Category Archives: methods

Ghana, Kassena: Finding Safiah’s Diaspora Relatives

Kabagworiwe Safiah and her parents Kabagworiwe Adam and Kabagworiwe Saleimabu are members of the Kassena ethnic group who have tested with Ancestry and subsequently had their DNA profiles uploaded to GEDmatch. This is a narrative of the practice of finding their relatives in GEDmatch.

I did a one-to-many comparison for Safiah to find all the matches in the GEDmatch database that match Safiah at a minimum of 7 cM. There were 129 matches, plus Safiah, for a total of 130. Among these matches were Safiah’s parents, Adam and Saleimabu, and several other family members from their local village of Nania in Paga, Ghana.

Kabagworiwe Safiah’s One-to-Many Comparison Results

It is very exciting to see these 129 matches for Safiah. There is a chance that all are true matches, but the reality is that some of these are not true matches. This is a reality of the testing technology and not GEDmatch.

Imagine that when the equipment reads the testers’ DNA, the 22 pairs of chromosomes were first broken into many pieces and duplicated. These were read and recorded into a text file. The equipment reads each chromosome piece and records it in the text file. Each position along the chromosome piece will have two reads, one for a biological mother and one for a biological father.

This situation is that when the pieces are recorded, it cannot tell which parent to assign the chromosome reads. The equipment only records what’s there but not how it was inherited. Sometimes the first variant is from the father and sometimes the first variant is from the mother. We just don’t know which is which without further analysis. This results in a text file with the chromosome positions read for the chromosome pairs without being aligned by a specific parent. This is an unphased DNA profile.

When the DNA profile is downloaded from Ancestry and uploaded to GEDmatch, the profile is unphased. Regular kits on GEDmatch are unphased kits. This is no fault of Ancestry or GEDmatch, but it is a reality that we must account for when finding matches.

The most accurate way to align the kit on GEDmatch is to test the person’s parents and create phased kits. In this case, Safiah’s parents have also tested and their kits were uploaded to GEDmatch. I used GEDmatch’s Phasing tool to create two phased kits for Safiah, one is phased with her mother’s kit (M1 kit) and one is phased with her father’s kit (P1 kit). These phased kits have Safiah’s DNA variants aligned by the parents so we know that the DNA segment was inherited by one (or both) parents.

Kabagworiwe Saleimabu, Safiah’s mother

At the very least, we should expect that when two persons match, at least one parent of both persons should also match. For any set of cousins, one parent for both cousins should also match. This is a fact of inheritance. There are sure to be some exceptions but this is the situation for the vast majority of the cases. For example, for any person that matches Safiah, we expect, at a very minimum, that the person also matches Safiah’s father Adam or Safiah’s mother Saleimabu. We also expect that Safiah matches at least one parent of that match.

Kabagworiwe Adam, Safiah’s father

So let’s see how many of Safiah’s 129 matches also match her father.

Kabagworiwe Safiah’s kit phased with her father

Using a one-to-many with Safiah’s P1 kit, her kit phased with her father, we see that she shares 44 matches with her father. Minus the kit itself, her, and her father, there are 41 matches.

And let’s take a look at how many of Safiah’s 129 matches also match her mother.

Kabagworiwe Safiah’s kit phased with her mother

Using a one-to-many with Safiah’s M1 kit, her kit phased with her mother, we see that she shares 47 matches with her father. Minus the kit itself, her, and her mother, there are 44 matches.

Alright, so there are 41 matches with father and 44 matches with mother for 85 matches. So of the 129 matches that Safiah started with, only 85 matches at most meet the basic expectation of also matching one of her parents. This is not yet addressing those that match both mother and father or some other reason to reduce the total count of matches.

At this point, I would say that Safiah has about 85 possible matches, some of which would prove to be false trough further analysis. I consider the following to be true matches: (1) kits that match Safiah’s unphased kits at a minimum of 15 cM on a single segment, (2) unphased kits that are 3 to 14.9 cMs with the Safiah’s unphased kit must also match at least one other of Safiah’s matches at a minimum of 200 cM total on an overlapping segment (e.g., using the 3D chromosome browser and triangulation), and (3) phased kits or Lazarus kits compared to Safiah’s phased kit can be at a minimum of 3 cMs.

It turns out that only 53% or 68 of the 129 matches remained after excluding those that did not also match her phased kits. However, all of the unphased matches at 14 cMs or more remained as possible matches after comparing the match with Safiah’s phased results. From this, we assume that any kit matching at least 15 cMs more will prove to be a true match even if their parents or other close match is not available to provide additional evidence.

Kabagworiwe Safiah’s Matches that Remained

In the chart above, cMs is the number of cMs in the match and S1 is the number of matches in Safiah’s unphased one-to-many comparison results. For example, using Safiah’s unphased kit, she had 9 matches at 40 cMs or greater, 2 matches at 30 cMs – 39 cMs, and 7 matches at 20 cMs – 29 cMs. At 13 cMs, 2 of the 4 kits that matched her unphased kit did not match at least one of her parents. At 7 cMs, only 21% of the matches also matched at least one of her parents. At this rate, we cannot tell which of the matches less than 14 cMs would remain as an inherited DNA segment when the person she matches also compares their results with their parents. This is why when working with unphased kits, we maintain the rule of 15 cMs minimum for a single segment.

I then use GEDmatch’s 3D chromosome browser to compare all of Safiah’s one-to-many matches with her M1 phased kit and her P1 phased kit. In the 3D chromosome browser results below are based on a 7 cM threshold. I also removed the kits that were in the TAKiR database (which would be other people from Ghana or Burkina Faso). This leaves a matrix comparing all the matching kits to determine how much they match each other.

In the 3D chromosome browser results, I look for kits that match each other at a minimum of 200 cMs. This would be a stand-in for not having their phased kit. This threshold of 200 cMs is not entirely arbitrary. It’s an amount where I assume would be at the bounds of a person being able to name the shared ancestor without DNA testing. According to statistics published by the International Society of Genetic Genealogy (ISOGG), second cousins would share 212.5 cMs or 3.125% of DNA on average. In practice, according to statistics published by The Shared cM Project, second cousins share 233 cMs on average (46 – 515 cMs). Second cousins share great grandparents. Although the matches would more than likely be true at 15 cMs, using the 200 cM threshold would increase the chance of being able to contact the persons for the kits matching each other and confirming their relatedness.

Safiah’s M1 3D Chromosome Browser Results

In Safiah’s M1 3D results, there are 14 matches (7 pairs) that are of interest because they share 200 cMs or more total. An additional 6 matches (3 pairs) are also worth investigating because they share 15 cMs – 199.9 cMs total, though I need to check how much they share on a single segment.

Using the statistics published by ISOGG and The Shared cM Project, I hypothesize the following:

  • 3 pairs at about 3,500 cMs are parent-child
  • 1 pair at about 2,300 cMs are siblings, grandparent-grandchild, or uncle/aunt-niece/nephew
  • 3 pairs at about 1,600 – 1,700 cMs are grandparent-grandchild or uncle/aunt-niece/nephew
Safiah’s P1 3D Chromosome Browser Results

In Safiah’s P1 3D results, there are 18 matches (9 pairs) that are of interest because they share 200 cMs or more total. An additional 2 matches (1 pairs) are also worth investigating because they share 15 cMs – 199.9 cMs total, though I need to check how much they share on a single segment.

Using the statistics published by ISOGG and The Shared cM Project, I hypothesize the following:

  • 7 pairs at about 3,500 cMs are parent-child
  • 1 pair at about 2,600 cMs are siblings
  • 1 pairs at about 1,700 cMs are grandparent-grandchild or uncle/aunt-niece/nephew

So now I have 32 matches (14 + 18) that I am very confident are true matches. There is also an additional 8 matches (6 + 2) that I could check to see if they also share 15 cMs on a single segment.

Looking back at the 3D chromosome results for Safiah’s M1 and P1 kits, I now look at the first column. This columns tells me how much DNA each kit of interest shares with the key phased kits.

In the M1 results, matches in the first pair share 2,326.7 cMs with each other and, from column 1, 17.5 and 17.8 cMs with the M1 phased kit. I’m very confident that these two kits are true matches with Safiah and her mother, and I would contact them saying so.

In the M1 results, matches in the second pair share 1,626.3 cMs with each other and, from column 1, both share 8.1 cMs with the M1 phased kit. Based on the amount of shared DNA between each other, this pair is likely grandparent-grandchild (or uncle/aunt-niece/nephew). Because I’m using the M1 phased kit, I’m very confident that the shared segment is true between Safiah and her mother. However, using unphased kits for the possible grandparent-grandchild pair means that there is a chance that this 8.1 cM segment is not a truly inherited segment between the matches in the grandparent-grandchild pair. After all, only 69% of Safiah’s matches at 8 – 8.9 cMs also matched at least one of her parents (see Kabagworiwe Safiah’s Matches that Remained picture above). So there is a possibly that when aligned (i.e., phased), this segment would end up not being a true segment for the discovered grandparent-grandchild pair. At the same time, the kits in the grandparent-grandchild pair were read by the equipment separately and as such, this segment is more than likely not based on an error. I am fairly confident that this is a true match and would proceed with this pair as a true match. However, I would also encourage the grandparent-grandchild pair to create a phased or Lazarus kit (as I would encourage all potential matches to do) and use that to compare with Safiah’s phased kit for stronger evidence of relatedness.

This may seem like a lot of unnecessary steps, but Safiah’s P1 3D results illustrate why these steps are necessary. Recall that these matches were selected from Safiah’s P1 one-to-many comparison results. The first pairs share of interest are a block of 4 matches sharing at least 3,500 cMs with each other. However, looking at column 1, none of these matches actually share at least 7 cMs with Safiah and her father. In a one-to-one comparison between Safiah’s P1 kit and each of these 4 kits, none share a minimum of 3 cMs with Safiah and her father. This is a prime case of matches that appear to be true matches from a one-to-many comparison but ends up not really matching the key person on a one-to-one comparison even at a lower threshold. These would not be counted as true matches.

Using the 15 cM (or 14 cM from Kabagworiwe Safiah’s Matches that Remained picture above), of the 32 confident matches, only 4 are very confident matches, and an additional 4 are already shown to not really be matches after all. Testing additional people and/or phasing kits would provide additional evidence of relatedness and make for more certain matches, even with the actual shared ancestor remaining unknown.

It is exciting for all of us to find relatives. It’s exciting for people of African descent to find their relatives from Africa and it’s exciting for Safiah’s family to find the descendants of those who were taken away during slavery. However, in this excitement, it is important to maintain certain rules based on the technologies we are using to claim relatedness. People of African descent are increasing finding relatives from Africa so there’s no need to shortcut the verification process.

If you are related to Safiah, please send us your information so that we can send you Safiah’s contact information. Consider sending her family a gift to announce your newfound relatedness.

Growing Sense of Completeness in African Americans Through Genealogy and History

Picture from AncestryDNA

There is such a wealth to the history of African Americans in the United States. We are just hitting the tip of the iceberg. Many works have been published about our experience with many more needed. “Return to Glory” a great book having to do with interest in the reopening of what’s been hidden about the African American and Africans in general. You have the book “Roots” which was also a mini-series, showing the journey of one African American who was said to have discovered a clear link to Africa before the age of DNA genealogical research. Though incomplete, African Americans as a people have drawn inspiration from these and other works.


All of us who have African American ancestry in the United States have enjoyed the stories our parents and grandparents passed down. But we ran into the inevitable block and proverb “Let dead dogs lie”. So while some of us were told what some in our families believed, we have not typically enjoyed rich genealogical histories as other groups in the United States. Thank God this is changing! The truth is coming out. Truths that some, refuse to acknowledge and some that we’ve been waiting for! Some see traces of European descent in their line and they have no idea how it got there. Others see African regions they’ve never even heard of. Welcome to the richness of our peoples! Our heritage is strong. And African Americans in the United States are one of the greatest inspirations of a surviving people that has ever lived.

Present Day 2019 A.D.

Today there are pretty deep-seated conflicts/prejudices between African-Americans and people of immediate African descent who were born on the continent. On the one hand, there are resentments based on ignorance- “Africans live in huts and are undeveloped”. A similar ignorance is “African-American’s are not really African and are lazy-undeveloped spoiled mooches”. And so you have the derogatory insults “African Booty Scratcher” and “Akata” as easy examples. On the other hand, resentments are based on historical events among them are: “Africans selling Africans” and “mistreatment of African immigrants by African-Americans of more distant African Ancestry living in the United States. 

Another issue in the reunions of African Americans with African peoples on the continent has to do with the obvious puzzle piece: it was so long ago! Why does it even matter? As LaKisha David, Ph.D. Candidate from the Department of Human Development and Family Studies at UIUC, wrote on the topic:

“I think the real hesitation with embracing the fact of reuniting African families is the idea that the moment of separation happened too long ago to be reconciled. But it is happening and the general public will soon catch on to this amazing phenomenon.”

It is amazing because it was not expected and yet solves so many puzzles. For example, some challenge the Africanness of African Americans (including African Americans themselves). With the new advances in dna genealogical research, we are seeing great confirmations of previously taught history. But more directly it is the vindication of the existence and memory of so many Africans who were brought to nothing during the middle passage and events that surround it. “It is, in a sense getting a message from our ancestors ‘We were here'”. Because a people does not know where it’s going unless it knows where it came from.

Modern films like “The Black Panther”, the remake of the “Roots” and television shows like “Finding Your roots” has contributed to the growing acceptance of an African past. What is more, we are gazing into an African future. African American and the continental African will rediscover each other respectfully. It will continue to happen. You are invited to be part of this. Get yourself tested. Start a family tree. Ask relatives all they know about your ancestors and their experiences. See what traditions you have. Do you, for example have a history regarding the well known “Gumbo” cuisine? If you do, you have a long survived African bit of culture staring you right in the face and on your tongue. What’s more, we have combined our experiences and have reshaped our African heritage to fit the situations we had to adapt to.

We are the culmination of experiences that should not be forgotten or ignored. Many, many African and even European ethnic groups and peoples formed what is now called “African Americans” in the United States. And of course, the “Native American” connection is there. With tools like gedmatch and AncestryDNA and other sites, we can start reconnecting these lost pieces of us in our history. But it won’t be easy, it takes genuine interest and work. Some stories will make you cry, some will make you furious and yet others will make you stand up taller. Because as the proverb goes “we stand on the shoulders of giants”. Blessed are those whos history has been hidden from them, revelation is sweet. True history is golden.