Posted by Mike Mulligan on April 10, 2015 in AncestryDNA, Guest Bloggers, Research, United Kingdom

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.

EUwest1

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.

Euwest2

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.

euwest3

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. euwest4

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.

Mike Mulligan

Mike is a Principal Product Manager at Ancestry, based in our Dublin office. Mike has been doing on family history since he was young growing up in Donegal surrounded by generations of cousins.

15 Comments

  1. Hello Mike,
    I can understand the Eastern Europe connection with my recent DNA test but what I do not understand is that despite not having any known Irish Ancestors and nearly all my Paternal Ancestors being Scottish, how can I have 25% Irish DNA?
    Regards, Ian.

  2. Mike Mulligan

    Hi Ian, I did write a similar post on how Irish ethnicity shows up across the UK. That post is here – https://blogs.ancestry.com/ancestry/2015/03/16/what-does-our-dna-tell-us-about-being-irish/

    The short answer is there have been many migrations between Ireland and Scotland throughout history. Then you factor in that the ethnicity estimate looks back up to 1000 years or so. So many of your Scottish ancestors themselves would have high Irish ethnicity which they in turn passed down to you.

    Mike

  3. christian batey

    I would love to know my roots properly it’s hard as my nan was adopted and don’t know who my granddad is. How much does one of these test cost if you could tell me please and thankyou for the time.

  4. Matthew Stewart

    Thanks for this post, it’s useful to see these averages to compare against. The biggest surprise in my results was 1% Melanesian DNA. Are there many results from the UK and Ireland showing Melanesian DNA? I can trace all my direct lines back at least 200 years (i.e. before European colonisation in that region) and know of no links to those islands, as all were born in Ireland (mainly Ulster). Is the designation of Melanesian DNA a certainty or could it be just a coincidental similarity? Not sure whether I should go hunting for cousins yet in Papua New Guinea or not! Grateful for any guidance.

  5. Linda Mundell

    I have a Scottish last name but my grandpa said we were from Wales , Ireland or Scotland! Why?

  6. carl von Ohsen

    My DNA results didn’t turn up a any rel surprises except for 1% European Jewish – but event hat is not really a surprise given that some of my ancestry is Europe est and there were high populations of Jews. Most of my known ancestry is in Ireland however only 9% of my DNA was identified as Irish with the majority being identified as UK Britain and Europe West which I guess makes sense given the history of Ireland, however does the 9% Irish reflect ‘native’ Irish i.e. Irish who have been here first? the 115 Scandanavian also is not surprising given Ireland’s history as well.

  7. Thanks Mike. This blog post is highly relevant to me, being a Milligan and all. May I ask if you yourself are in the haplogroup t1a1 ? That’s mine. Would you consider “Western European” people to be more in that haplogroup? Also, since our names are probably the same source, I wonder is we can check for DNA match. Email me if you want. Curious…

  8. Lynn David

    Maybe that percentage of Western European Ancestry in the British Isles is underestimated? For instance:

    http://ancestryforums.custhelp.com/posts/cd43442e65

    http://ancestryforums.custhelp.com/posts/413ae61c9a

    Or perhaps you just need to more generalize your Ancestry estimates? Whatever, but many of us of Belgian and NW German/Saxon ancestry are being confused with being British? What’s wrong with indicating what the real deep-ancestry of those in Britain really is, continental Europe? Why should those of us whose ancestors came from Belgium and Germany to the Americas be classed as British by AncestryDNA?

  9. Gina Jones Mancari

    My ancestors came to America between the years of 1530-1750, and we’ve been here since that time. My DNA estimates I am 64% Great Britain, 14% Europe West, 9% Scandinavian, 8% Ireland, 4% trace areas, and 1% West Asian. In regards to my ancestors of Europe West, they all came from Badden, Germany and surrounding areas. As I’ve searched for more documents or history of them, it gets very confusing because almost all had the same first names! Then when they arrived in America, their surnames had different spelling variations. I’ve given up researching their histories. All I can say is I’ll be glad when ALL members of Ancestry.com and the DNA members are together and can collaborate to see how we’re all related. I’m looking forward to “meeting” my distant cousins from across the pond.

  10. A European

    When you say “people have been migrating for many thousands of years” that–while true–is slightly misleading. YES, there were migrations, but indivuals did not move from one place to another in the 1700s the way they do today. They did not have Greyhound busses yet in those days. Kings would send their daughters to other countries to marry Kings there in order to form alliances with these countries, but the average individual did not travel far. E.g., people did not live in Spain and send their kids to relatives in Germany to go to school. The odds of the average Spaniard having relatives in Germany for instance are very small. So, unless your ancestors were part of a “genuine” migration this does not apply.

  11. Robin

    I find articles like this fascinating. I have been doing genealogy since the early 1980’s, when my church encouraged finding at least five generations of your family tree. I bought the DNA test, and it basically proved what I had already known about ethnicity and where my family came from. I knew I had a large British Isles/Western Europe match. I encouraged my dad to take the test, and it was similar, but higher or lower in ethnicity, again not surprised. People, you have to realize that migrations can be from thousands of years ago. Look at the huge invasions of the past, Normans, The holy wars and crusades. Yes, many of my mother’s side were scottish, through the Ulster region. Many german, and I am assuming that many came over to flee persecution for their faith, as did ancestors of my father who came over from England with the Quaker faith. I sure wish that when I was in school, way back in the dark ages, that teachers had made history and social studies/history classes more interesting with this type of human perspective, than just dry fact. I might have remembered it easier. Thank you, so much, ancestry.com for teaching all us lay people such fascinating history with these columns. The more I dig around, the more questions I have. It has been a real “wild ride” for me.

  12. Alison

    My DNA test results were not much of a surprise except for 3% West Asia, 1% Middle East, and 1% Asia South. I am still researching to find where the Asia and Middle East fit in. The DNA results did confirm something I already suspected and that is I DO NOT have any Native American in me as many family stories have said. I am trying to get one of my brothers to do the test to so we will then have male 7 female results, as I heard this can help too.

  13. Elaine

    Commenting on Irish showing up in DNA results:
    To Wm. Mulligan: if I link to the article on Irish ethnicity in Britian that you provided, could I look at the chart in the article and use it to determine where my ancestors probably came from? Say if my DNA showed 21% Irish , could I say my ancestors may have lived around London which the chart shows the population having 21.8% Irish? Is that fair to say or am I being too general?

  14. Steve

    Good evening! Do you guys have something similar written to help explain how 32% Great Britain showed up in my results when I was expecting roughly that amount of German. I know that many British people have German DNA, but never heard that the reverse is common. Thanks!!!!

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