Our Western European DNA
When I was a child my grandmother used to tell me how her family descended from Black Forest Quakers who fled to Ireland to escape religious persecution in Germany in the 1700s. Like all the best family stories there was a kernel of truth, as I would later learn about my Palatine ancestors. I’ve often wondered what life must have been like for the 13,000 German refugees camped out in Camberwell and Blackheath in the summer of 1709 with no idea what future lay in store for them. I was reminded of this recently as I was looking at a map showing Europe West ethnicity estimates across the UK & Ireland.
Europe West is one of the 26 global regions that we have built up using a group of individuals known as our AncestryDNA Reference Panel. The region geographically spans France and Germany but also takes in several other countries including the Benelux countries, Austria, Switzerland and parts of Denmark, Poland, Italy and the Czech Republic. A common question we get asked is why such a big area? Is it not possible to tell French from German? The answer is that the people in this region moved around a lot and mixed with each other and with those from neighbouring regions. The term we use for this is admixed and the people living in the Europe West region are among the most admixed of all of our regions.
Europe West and Great Britain
The map above shows average Europe West ethnicity estimates of those who have taken the AncestryDNA test and were born in the UK and Ireland. It does not use any historical migration data; it is based only what is in our DNA. So, for example, I was born in Dublin and my Europe West estimate is 1%. On the other hand my friend Bryony, from Berkshire, has an estimate of 45%. When you average the Europe West ethnicity across the thousands who have taken the AncestryDNA test in the UK and Ireland you end up with a map like the one above.
The distribution of Europe West ethnicity goes from a high of 26.84% in Kent to a low of 11.28% in Scotland. Broadly speaking the average ethnicity decreases smoothly as you spread out from the Kentish coast, but there are exceptions. London is lower than the surrounding regions. This is common in London as it is a very diverse area with a wide range of ethnicities. One of the biggest surprises we often see when people get back their results is just how high their Europe West estimate can be. It should be remembered that the estimates show influences of ancestors 500-1000 years ago. Your paper trail may go back 300 or 400 years showing all English ancestors. But your AncestryDNA ethnicity estimate is taking you beyond that and hinting that their ancestors in turn may have had Western European heritage.
The Europe West estimate for Wales and Scotland is lower than for England, as we might expect. The ethnicity estimate for Southern Scotland is actually lower than Northern Scotland. Once again we are perhaps seeing the connections reflecting the close history of Southern Scotland and Ulster.
Europe West and Ireland
The picture in Ireland is somewhat simpler. There is a fairly low level of Europe West ethnicity across the country reflecting less inward migration from continental Europe. We do see Ulster being slightly higher than the other provinces of Ireland, mirroring the figure we saw in Southern Scotland. We also see Connacht showing the lowest average Europe West, again reflecting the low level of inward migration over the centuries.
What we don’t yet see in the provincial breakdown is potentially higher Europe West ethnicity in the South East of Ireland reflecting the Norman influence on that part of Ireland. Our initial trial did show individuals from Wexford and Carlow with higher Europe West than others on the trial. We don’t yet have detail at county level that would enable us to see if that is a result that holds in general.
People have been migrating across the channel to Britain for many thousands of years. From the Angles and the Saxons. From the Jutes, the Frisians and the Franks. All the way to the Normans, Huguenots, and Palatines. They have all come and become part of the tapestry of the British and Irish peoples. And now through modern science and AncestryDNA we can see that they have also become part of the tapestry of our DNA, part of the very essence of who we are.