What do those less than 1% or 2% ‘trace results’ or ‘trace regions’ mean when it comes to DNA and your genetic history? What are they anyway and what do they mean for Europeans carrying non-European trace results?
The answer is more akin to “fuzzy logic” rather than absolute truth. In fact, truth is in the eye of the beholder when it comes to trace regions and results! If you don’t believe me, then take a look at Family Tree DNA’s myOrigins disclaimer: “the weight you give to each thread is up to you.”
In all honesty, that’s why these things are called ethnicity ESTIMATES – they’re ESTIMATES. These estimates are either echoes of the distant past or fool’s gold, I’ll explain that in a bit. First, take a look at a disclaimer from Ancestry: “it’s possible you may not have genetic ethnicity from them at all.”
Also note that Ancestry uses RANGES to determine ethnicity estimates. I like this because in essence estimates can be considered mathematical ranges and their disclaimer seems to encapsulate this fact. The part that weirds me out is how wide the ranges are! Between zero and 15%?
An ethnicity estimate is really their margin of error, not yours: remember that.
This snippet from Ancestry gives a range of 30%, crikey. Although I really appreciate how forthcoming they are with how they treat their data, it’s still a bit alarming to realize that a spread of 30% in generational terms is greater than one grandparent! I applaud Ancestry for their transparency, though.
Reading this we can understand that the range of ethnicity percentages is a function of the range of TIME that your genome has been passed down over successive generations. The range of time used in the above snippet is in the THOUSANDS of years. I hope you are beginning to see why trace regions and DNA trace results are either echoes of the distant past or fool’s gold.
Actually, I think they’re echoes of the distant past AND fool’s gold, personally.
If you are of European descent and find that you are showing ~1% of Middle Eastern then don’t be alarmed, it’s neither an indictment or a confirmation. It’s an echo of Europe’s distant past. There are many Europeans who show this trace region, that’s because THOUSANDS of years ago that’s where Europe was confined to in the scope of settlement – see map below.
This ancient origins map from Family Tree DNA shows percentages of the 3 major migrations into Europe as an example of someone who tested with them. The Hunter-Gatherers came first, then the Farmers, and then the Metal Heads! If you have more Hunter-Gatherer DNA then the more likely you are to have trace amounts of Middle Eastern DNA, because they are an older population. Make sense?
Neanderthals and other bipeds have been haunting our lands for millenia – actually, most people of European descent have Neanderthal DNA! Trace results of non-European DNA are basically remnants of our ancient past which reflect the places from where our super-ancient ancestors came up to 60,000 years ago.
Our aim in taking DNA tests is often to compartmentalize things in to nice, neat slices of expected or perceived reality. However, the past is so much more complex than history itself can even account for. Ancestry’s and FTDNA’s disclaimers give us license to take what we want and discard what we don’t want; however, the reality of DNA testing is that anomalies are the rule rather than the exception.