Posted by on June 22, 2012 in AncestryDNA

Recent research from Oxford University shows a wide range of genetic influences throughout the British Isles, hinting at a long history of invasions and settlement by groups from across the European continent throughout history. Now where have we heard that before?

Oh, that’s right! AncestryDNA has seen similar results in the data from our new DNA test. It seems we’re on the same page.

The Oxford study, conducted by Professors Walter Bodmer, Peter Donnelly and their colleagues, was reported by The Telegraph, London’s Sunday Times and other publications. Their study, according to the article, “analysed the differences at 500,000 points in the DNA of 2,000 people” to compose a genetic map of the region.

According to Donnelly, only a couple of groups, namely the Cornish and Welsh, have populations that can be genetically characterized as distinctly British. Most other populations in Great Britain show more recent ties to groups such as the Anglo-Saxon Germans, Danish Vikings, and Scandinavians.

So what does that mean for a family history researcher? DNA continues to be a source of discovery about our past. Since the new AncestryDNA test is able to tap into over 700,000 locations in your DNA it gives you a broader, more vivid image of who your ancestors were. So if you’ve taken the new DNA test, you can expect new scientific findings like these to give you a deeper understanding of your results.

“The people of this region are a real genetic cocktail,” says Donnelly. So, if you hail from the British Isles, don’t be shaken if your genetic ethnicity results are decidedly stirred.

Now to further illustrate this point, here is an example from our own reference database for this specific region. As you can see, even individuals with deep British pedigrees often have some Scandinavian and Central European ancestry.

This pie chart shows the average ancestry estimated for individuals with all four grandparents from England, Ireland, Scotland, or Wales—most of them have great grandparents also from Britain.

Read more on the story here:


  1. Pamela

    Interesting article…”So, if you hail from the British Isles, don’t be shaken if your genetic ethnicity results are decidedly stirred…” I’ve always thought my results would be decidedly stirred…but they aren’t — 97% British isles…so, I’m particularly drawn to your other statement now…”only a couple of groups, namely the Cornish and Welsh, have populations that can be genetically characterized as distinctly British…” My mother’s line definitely has a Welsh connection…so, this is quite interesting….given I haven’t been able to trace my father’s roots beyond 1814 here in the US. Thanks for the article…!

  2. TC

    I am MORE surprised by the NON scandanavian results! mine show 83% British Isles, 13% Finnish/Volga-Ural and 4% uncertain. My mothers father came from Norway, my fathers dad from Denmark – so looking at MY results, I would have to assume that the Finnish could be my dane side, along with my paternal grandmothers german heritage?

  3. KG

    Ditto with TC – On my direct maternal line, my great-grandmother was 100% Norwegian. How no Scandinavian showed up in my breakdown confuses me.

  4. Pam

    I thought the same thing. My grt-grandparents (mother’s paternal side) both came from Sweden. I’ve found a relative living in Sweden that had six generations showing our Anderson history in Sweden, but my ethnicity came back 86% British Isles, 10% Southern European and 4% unknown.

  5. Stan

    Sorry,but I think the most amazing thing about the data is how ‘British’ the population of Britain seems to remain even after centuries of invasion. Nearly three quarters remain British. Thats remarkable. And testifies to the resiliance and strength of Britain’s original folk.

  6. Anne Neville

    I agree with the people above that my DNA results are so surprising as to be unbelievable. Half my ancestors have deep roots in Germany, back to the 1600s and earlier, and yet my DNA says I am 95 percent from the British Isles and 5 percent unknown — no German at all. More troubling is the attached DNA report from Ancestry saying that 8 percent of the people in my family tree were born in Peru. Nobody in my family tree was born in Peru. I have written ancestry suggesting that my results were mixed up with somebody else’s and received no reply.

  7. A different slant but not dissimilar to my blog article I wrote a few weeks ago.
    Its good to see these issues being aired both about being ‘British’ and the issues around DNA, which I have also discussed both in my blog and across many forums. I am interested of course but worried about how useful it would really be – so much movement around Europe for so many centuries…………

  8. LynnFDR

    My DNA analysis from Ancestry claims that I am:

    76% – Scandanavian
    10% – Southern European
    14% – Turkish/Caucasus/Persian

    I understand that this may be relict DNA from long ago migrations. But this mix below is my known European ancestry:

    1/4 — northwestern Germany (Emsland, Osnabrueckerland)
    1/16 — German Posen
    1/16 — Polish Poznan
    1/8 — French Lorraine
    1/8 — Belgian Luxembourger
    1/8 — French Walloon (Brabant/Hainaut, Belgium)
    1/8 — Baden (Duchy), Germany
    1/16 — German-French Swiss (Ct Jura)
    1/16 — unknown but by name thought to be from France’s Franche-Comte

    Many of those go back to about 1600, some before (one German line to 1100); but I guess if you do not inherit those DNA specifics they will not be represented. However, none of my ancestors are derived from anywhere in the areas associated with my Ancestry DNA results. I had heard of others who had received results saying the had Central European DNA and so thought that may be one area in which I had some DNA represented.

    What I would like to see from Ancestry is to at least publish the maps of what their DNA group regions are so that anyone could compare their results.

  9. Rosanna

    My DNA results were 99% Scandinavian which I really don’t understand as I know at least 4 ancestors that immigrated from Germany in the 1800s. It just seems crazy to be 99% anything! I am hoping can reverify that somehow.

  10. TC

    As the Ancestry sites states regarding autosomal testing (the one I participated in, in any event), we only get a portion of whatever genes our parents got.

    In so far as the ‘maps showing DNA groupings’ – well my account does show that, the areas that comprise British Isles, as well as the Finnish/Volga – that could be my german heritage, or my dane. I too have been able to document with baptismal/death/marriage registers in Denmark and Norway those lines into the early 1600s and one into 1500s.

    Others (my german lineage) go back even further (I was lucky that it was a well known family, and many did the work before I got involved) – so far as the British goes, well there is a lot there as well, we know of the Irish and Scot families. So one has to assume that my scandanavian heritage may have been from those vikings that settled into the British Isles areas as well.

    So I eagerly await to see as more continue to test, if those percentages will change at all.

  11. Linda

    Does the Ancestry DNA test only give percentages? Does it include haplogroups or anything that states where those percentages originated? For example, when the tests are conducted on genealogical shows it will say, for example, 25% middle eastern, but break that down into the regions, which indicate, for example, Jewish ancestry.

    What exactly does the AncestryDNA test include?

    • Trevor Thacker

      Linda, The AncestryDNA results include information about genetic ethnicity and provide DNA matches to other members with DNA results. The results are a great starting point for more family history research, and it can also be a way to dig even deeper into the research you’ve already done. Go to for more information.

  12. Scott

    My results are somewhat similar to LynnFDR’s above. I’m roughly (by paper trail) 50% Dutch, 25% English, 25% German…most of these lines tracing back to the 1600’s. My test says I’m 65% Scandinavian, 16% Eastern European, and 16% South European…I literally have ZERO known Scandinavian ancestry (and EXTREMELY little southern and easter European), yet my test says I’m VERY Scandinavian. At first it was a bit frustrating, but realizing it might mean I descend from vikings is a pretty cool ancestry back-drop.

  13. Steve Combs

    I was surprised that there was no Native American in my DNA results from Ancestry.Com even though my family oral history and my research on Ancestry.Com clearly shows several links to native American ancestry. In fact, my mother told me many times that her father’s side of the family are directly descended from Pocahontas, and my research on Ancestry.Com clearly shows that to be the case, but yet it doesn’t show up in the DNA test results! He can this be? Can someone at Ancestry.Com explain this to me?

    • Trevor Thacker

      Hi Steve, that’s very interesting! It’s possible that the traces of Native American ethnicity were too small to identify, sometimes labeled as “uncertain”. If you would like to learn more about why your genetic ethnicity results are different than what you expect, this article in our help center may help you:

  14. Chumashman

    Still A Mystery! I have a very similar issue to that of Steve Combs. My Native American line is mainly from the West coast (Chumash, Pueblo), but my DNA results came back over 50% British Isles, and only 13% Native American. I know this isn’t true. Besides our family history, one look at me will tell you that. However, even more frustrating for me is that I came back a whopping 16% undetermined. Huh??? How is that? Is Ancestry DNA all hype? Although thank God I didn’t also show up Scandinavian like everyone else seems to, I personally feel that 16% uncertain does NOT instill a sense of quality research to me. Care to comment?
    Thanks, Brian

  15. BEE

    I got my results! Well, no real surprises. With seven locations of grandparents and great-grandparents in all corners of Poland, my results show 75% Eastern Europe – although that could have been determined just from the information on my tree.
    25% Scandinavian – I suppose from various invasions, but nothing showing up from Napoleon heading to Moscow, Tatar invasions, or even the Romans wandering through now and then. Not even any German blood.
    As far as 5th to 8th “cousins”, that’s a bit far-fetched, especially since none of those listed so far come anywhere near the amount of Eastern European as shown in my DNA, but interesting anyway, especially since I don’t have any male relatives to do a paternal DNA line.
    I certainly hope “There’s more to come”.

  16. BEE

    Well, I guess no one is adding to this blog, but I would like to add something to what I previously wrote just in case someone checks it out.
    When I went back and looked at the list of those “5th to 8th cousins”, I realized that the first name on the list had a higher percentage of Eastern Eur open than I did, so I looked more closely. Although there were no matches in family names,I realized that this person’s grandmother was born in the town as my grandfather, and people with her maiden name crossed paths with people with my maiden name. I sent a message to this person, but have not received a response.
    I hope I do, because I have more information to share.

  17. I’m a novice with tech. talk.Bvt want to say that I am getting very excited with antisipated resvlts of my DNA tests.I don’t have the resvlts back yet,bvt svre I’ll qvestions when I do.

  18. I guess the DNA results are quite like the English language itself. Lots of influence from many different peoples and cultures have created a language with many roots to match the people with many roots.

  19. Anne Reeves

    I have direct line Welsh ancestors yet my DNA results show only Central European (which I take to be some sort of German) and Scandinavian. But I also recognise that, being female ALL of my DNA recombines including that on the XX chromosomes, meaning that no DNA from my Welsh great-grandfather need have withstood the recombinations between him and me. A disappointment – always nice to see the documentation supported by science, but there it is.

  20. Anne Reeves

    As I wrote in feedback: Central Europe does NOT include those countries lying in the Western European region. That is, Central Europe equals: modern Germany, Austria, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia, Switzerland (maybe) and those western areas of present day Poland that used to form part of greater Germany when it was composed of many small princedoms and city states, e.g. Prussia. Thus if a Briton’s genetic heritage includes “Central European” then the odds are that some of their forebears came from what is now within modern Germany.

  21. AD

    I was excited to hear that ancestry has autosomal DNA testing…at first. My brother did the mtDNA and y-46 tests for us through ancestry almost 2 years ago. We were very disappointed with results that haven’t really helped us with anything…we still don’t understand why the paternal test wouldn’t have a majority of men with the same surname as ours.
    We (like others we’ve spoken with) had expected to get something back giving us different percentages of ethnicities then, but later we found out that you need autosomal testing for that. After reading all of the comments, I don’t think we’ll be using ancestry for this test… ancestry doesn’t sound like they’re very accurate and why pay $99 more to be disappointed again?
    One of the main reasons we want this is to verify Native American ancestry that has not been documentable. We also are descended from more than one Indian who was not forced on the Trail of Tears, and due to legitimate concerns for their families did all they could to NOT be documented as Indian by the government. It seems that ancestry isn’t finding much Native American ancestry — even when it IS already proven???.
    I can see Scandinavian showing up SOME but not due to ancient history (and so many comments are talking 400-500 years ago). My understanding is that autosomal testing looks at all of the DNA chromosomes from all of your ancestors BUT can ONLY go back FIVE generations. This is a help when you want to know ethnicity that can’t be detected with strictly maternal line or paternal line testing (Like with your father’s father’s mother, etc…).
    Another concern is that from the sound of things there’s still no way to connect with researchers elsewhere…which is a need when you weren’t able to find anything that you didn’t already know from any DNA connections on ancestry. When someone pays as much as these tests cost…shouldn’t the info they receive be theirs to use wherever they can make progress in their research???? I’m just saying…

  22. RO

    It sounds as though they really need to look at this again-I totally agree with MOST of those posting here-British may be Scandanavian but Scadanavians are not British. This was the most disappointing waste of time and $$$ AD-My understandings are similar to yours and LACK of any “hard” scientific evidence makes me angry-I thought that was what we paid for. Horrible waste of time….I seriously question the validity of the test itself.

  23. bob bayne

    ancestryDNA has been of no use in finding any links. The cartoon pie chart and bar chart are good for a ‘cartoon’. No data is available to support the cartoons. And, since my first notification from them even had a wrong date on it I wonder wvwn more about the cartoons. I’ll be going elsewhere for answers.

  24. After waiting four months for my invitation, I was absolutely stunned to get the results back in only two weeks!
    The results were almost exactly what I would have predicted, 47% Eastern European, 27% Scandanavian and 28% British Isles. Unlike many posters on this thread, the Scandanavian did not bother me. Why? Because I understand the difference between nationality and ethnicity. “Nationality” is an arbitrary, man-made concept, “Ethnicity” is biological. And it’s not based on your great-grandfather, but on your 50x great-grandfather.
    When my paternal grandfather was born in 1882, he was Austrian. If he stayed where he was until 1918, he would have been Yugoslavian. If by some miracle he could have hung on until 1991, he would have become Slovenian. But his ethnicity through it all was Slavic (what Ancestry calls “Eastern European”).
    Same with Mom’s side. One branch came over from Wales, about the only remaining true “Britons”. A few lines came from Ireland. Again, Irish is a nationality, not an ethnicity. These two groups are the “British Isles”. The other group came from County Durham and, friends, northern England is totally “Scandinavian”. The were a couple of families from northern Germany which, again, is Scandinavian.
    Basically speaking, if you had medevial ancestors from Europe, you have LOTS of Scandinavian in you.
    I would suggest everyone here check out a couple of books: “The Vikings” by Martin Arnold (2006) and “The Normans in Europe” edited by Elizabeth van Houts (2000) to see just how totally pervasive the Scandinavian domination of Europe was.
    And don’t buy the marketing hype. Autosomal DNA testing is like quantum mechanics. It’s based on probabilities, not hard facts.

  25. Anne Reeves

    It would seem that very many people believe that every single ancestor leaves traces of DNA behind in an individual’s own genetic stockpile. But this simply is not the case. Everyone receives fifty-percent of their genetic material from each biologic parent – but that fifty-percent is completely randomly ‘selected.’ Over the generations many gene lines simply do not make it through. Thus, as in my case, there is no trace of “British Isles” genetic material despite having Welsh forebears. But their genetic background could have been well integrated with Saxon and Scandanavian genes through intermarriage among those Welsh who dwelt in those counties that have formed part of England for hundreds of years.

    Frankly, there is no substitute for the painstaking digging in the documentary archives, or those that are available to us.

    I should like to temper Jeff Zupan’s assertions about those who are from the northern English (and I would add Scottish) counties. Yes the peoples of those counties probably do carry a fair number of Scandanavian genes (so, too, not a few of the Irish, by the way); but they are hardly completely so. Despite rumours to the contrary, many of the early Britons did not flee from the invading Saxons (nor either of them from the Vikings) but rather co-existed and eventually intermarried producing a much blended genetic pool.

    Additionally, again considering the British Isles (my background willy nilly of the genes). Aside from what has been discovered (though undoubtedly on a very small sample) about the Welsh and Cornish (they tend to be, seemingly, genetically ‘purer’ than the rest of the Islands’ folks), the rest of the peoples populating the Isles are well-intermingled ethnically. For example, Ireland had Scandanavian invaders and settlers; Anglo-Normans (more Scandanavians and Saxons, some of whom might well have been, in part, Slavic, as well carrying a trace of the Franks, another Germanic group); the Scottish (themselves a blend of Irish, Scots, Scandanavians, and Saxons) and English (a mixture of all the above). Not to mention the occasional Spaniard (shipwrecked from the Armada).

  26. Lewe H. Sessions

    Unlike most of the others commenting on this article, I do not feel I am in a position to be critical of Ancestry’s methodology. I’m sure it is way more complex than I would be able to understand without quite a bit of technical instruction. Like other writers, I was expecting to see “British Isles” as the leading component of my DNA. When I got my results, it reported that my DNA was 51% Central European, 44% Scandinavian and 5% uncertain. I wasn’t disappointed–I was elated. Although most of the names I have found in researching my genealogy are of British origin, I do have several that are German or German Swiss. I figure that the 51% could probably be attributed largely to Anglo-Saxon influences, while the Scandinavian part probably relates to my Scottish and Northern Irish ancestry. Although most of my known ancestors migrated to North America from the “British Isles”, I am proud of my apparent European and Scandinavian ancestry as well. (My English surname Sessions originated in the northern French province of Soissons.) Considering the usefulness of Ancestry’s DNA program, I value the results that I am obtaining and have already found many new valuable clues to family lines that I have been researching for many years. I’m not going to quibble about estimated percentages of European or Scandinavian DNA; the “bottom line” results–clues to the identity of real ancestors, and potential contacts with real cousins–will continue to fuel my interest in this program; and I thank Ancestry for providing this service.

  27. I must defend the DNA test as I was able to find a third cousin once removed that I had no idea about prior to the test. I now have an entire new branch of my tree! So, at least in that case, the test was very successful.
    However, my sister recently had her DNA test done, and I find that we only share six (out of 8 she received and 15 I received) fourth to sixth cousins. I am wondering if anyone knows how this can be?
    I am frustrated that doesn’t have someone available to answer broad questions such as this one. As a matter of fact, I have not been able to find a way to contact at all to get an individual response.

  28. May

    My test results were surprising in some ways. First was the Scandinavian factor, since I have none of these names for 500 or more years. Then it immediately ocurred to me that my tree had Irish and Scottish ancestors, as well as Normans, so no surprise there, after all. I expected to find more Central European, as my research indicates about 1/3 of my tree is German, but had only 9%. However, the test said 21% Eastern European, and I have discovered no ancestors from Eastern Europe. This was the real surprise.
    As for the price, I found it to be remarkably inexpensive. I have had tests done by another company, and paid around $300.

  29. Dorothy Estelle

    I, too, am critical of the DNA ethnic test results. Mine said 59% Scandinavian and 41% Central European. The Central European is certainly believable–about what I would expect. I believe the 59% Scandinavian is entirely incorrect. The lines that did not come from France and Germany (the 41%) came to America from the British Isles, mostly in the 1600’s. I belong to the Mayflower Society with 3 Mayflower ancestors. I have direct lines to innumerable British immigrants who came to America during the Great Migration. The latest Scandinavian blood that I believe I have is from Anglo-Norman families who came to the British Isles with The Conqueror. And they inter-married with other Britains. I might believe a tiny bit of Scandinavian, but I cannot believe that most of my DNA is derived from Scandinavia after over a thousand years of mixing with British blood. I wonder what data base was used to determine ethnic origins of our DNA. It appears to me to be defective.

  30. Rebecca Sonnick

    There are 2 parts of the Autosomal DNA results. One is the “Shared Ancestors in Common” cousins results. Which helps find new “cousins” and/or helps to “prove” your paper family tree is going in the correct lineage. The other is the ethnicity results. I find the “cousin” matching part very helpful. I have matched with “cousins” who I know for a fact are cousins. And, I have found that many of the matching “cousins” shown (who I ddn’t know were cousins) I can find 1, 2 or 3 “Shared Ancestors in Common.” I make sure that I review the “very low – low confidence” matching “cousins”, because I have found many shared ancestor’s in common among them. Even some 4th cousins in “very low confidence” results. There are many of the matching DNA “cousins” who have only a few people on their family tree. Of course those “cousins” trees are not helpful at all. All I can figure is that they are adopted people looking for biological parents and siblings? There also are high, moderate, low and very low confidence DNA “cousin” results that I have no idea yet how they would be my “cousin.” But they probably are.. The “Shared Ancestors in Common” probably has not been entered yet on my or their family tree. I am getting good use out of this “cousin matching” results of the DNA test. I have found 3 unknown matching “cousins” who all have the same “mystery person/people” on their family trees. They all are of “high confidence” results. I haven’t so far been able to know how this is, and how I am 3rd and 4th cousins to them. but because of a couple of “dead-end walls” I have on my family tree, I can’t figure it out. But maybe somehow, something will help solve it. Now.. the ethnicity results part of the test is something else.. I think might have their Scandinavian and their British Isles results mixed up somehow. And, I wish they would listen to people’s concerns. Why do so many people who are from strong Scandianian heritage end up having a high percentage of British Isle when they don’t know of a British Isles ancestor? Why do so many people who feel they should have a high percentage of British Isles show up with a high percentage of Scandianivan instead? (and some show 0% British Isle)? It seems to me that somewhere there must be a mistake. Ancestry can try to explain the high percentage of Scandinavian to people who believe they should instead have a high percent of British Isles instead (you know the Saxons’s, the Normans. the Vikings, etc.) But what kind of explanation do they have for the people who are from a strong line of Scandinavian’s and show a high percent of British Isles, when that person knows of no British Isles ancestor? That’s really strange. This does not make sense. I am one who believes my results should have shown quite a bit of British Isles percent, as my grandmother was Scotch, English and a very small amount of German. I have 13 verified Mayflower Prigrim great. great… grandparents. A Scotch lineage – who married into the Royal English families. I also, have many, many ancestor’s who came from England. I know of no one in my very large family tree who was Scandinavian. My results were 50% Scandinavian – WHAT!!, 47% Central European (the European makes sense). and 3% unknown. If people who only have ancestors who were Scandinaivan end up being 40% British in the world do I end up with 0% British Isles?? I am very happy to get shared matches to others who have the same English ancstors as I do. Many of my “shared cousin” matches are to my English and Scotch ancestors. The people/cousins I am “matching” are people who show a very high percentage of British Isles ethnicity. Some don’t have any Scandinavian or Central European like I do. So even though I show no British Isles ethnicity. I am matching with others who show only British Isles ethnicity. As I say, I am glad to have these matches, they are the majority of my matches. But I think that show take a very good look at what is going on with their Scandianivan and British Isle results. It’s like up is down and down is up.

  31. Shannon

    Dorothy & Rebecca, I feel your pain. I’ve done a lot of research on my tree and take pride in it. I have around 10 Mayflower ancestors and many more that came in the great migration. I was really disappointed when no British Isles ancestry showed up in my results. According to Ancestry I am 59% Scandinavian, 17% Central Euro., 15% Southern & 9% uncertain.

    The results seem to be the opposite of the tree. Very strange.

  32. Jesse

    I am trying to understand how my father, with many lines tracing back to Jamestown, and almost all lines in Virginia for a long period of time, can be 97% Scandinavian. Wouldn’t all this time in Virginia alone show some British Isles blood? I’m not saying its wrong, but I would love an explanation on how this is possible.

  33. Kalia

    What i find quite interesting after reading several blog posts and comments and doing my own research (by the way i am african-american and have 31% Scandinavian) is that we (Americans with Scandinavian results) are having the same discussions as the Brits, Scottish and Irish. The Brits, Scottish and the Irish and reporting the same findings in regards to Scandinavian DNA being found in large amounts in certain parts of the British Isles. So instead of disqualifying your results based on testing methods, you should probably do some research.

  34. John

    My ancestral breakdown shows 38% British Isles (about what I figured) and 54% Scandinavian, which is totally wrong. I know that I am about half German — SOUTHERN German from Wurttemberg and Switzerland. I’ve found 90% of my great-great-great-great-grandparents, and there’s just nowhere in my family tree for such a large percentage of Scandinavian blood to hide. All four of my grandparents have German blood, and many of my lines go back to the 17th century. My test doesn’t show that I have ANY central European ancestry, which leads me to think that the “Scandinavian” result includes a lot of German as well.

  35. Michael Smothers

    Yes, Scandinavian seemed obsurd until you realize how influential the scandinavians dna was on northern England and Ireland. I too am sure the 38% Scandinavian genes originates in Scotland and Ireland. The rest, 39% west African, and 13% Southern Europe is probably accurate. Ancestry needs to clarify this, instead of making us think we’re Vikings, Even though this is where it originates.

  36. Sharon Land

    Hi I am also confused about all of this Scandinavian percentage. My daughter and I have both had the DNA testing. Mine came back with a 74% Eastern European and 26% Scandinavian. I can accept the Eastern European part but the Scandinavian? So then my daughter took it. Now my husbands people were all from Ireland,Scotland and England..One german grandmother..Other than that all other from mainly Ireland and England. However when she got her results they were 63% Scandinavian and 37% Eastern European. I can understand the Eastern European part but why was there not even a “slice” from the British Isles..Majority all Scandinavian .There are not ANY Scandinavians known in any of our backrounds. ???

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