Are Your Irish Roots Showing? Understanding Your Ancestry DNA Ethnicity Results
You sent off your Ancestry DNA test in the form of a tube of saliva and you just received your results. Are you surprised? Excited? Puzzled? Wondering what to do next? Why not explore your ethnicity results and learn where in the world you come from. The science of DNA can seem daunting to the beginner, so I invite you to join me as I learn about DNA and how to use it for genealogy purposes. I’ll be posting regularly about my discoveries, so follow along and see what you can learn.
My genealogy paper trail has so far led me to England, Denmark, France, and Germany. Many of my dad’s lines are still stuck in the United States, so I was surprised to find my ethnicity on Ancestry shows 10% Irish DNA.
I have no idea where the Irish DNA originates. I didn’t test my dad’s DNA before he passed away, so no help there. However, I just tested my 89 year-old mother and am eagerly awaiting her test results. If there is no Irish heritage shown, I’ll be able to pinpoint all 10% of the Irish DNA as coming from my dad’s line. If she also has 10% Irish roots I’ll know to look to her tree for Irish connections. What if she has only 2% Irish DNA? Then I’ll have to assume that I get my red hair and freckles from both sides of the family.
I do have a small clue that the red hair and freckles I inherited from my dad originates with his mother’s line – the Harris family out of Love County, Oklahoma. A distant Harris cousin emailed me years ago with the information that red hair ran in the Harris line. My dad’s family didn’t stay in close contact with the Harris cousins, so this was the first that either of us had heard about the red hair connection. How about the connection between red hair and Irish ethnicity? According to Wikipedia,
Red hair is most commonly found at the northern and western fringes of Europe. It is centered around populations in the British Isles. Redheads today are commonly associated with the Celtic Nations and to a far lesser extent the Germanic people.
In Ireland, the percentage of the population with red hair is estimated to be at around 10%.¹
Take a look at the ethnicity estimate from my DNA testing on Ancestry. I appear to have 76% British, 10% Irish, 6% Scandinavian, and 1% West Asian DNA.
When I clicked the little + sign to open up the trace regions I saw that I have some DNA from Asia Central, Europe East, the Iberian Peninsula, the Caucasus, and the Middle East This is even more surprising than the Irish results. I have no idea where this comes from, but I’m intrigued. If you’ve looked at your ethnicity results and maybe not thought to open up the trace regions, you might be missing out on something interesting. The map below gives me an idea where the majority of my ancestors originated (green and blue sections) and where I have a trace of ancestry (the circles).
Curious about how Ancestry arrives at the numbers on your page? I did a little sleuthing on the DNA home page and under the article, “How is the ethnicity estimate determined?” I found these facts:
We create estimates for your genetic ethnicity by comparing your DNA to the DNA of other people who are native to a region. The AncestryDNA reference panel (version 2.0) contains 3,000 DNA samples from people in 26 global regions.
We build the reference panel from a larger reference collection of 4,245 DNA samples collected from people whose genealogy suggests they are native to one region. Many of these samples were originally collected by the Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation.
Each panel member’s genealogy is documented so we can be confident that their family is representative of people with a long history (hundreds of years) in that region.
Each volunteer’s DNA sample from a given region is then tested and compared to all others to construct the AncestryDNA reference panel. In the end, 3,000 of 4,245 individuals are chosen for the AncestryDNA reference panel (version 2.0) These individuals make up 26 global regions.
We then compare your DNA to the DNA in the reference panel to see which regions your DNA is most like. The ethnicity estimate you see on the web site is the result of this comparison. When we calculate your estimate for each ethnicity region, we run forty separate analyses. Each of the forty analyses gives an independent estimate of your ethnicity, and each one is done with randomly selected portions of your DNA. Your genetic ethnicity estimates and likely ranges for these estimates come from these forty analyses.²
I wanted to learn a little more about my Irish DNA results so I clicked on “Ireland” which opened up a new page with a great deal of information about the region: more maps, the Celtic culture, the history of the area, English plantations, emigration and more. To understand our ancestors we need to be curious and wonder what influenced their migration patterns. I appreciate Ancestry’s efforts to compile this information all on one page! Below is a sampling of the article on Ireland.
Looking at the Range of my Irish DNA on the chart above, you’ll see that my range is 0%-23%, with the estimate of 10%. I clicked on the article “Learn how the range is calculated” to try to understand these numbers.³
I learned that Ancestry ran forty separate analyses of my DNA, each with a randomly selected portion. My ethnicity is the average of these forty analyses estimates. The article states “This average becomes the percent that is displayed in the estimates. Our confidence that your actual genetic ethnicity is EXACTLY the average is not high.”
The article goes on to state; “There is often a wide range among these 40 estimates. The range shown in the product experience encompasses most of the variability found in the estimates. Our confidence that your actual genetic ethnicity falls within this range is relatively high.”
My interpretation? Ancestry is fairly confident that the percentage of Irish DNA I have inherited falls between 0% -23%. It is not confident that my Irish DNA makes up EXACTLY 10% of my genome.
In the short video, “Welcome to Your Ethnicity Estimate,” Catherine A. Ball Ph.d. Vice President, Genomics and Bioinformatics at Ancestry DNA gives these thoughts:
It’s important to keep in mind that a genetic ethnicity estimate is just that, an estimate.
Keep in mind that the genetics of a region are often influenced by migration patterns. . . Just think about the last 1,000 years, people have moved around quite a bit and they took their DNA with them.
In some cases your ethnicity predictions may not match your expectations based on your family tree or stories, but genetic inheritance is random. . . . You may look different than your siblings even though you all share the same parents.
In my case, I am the only child of my parents. My older brother is the son of my mother’s first marriage and my younger sister is adopted. I have no siblings with DNA inherited from both my mother and my father. If I had, I would love to analyze their ethnicity estimate and see how we compare. As it is, I’m anxious to get my mother’s results and find some clues as to where that Irish DNA originated.
Have you had you DNA tested? If not, Ancestry is running a sale through March 19th. You just might have some Irish heritage. Already tested with Ancestry? I invite you to revisit your ethnicity estimate page. Click around and see what new discoveries you can make.
Best of luck in your genetic genealogy journey!
¹ “Red Hair,” Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Red_hair : accessed 14 March 2017), paragraphs 8 & 10.
² “How is the ethnicity estimate determined?” Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com/dna/ethnicity : accessed 14 March 2017).
³ “How is the range calculated?” Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com/dna/ethnicity : accessed 14 March 2017).