Blog » AncestryDNA The official blog of Thu, 17 Apr 2014 23:41:24 +0000 en-US hourly 1 DNA Hints – Providing More Clarity To My DNA Results Wed, 16 Apr 2014 22:06:45 +0000 Anna Swayne Read more ]]> Last week we announced that the AncestryDNA team collectively has found 2.7 million DNA hints. 10 days later, we are nearing 3 million DNA hints – and the number is increasing as more and more people get tested and build out their family tree. Remember: a hint is more than a DNA match. You get a DNA hint when AncestryDNA has found a common ancestor you and a DNA match share.

Mapping My Matches

I took a deeper dive into my own DNA hints and plotted them out on a fan chart to see which lines I had hints on and which lines I didn’t. Then, I took it one step further and plotted the hints that each of my parents have. Instead of including all of their hints, I plotted out only the hints they have that I don’t have. In the chart below you will see DNA hints represented by different colored leaves:

Green- hints I received from my DNA test

Purple- hints my mom received that I didn’t

Blue- hints my dad received that I didn’t

Each leaf represents a shared ancestor connection that either I or my parents have with a living relative who also took the AncestryDNA test.

fan chart with DNA hints

Remember, I only get 50% of each of my parent’s DNA so the hints they received that I didn’t are because that portion of their DNA wasn’t passed down to me. My Dad has 7 more hints than I do and my Mom has 4.

Filling in the Empty Lines

You may have also noticed that there are several lines that I don’t have any hints on. There are a couple of possible reasons for this:

One, there may not be anyone who has been tested on these lines whom I share DNA with. After doing this exercise I saw more of a need to test additional people in my family. I have already reached out to a few first cousins on my mother’s line to see if I can get them tested to trace my maternal great-grandparents. Getting m­­ore people tested in my family will give me more DNA information to use in understanding our story.

Two, perhaps I do have a cousin match on those lines, but because we don’t have the same person in our trees, we don’t get a hint. I will continue to build out my tree to see if I can connect to more of my matches.

Understanding DNA Hints

Keep in mind that DNA hints are just hints. Use them to help understand where the possible connection is and then verify that connection. (This earlier article talks about the different types of hints and how they work.) Once you have verified your hint, you know exactly how you and your match are related. That is powerful.

Want to get more of your story? Click here to get a test for a family member.




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“Italian Stallion” Becomes “Irish-Italian Stallion” with AncestryDNA Test Sat, 12 Apr 2014 15:34:48 +0000 Kristie Wells Read more ]]> Chris DeRose is an on-air contributor and content producer for You and Me This Morning on WCIU TV in Chicago who recently took the AncestryDNA test. Growing up in a very Italian home, he was surprised to find a wee bit of Irish runs through his veins.

Ancestry family historian, Michelle Ercanbrack, reviews his ethnic background noting in addition to Italian and Irish, there is Caucasus, Spanish and other regions that make up his complete genetic profile. But according to his parents, he is still 100% Italian. And who are we to disagree with them?


Find out how Italian you are by taking the AncestryDNA test too!

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Connecting to Your DNA Matches — 2.7 Million AncestryDNA Hints Available to Discover Wed, 09 Apr 2014 21:11:19 +0000 Anna Swayne Read more ]]> Are you using one of our most powerful DNA matching tools?

More and more people are taking the AncestryDNA test which means we are finding more and more matches and are able to identify even more shared ancestors through DNA hints. This is exciting for me as a user—not only am I getting more DNA matches but AncestryDNA is doing the work for me to find a connection. (You can read my personal success story of how I found a picture of my great-grandfather through one of my DNA hints).

We recently improved our DNA hints system (a DNA hint shows a possible common ancestor you share with one of your DNA matches). Our DNA team has been working really hard to improve this system, and since January 2014 we have served up more than a million DNA hints, bringing our total to 2.7 million.

How do DNA hints work?

After you take an autosomal DNA test, AncestryDNA compares your DNA to everyone in the AncestryDNA database. Depending on how much DNA you share with another individual, AncestryDNA estimates a relationship and gives you a list of your DNA matches. If you’ve linked your tree to your DNA results, AncestryDNA can also look through both you and your DNA matches’ trees and search for common names. If AncestryDNA finds the same person in your tree and your match’s tree, you’ll both get a DNA hint on your match page. A leaf is displayed to indicate we found a potential cousin.  Use the filters on the match page to find all of your DNA hints possible-click hints to search your DNA matches for DNA hints.


What happens if I make changes to my tree that is linked to my DNA results? No problem.

This powerful tool is running faster than ever, giving you updated DNA hints as you make changes to your tree. If you make changes to your tree or decide to link your DNA results to another tree, that same day AncestryDNA will upload those changes and reanalyze how you and your DNA matches may be related.

No other database has these tools or capabilities to work behind the scenes for you and predict who your common ancestor might be.

What if I don’t have any hints yet?

  • Don’t get discouraged.
  • Continue to build out your tree.
  • Link your DNA results to a tree (link the results to the person who took the test-Dad took the test, link the results to him in the tree, NOT YOU).
  • Help others by making your tree public or responding to emails from your DNA matches.
    • A hint will still show up with someone who has a private tree but you won’t be able to see which common ancestor you may share.

Why should I link my tree to my DNA results?

Linking your AncestryDNA test to a family tree allows AncestryDNA to keep working for you as you build out your tree on Here’s an example of what a hint can do for you:

shared ancestry hint cowan

I had a 4th cousin show up in my list of DNA matches—only this one came with a hint.  The hint will show me how we are connected, now I know where our possible genetic connection is: it looks like we both inherited DNA from Andrew Cowan and/or Anne Smellie. We need to verify the connection through our trees—after all this is just a “hint”—but since we know we share DNA, this is a great place to start.

The number of hints will continue to grow as more people take the AncestryDNA test and build out their trees. That’s exciting because it means there’s no limit to how many hints you can receive—and every name you add to your tree is one more chance to find more family.


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A Genetic Census of America Fri, 04 Apr 2014 15:32:39 +0000 Julie Granka Read more ]]> Using AncestryDNA results from over a quarter million people, the AncestryDNA science team set out to perform a “genetic census” of the United States: a survey of the U.S. using only DNA.

Where did the ancestors of today’s Americans come from? Do Americans in the Midwest hail from similar places of the world as in the Northeast, or as in the South?

Average amount of the given ethnicity (indicated in the drop-down menu) among AncestryDNA customers born in each U.S. state. If a state is dark green, it has a higher average (see key in lower left corner). Hovering over a state reveals the average amount of that ethnicity in the state (as a decimal).  
Plot Source Attribution: googleVis-0.4.7, R version 2.15.1 (2012-06-22)

So to start, AncestryDNA estimated the genetic ethnicities of over 250,000 U.S. customers* as percentages in 26 regions across the world.  These percentages show where a person’s ancestors may have lived hundreds to thousands of years ago. People of the United States, a nation settled by immigrants, often have a surprising diversity of ethnic backgrounds and collectively have ancestors who lived nearly all over the globe.

We then explored the spatial distribution of customers’ ethnicities across the 50 states – using maps to visualize where in the U.S. we often find people of different ethnicities.

Take a look at our maps of the U.S. above, one map for each of the 26 ethnicities AncestryDNA currently tests for.  For every state, a map shows the average percentage of a particular ethnicity among all customers born there. If a state is dark green, it means that people there often have more of that ethnicity than in other states.

As you scroll through the maps using the drop-down menu, find a genetic ethnicity that has a high average in your state. Does it match with what you know about your ethnicity and the immigration of your ancestors to the U.S.?

Solely using ethnicity estimated by DNA, these maps reveal spatial patterns that are telling of the ancestral origins of present day Americans: where they came from and where they eventually settled.



“Chain migration” was a common strategy for many groups immigrating to the United States. Often, one family member would journey to the new land funded by family savings. Once there, they found employment, helping to pay for other relatives to make the same journey. This new wave of immigrants often lived with the sponsoring relative as they earned money for even more members of their family and community to join. As a consequence, families and friends ended up living in close proximity, and if they moved to another area of the U.S., often did so as a group.  If these communities continued to live in the same region of the U.S. over many generations, you can begin to imagine how individuals of particular ethnicities might end up clustering together. That’s what we see in our maps.



For example, let’s look at the Scandinavian map. Scandinavian immigrants – from Sweden, Norway, and Denmark – tended to settle in the upper Midwest where geography, culture, and local economics felt familiar to life in the old country.

On the map, these are the greenest regions: the states with the highest amounts of Scandinavian ancestry. In other words, DNA also suggests localized migration of individuals of Scandinavian origin to North Dakota, Minnesota, and neighboring states, with little migration to other U.S. regions. History agrees with genetics!



Look at the Irish ancestry map as another example.  The highest statewide averages are concentrated in Massachusetts and other states in the Northeastern U.S. – where many Irish immigrants, forced to leave their homes and lands, settled in the 19th century. Growing numbers of Irish that arrived after the 1820s were often poor and common laborers, and took jobs in the construction of buildings, canals, roads, and railways in cities in the eastern United States.

Many of these cities still show the highest average amounts of Irish ethnicity in the U.S. today! DNA affirms that many descendants of Irish immigrants still live where their ancestors initially settled – in the Northeast.



If you look at the maps for Great Britain and Europe West, you see that other ancestries are more widespread across the whole country.  Leading up to the Boston Tea Party and the Declaration of Independence in 1776, large numbers of Europeans arrived in what is now the U.S., in some cases to escape religious persecution. While there were subsequently many waves of immigration, individuals primarily from Western Europe and Great Britain were our first Americans.

That we see British ancestry in many people of the U.S. may be evidence of the long history of individuals from Great Britain migrating to the United States, and far and wide across those states.



Finally, other patterns in the ethnicity maps reveal less about immigration, and more about America’s native peoples.  Take a look at Native American ancestry, which is present in high amounts in people born in New Mexico and other Southwestern states – a signal of both the large Native American and Latino populations that live there. And while Polynesian ancestry is nearly absent across the entire continental United States, it has a high average in Hawaii.  Genetics confirms that most native Hawaiians live in – you guessed it – Hawaii.


With that context, take another look through the maps. What other patterns surprise you? Which ones don’t?

In most cases, you’ll find that the genetics lines up neatly with history. This is pretty remarkable considering that we haven’t used any information about history or one’s self-identified ethnicity (though equally significant in defining one’s heritage) to make these maps. DNA from all 50 states can tell us a great deal about the family histories and stories of the people within them.

Just over a decade ago, the very first human genome was sequenced. Today, from aggregated results of over a quarter million AncestryDNA customers, we’re deciphering the genetic information that individually and collectively holds the secrets of individuals’ family histories, our nation’s history, and the history of the whole human family.


* All customers in this study consented to participate in scientific research.

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DNA Results Are In – What Did Mary Discover? Wed, 02 Apr 2014 19:34:49 +0000 Anna Swayne Read more ]]> mary1 sign

Six weeks ago I shared my neighbor’s story with you (click here to read the blog post). I sat down with Mary a couple of days ago and showed her the AncestryDNA results.

full results_mary_blog

Mary couldn’t wipe the smile off her face as we went over her results. At almost 90 years of age, she said to me:

Life keeps giving me more to learn about. I wasn’t sure exactly where we’re from in Africa, but we knew we had an English line in there somewhere. Looks like we have everything but the dog catcher in us.”

Thanks to cutting-edge genetic science from AncestryDNA, we are now able to make new discoveries about our ethnic origins, learning about the people and cultures that have been a part of our ancestral heritage for centuries.


The AncestryDNA test provides a detailed and personalized estimate of genetic ethnicity for 26 regions across the globe.

These regions include a total of 9 African regions, of which 6 different countries/regions are within Western Africa: Benin/Togo, Cameroon/Congo, Ivory/Ghana, Mali, Nigeria and Senegal.

Interestingly enough,  African American test takers have an average of at least three and a half African regions as part of their genetic ethnicity estimate, further helping them learn more about their own ancestral “melting pot.”

Mary’s story is a great example of this and reminds me, how powerful this tool can be in piecing together our own story. She now has a new outlook on her personal journey of self-discovery and wants to get other members of her family tested.

It doesn’t stop here, I’ve got more work to do—can’t wait to look at all those matches.”

Thank you, thank you AncestryDNA for teaching me about this, it’s so wonderful.


We appreciate Mary for sharing her experience with us. Now is the time, get started today.


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The Faces Behind AncestryDNA’s Ethnicity Regions Wed, 26 Mar 2014 18:42:47 +0000 Anna Swayne Read more ]]> One of the great features of the AncestryDNA test is that it details your ethnic origins across 26 geographic regions around the world.

How do we do it? We’ve assembled one the of most comprehensive DNA datasets in the world, with thousands of DNA samples from people with deep roots in each of the 26 different regions. This dataset makes up what we call the “reference panel.” Each person in the reference panel is from a specific location and has a documented family tree indicating deep ancestry in a particular region. To estimate your genetic ethnicity, we compare your DNA to the DNA of the people who make up the reference panel and then upload the results to your Ancestry account.

See a few of the faces of people who define their heritage in AncestryDNA. Each of these individuals represents the past, present and future of their culture and the connection to that heritage for AncestryDNA customers.

faces of ethnicity

Here’s the most recent map of the regions available in the AncestryDNA test results.


There are millions of variations in your DNA that make you unique. However, since you inherit these variations from your ancestors, they are also what make DNA a powerful history tool. This allows you to discover connections to your past and learn more about the people and places in your family story. To learn more about how AncestryDNA determines genetic ethnicity click here.

This is an exciting time to be a part of DNA testing especially as we see advancements in the science and technology world that enhance the level of detail and specificity we can use to discover more of our story.

If you have taken the AncestryDNA test already, did you find out about an ethnicity you didn’t know you have? Tell us in the comments below.

If you have not taken the test yet, what are you waiting for? Order it now.


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Finding Family During Ancestry Day Philadelphia Thu, 20 Mar 2014 18:14:17 +0000 Anna Swayne Read more ]]> Last weekend a few of us attended Ancestry Day Philadelphia. We spent the whole day talking about all things Ancestry including AncestryDNA.

I mentioned my Swayne connection in the area as my first Swayne’s came to Pennsylvania and lived in Chester County for many years. And as luck would have it (after all this was St. Patrick’s weekend), one the attendee’s, John, approached me to establish a connection!

We figured out that we both descended from Francis Swayne. My direct ancestor was the son Francis and John’s was, Sarah Francis’s younger sister. I was really excited to meet a cousin and get our picture taken to share with the family!


Here we were meeting for the first time, very close to where our shared ancestors lived in the early 1700s – making a connection 10 generations back.

That is the magic of Ancestry, now all we need to do is wait and see how much DNA we share.


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I’ve Been Told I’m Scots-Irish…Am I Irish? Am I Scottish? Mon, 17 Mar 2014 19:30:38 +0000 Anne Gillespie Mitchell Read more ]]> What is Scots-Irish or Scotch-Irish? It generally refers to the group of about 200,000 immigrants that made their way to America in the 1700s from the Ulster province of Ireland. They were Protestants who settled in large numbers in Pennsylvania and then migrated either south into Virginia and the Carolinas or westward into Ohio, Indiana and beyond.

The Scots-Irish were originally English and Scottish, and if you are descended from this group you may see English and Irish show up in your DNA. Many of my ancestors started out in Pennsylvania in the 1700s and migrated down to to Virginia. My Wallaces, Donalds and Cashes for sure, and most likely my Gillespies and myriad of other ancestors as well. That 38% of Irish I see in my DNA and 4% Great Britain, I suspect comes in part from my Ulster ancestors.


But where did they come from? In the early 1600s, as the English nobility was taking over the lands that this group lived on in Scotland, they relocated to the Ulster area in Ireland. In fact, you may see them referred to as Ulster Scots, the terms Scotch-Irish or Scots-Irish coming into use later. Looking for a better life and a chance to practice their religion as they saw fit, they immigrated to America.

So were they English? Scottish? Irish? And how does that show up in a DNA breakdown. Well it all depends. Who did they marry and have children with along the way? Which pieces of DNA were passed down to you over the last 200 to 300 years? It will be different for everybody, even your siblings.

So are they Irish? Well, sure. Though there will be those who debate that. But if you are, this gives you an idea of when and where you ancestor came to America. And on Saint Patrick’s day, we are all at least a little Irish!


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Kiss Me: I’m Irish Too! Sat, 15 Mar 2014 00:37:10 +0000 Juliana Smith Read more ]]> Reading Anna Swayne’s blog post, Luck of The Irish: How Irish Are You?I was reminded of the friendly sibling rivalry between my sisters and I shared when it came to who was more Irish. I can confirm Anna’s find that proximity to being born near St. Patrick’s Day does not factor in when it comes to how much Irish DNA was inherited.

While my birthday is only five days after St. Patty’s Day, my sister Diana’s Irish DNA came in at an estimated 40% versus my 23%. I’m way ahead of her in Eastern European though!



(If you want to learn more about why we don’t match up in our results, read Understanding Patterns of Inheritance: Where Did My DNA Come From? And Why It Matters.)

Comparing Matches

While it’s fun to compare the results of the DNA tests, and the various ethnicities that show up in our estimates, it’s also interesting to compare who we match and don’t match. When I look at the matches of my mother and sisters and compare them to my own, I can get new insights because we all inherited different segments of our parents’ DNA.

I haven’t had a ton of time to spend on researching the many DNA connections that I have, so I typically focus on the matches that are 4th generation or closer. But when I compared my connections to Diana’s, I found that one connection that shows up as a 5th cousin to me, actually shows up as a 3rd cousin to her. And when I look at my mom’s test, that match is a 2nd cousin to her. Time for a closer look!

Sure enough, when I look at this match’s tree, I see some familiar names. She has some dates that are a little different than what I have, so it was not showing as a shared relative in our trees, but the connection is pretty clear.

We connect through our Dennis line. The earliest immigrants in that family came over from Ireland in the 1820s and were milkmen in what was at the time, the village of Brooklyn, Kings County, New York.

On the other side of our shared connection are the Huggins. The Huggins were famine-era immigrants with a twist. The parents came over just before the famine, presumably to get established, while the children stayed in Ireland and would be sent for later.

I would imagine that Anne and William Huggins thought it would be safer to leave the children in Ireland when they made the trip to America in 1844, but they couldn’t have known that before they would be able to send for them, the potato famine would strike in Ireland. The children were ages 7, 9, and 11 when they set sail from Ireland after the famine, in January or February of 1849. Nearly 9% of the passengers on that ship did not survive the trip.

While it’s cool to think that we share DNA with this new-found cousin, it’s even cooler (in my opinion) that we share these stories. And who knows what stories she has to share with us.

Like St. Patrick’s Day, DNA testing brings people together to celebrate our shared connections—and the stories that those DNA segments have in common. Whether your DNA says you’re Irish or not, I hope you have a wonderful St. Patrick’s Day!

What does your DNA say? Let the world know.

200x200_KissMeDNAsaysSO 200x200_KissMeDNAsaysNOTirish









Need help pinning down your Irish origins? Check out this 5-Minute Find video.

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What Do Boston, Philadelphia, and Pittsburgh Have in Common? Fri, 14 Mar 2014 18:45:08 +0000 Julie Granka Read more ]]> At AncestryDNA, we’re celebrating Saint Patrick’s Day a little differently than most. We’re exploring how we can use genetics to study Irish heritage in the U.S.

Throughout our nation’s history, millions of individuals from Ireland planted new roots here in the United States. While hundreds of thousands of Irish immigrants arrived in the 1600’s and 1700’s, more than two million arrived in the mid-19th century – most to flee the “Potato Famine” that destroyed crops and led to widespread starvation in Ireland.

Historical records and census data tell us that many Irish settled in the Northeastern region of the United States. By 1850, people from Ireland made up over a quarter of the population of Boston, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and New York City.

Let’s fast-forward to the 21st century and discover where descendants of Irish immigrants now live in the United States – using DNA. We may help to explain why you do (or don’t) see many people around you wearing green.


Using DNA

At AncestryDNA, all customers receive a unique estimate of their “genetic ethnicity” – where in the world their ancestors may have lived hundreds to thousands of years ago – based on their DNA. For example, an AncestryDNA ethnicity estimate can tell someone how much of their DNA likely came from Ireland – anywhere from 0% to 100%.

The ethnicity estimate can give a fascinating glimpse into one’s past: Americans with some Irish ethnicity may have an ancestor who immigrated to the U.S. from Ireland.

Based on AncestryDNA ethnicity estimates for over 300,000 AncestryDNA customers*, the AncestryDNA science team set out to discover the “most Irish” regions of the U.S.


States with the highest Irish ancestry

First, for all AncestryDNA ethnicity estimates of people born in the same state, we averaged their fractions of Irish ethnicity. Then, we found the U.S. states whose residents have the highest, and lowest, amounts of Irish ancestry.

On the map are the top five states with the highest average Irish ancestry.  Massachusetts is #1, and all of the other top states are also in the Northeast.

IrishMap_USASound familiar?  As we mentioned at the start, Irish immigrants disembarked primarily in the Northeastern region of the U.S., particularly in Boston.

Genetics and history agree!  Using only DNA, we find that many of the present-day descendants of Irish immigrants still live in and are born in the Northeast.

Since descendants of Irish immigrants have made their way all over the country, Irish ancestry is found in many states outside of the Northeast as well.  But some areas of the U.S. seem to be less commonly settled by people of Irish descent.  The states with the lowest average Irish ancestry are North Dakota, Wisconsin, Hawaii, and Minnesota, all with less than 12% average Irish ancestry.


Cities with the highest Irish ancestry

Which U.S. cities have the highest amounts of Irish ethnicity based on DNA?

To answer this, we averaged the Irish ethnicity of all AncestryDNA customers born in a given city.

In the map below, the darker the green, the higher the average Irish ancestry of the city (bigger circles mean that more AncestryDNA customers were born there).  You may not see your city listed because we only looked at the top 50 cities with more than about 400 AncestryDNA customers.


R version 2.15.1 (2012-06-22). Made using googleVis-0.4.7.


Here’s a list of the top 10 cities with the highest average Irish ethnicity:

Top 10 Cities

CityAverage Irish Ethnicity
Boston, MA34.3%
Philadelphia, PA22.3%
Pittsburgh, PA19.6%
Fort Worth, TX19.6%
Birmingham, AL19.3%
San Francisco, CA19.0%
Tulsa, OK19.0%
Springfield, MA18.9%
Oklahoma City, OK18.4%
New York, NY18.3%


The “greenest” city by a large margin is Boston – with an average Irish ethnicity of 34%!  Other top cities are Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Fort Worth.

As before, many of these cities are in the Northeast.  Millions of Irish immigrants set their roots there – and genetics shows that many of their descendants have not strayed far.  But the fact that cities outside the Northeast are on this list shows that Irish immigrants also settled in non-Northeastern big cities, and that some of their descendants moved elsewhere.



What about the cities with the lowest average Irish ancestry?  It might not be a surprise that none of them are in the Northeast.

Bottom 10 Cities

CityAverage Irish Ethnicity
Milwaukee, WI10.3%
Toledo, OH13.0%
Minneapolis, MN13.1%
San Antonio, TX13.3%
Salt Lake City, UT13.3%
Los Angeles, CA13.6%
New Orleans, LA14.0%
St. Paul, MN14.2%
Detroit, MI14.3%
Chicago, IL14.4%


While there are likely some people in these cities with Irish heritage, there aren’t as many as in Boston – suggesting that fewer Irish immigrants settled in these areas.

And in cities such as Los Angeles where Irish immigrants are known to have lived, the signal of Irish ancestry has likely been lessened by an influx of immigration of individuals of other ancestries.




So where’s the best place to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day?  The “Top 10” list might be a good place to start.  In fact, Bostonians have been celebrating with a St. Patrick’s Day parade since 1737, New Yorkers since 1762, and Philadelphians since 1771.


Genetics of Irish Americans

Although everyone’s Irish on St. Patrick’s Day, AncestryDNA can tell someone whether they have Irish heritage the other 364 days of the year– and whether they might have had an ancestor who immigrated from Ireland to America.  We’ve found that people from states and cities of the Northeast, where many Irish originally started their new future in the U.S., have the highest amounts of Irish ancestry.

While U.S. census data based on “self-reported” Irish ancestry shows similar patterns, our study is unique since we’re using only genetics.  This allows us to incorporate information about “Irishness” from people who may not self-identify as Irish, but still seem to have Irish heritage based on DNA.  Both views of one’s ancestry are equally important.

So even if your AncestryDNA results don’t reveal your Irish heritage, there’s no reason not to wear green and seek out the best corned beef and cabbage.  Now you know where to look for it.


*All AncestryDNA customers in this study consented to participate in research.


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