admixture. Some people are able to tap into other information about their ancestry and family history to give the proper context — sort of triangulating their result. That may be one way to figure out whether this is real or not.

  • Shahar

    I am a US customer and cannot see this new feature. When are you planning to roll this out?

    • 23blog

      You should be seeing this in the Ancestry reports. I’m forwarding your question to our customer care to see if they can help you out.

  • 23blog

    There is a distinction, and we do report out German and French ancestry. But in parts of Germany and France the borders have been so fluid that it is very difficult to accurately make the distinction. In those cases we make a more broadly European assignment. As for Irish and English, we currently do not call out the distinction.

  • 23blog

    Hi Heather,
    Currently 23andMe has several features that can reveal genetic evidence of Native American ancestry, although they are not considered a confirmatory test or proof of such ancestry in a legal context, so for instance your names for enrolled tribal members shouldn’t be impacted by your test.

    But we are also very confident in the science behind what we do, that’s why we publish the scientific detail for the reports. You can see the how we use reference populations, links to published papers and an explanation of how we calculate ancestry.

    It is important to note that even if an individual in your family tree was considered to be Native American, your own DNA may not reveal the Native American ancestry because evidence is lost each generation.

  • 23blog

    We hope to. We continuely to update our Ancestry Composition to improve the amount of detail we can offer customers. That includes adding new reference populations and improving how we do the estimates.

  • Brenda Jessup

    I mailed in my sample 2 weeks ago, will this feature be in my results when I receive them. Thank you

    • 23blog


  • meerasr

    “You are what you eat “, popular words taken from the Bhagavad Gita, but how should these words be interpreted? What we eat or have been eating thousands of years ago depended on what was available in the area that we lived. That is the fruits, vegetables and meat that would have been available in the area or ecosystem that the individual lived in. All the organisms that made up this ecosystem would be exposed to the same parameters and conditions as each other for a period of time , maybe the lifespan of the organism or even stays the same for several generations.
    Darwin’s theory of evolution shows that the conditions in which an organism lives influences the way in which that species evolves to adapt to those conditions in order for it to survive and more importantly to thrive as a species. But how does evolution occur? During each day, the species experiences similar conditions day after day, that is to say the same difficulties and problems day after day in its daily routines.Humans that have lived close to the sea for several generations have evolved to adapt to its common difficulty experienced by subsequent generations in collecting food from the sea where now the finger tips loose water through the membranes of the cells in that area but only in that area of the finger so that the tip now looks like a crinkled raisin making it easier to hold slippery objects under water making it easier for that species at that time to collect food from ensure its survival.The same is evident for the toes so that the foot is now better able to walk under water since it is no longer smooth and is now crinkles when in water for a while in water and a while after the body is no longer in water the tips regain its original shape.
    How did the body evolve to overcome this difficulty? Where was this information stored so that each subsequent generation that experiences this problem is able to transfer this information to it’s offspring? And when does the body recognize that it needs to change its DNA in order to overcome the difficulty to ensure that the species can thrive?and how does it determine what change needs to be made in the DNA?
    I once read that a person that received a heart transfer found that he now likes a food that he hadn’t liked prior to that surgery, and upon further inquiry found that the person the heart belonged to had loved that particular food. Are our memories stored in each of our cells so that from our daily experiences and difficulties faced in its routine of daily survival also stored so that with each generation that faces the same or similar difficulty the body will eventually change or alter or rewrite its DNA in order to help the body overcome this difficulty in ensuring that the species survives and thrives? Is he key to evolution the memories that are stored in the cells of that being and its offspring ? What is interesting also is the way in which blood types have changed over the years. What was the purpose and need for this change and introduction of new blood types and how will even this element be influenced by our new global ecosystem.
    Then can it be said that by consuming a plant or animal, that lives in the same ecosystem as each other exposed to the same conditions eventually mean that that ecosystem would evolve together each adapting to the dynamic environment since information is passed from offspring to offspring bearing in mind that each offspring lives, grows and dies in that ecosystem so each member of this ecosystem carries the memories/ information of daily life(experiences)in each cell . So the “memories” of daily experiences is stored and transferred to offspring and probably through consuming other elements of that ecosystem.
    In today’s world people are no longer part of the ecosystems of nature. We created an artificial ecosystem where foods consumed are bought in supermarkets. Supermarkets imported its products from all over the world grown in other artificial ecosystems. With also chemicals that were never previously part of out diet. Now that we consume these artificially grown food e.g. In the Caribbean chickens fly up to the trees at night and spend the night in trees but now they are kept in coups so that their lifestyle, now they are fed food that they have never consumed before so the no longer have to scratch the ground to find bugs to eat. Their life entails a new and different set of routines . Unfamiliar set of routines that is now added to the information passed on by their cells. How does these changes that species that was on a particular part of evolution and now suddenly find that most of the information stored is no longer relevant to the species new lifestyle? How does this species now evolve?
    Now that we have food from so many different ecosystems both natural and unnatural and now live with so many artificially created problems like e.g. Microwaved food, irregular sleeping patterns artificial lights. How will difficult would it be now for our species to evolve now that it is not in a natural ecosystem with influences very different from the various ecosystems that make up our lives. What will the human species evolve to be in our new set and constantly and rapidly changing lifestyles? Now with the introduction of so many types of Medicines how will we be affected by these changes? Our cells are now required to carry so many different types of information to transfer. What will our species evolve to be? Will it evolve now that the information transferred comes from so many sources in so many different ecosystems both natural and unnatural that now make up one colossal global ecosystem . What will we become if we are what we eat if what we eat is no longer natural?

  • Joanne Watson

    I am wondering what Mi’q Mak lineage would look like in terms of haplotypes and/or how it would be represented on the ancestry report. Where these indigenous, Canadian maritime peoples are thought to have perhaps come from Newfoundland, and were known to have intermarried with European peoples during the 1500’s and beyond, how would this kind of lineage be represented? They, and other Algonquin peoples, cannot be categorized as Native American as your criteria defines it.

  • perthite

    Here is an email I wrote recently to my family.
    “They’ve done a makeover at 23andme and I was looking at my DNA profile to see if anything was different. I have mentioned before that I have slightly more than 0.1% East Asian DNA. Here it is the way it is now explained.

    ‘You most likely had a fourth great-grandparent, fifth great-grandparent, sixth great-grandparent, or seventh great (or greater) grandparent who was 100% Japanese. This person was likely born between 1680 and 1770.’

    Ok, that doesn’t make sense, but I think I know why my result appears that way. I apparently carry a kind of DNA that is mostly commonly found among modern Japanese, but originates in North Eurasia (ie. Siberia). Stone Age North Eurasians migrated not only to Japan, which is next door, but across the Bering Strait to the Americas as well as into Europe. My strongest matches to recovered samples of ancient DNA illustrate this process. “Ky” stands for thousands of years (before the present).

    Ust-Ishim, Siberia, 45ky
    Clovis, Montana 12.5ky
    NE1, Hungary, 7.2ky
    LBK, Stuttgart, Germany 7ky
    Loschbour, Luxembourg, 7ky
    RISE98, Sweden, 3.7ky
    RISE505, Russia, 3.3ky”

  • KyGr

    As a customer from the UK, I was wondering when we would be receiving this update? It sounds super interesting.

    • 23blog

      Hi KyGr,
      We are going to transition customers to the new experience in a month or so. I expect you’ll be able to see this feature by sometime this summer.

  • 23blog

    Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry is distinct and traces back to a small population with roots in Eastern Europe. We do not break out Sephardic ancestry, although there are certain haplogroups which are common among those with Sephardic ancestry. I would think that there is no genetic difference between Sunnis and Shiites, those differences are religious. We currently report out ancestry for people with Middle Eastern and North African Middle Eastern & North African.

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