Posted by Ancestry Team on February 7, 2017 in AncestryDNA, TechRoots

What if from your DNA, you could find out that you’re not just Irish, but related to the Ulster Irish who migrated in droves to the U.S.? Or descended from a group of African Americans in Maryland who left rural areas to put roots in cities. Or maybe the Acadians, who brought the French language and culture to Louisiana. What if you could see the people, places and migration paths in your family story?

Genetics has long been used to understand human history and migrations. However, due to limited samples or methods used, very few of these methods have shed insight into more recent human history over the last several hundred years.

After years of hard work, and a lot of rigorous statistics, we developed a novel scientific methodology that looks at how specific groups of people are connected through their DNA, what places they called home, and which migration paths they followed to get there – allowing genetics to reveal the history in a more recent time period than ever before.

Today, the science team is thrilled to announce that our work on identifying finer grain population structure was published in Nature Communications, “Clustering of 770 thousand genomes reveals post-colonial population structure of North America.”

The new research leverages the powerful combination of family history and genetic data unique to Ancestry to surface a more concrete and detailed genetic portrait of how our recent ancestors responded together to historic forces like politics, famine, war and immigration.


Caption: Figure 3 | Distribution of ancestral birth locations in North America associated with IBD clusters. Points show pedigree birth locations that are disproportionately assigned to each cluster. Only birth locations with OR > x within indicated generations y–z are plotted, in which parameters x, y, z are chosen separately per cluster to better visualize the cluster’s historical geographic concentration; full distributions of ancestral birth locations in the US, Europe and worldwide are given in Supplementary Figs. 18–20. For each cluster, points are independently scaled by the number of pedigree annotations. See Fig. 2 and Table 1 for more details. Note that clusters are separated into two maps only for clarity. Also note that the concentration of Puerto Rican ancestors in Hawaii probably reflects their arrival there in the early 1900s65.


How does the science work?

We first created a network of genetically-identified relationships — based on DNA alone — among over 700,000 individuals who consented to research.  Using network analysis techniques, we identified clusters of individuals in the network: groups of individuals who are slightly more related to one another than to individuals outside their cluster. In other words, from genetic data we identified novel “population structure” – subtly different groups of individuals within a larger population.

Having such a large genetic dataset allowed us to uncover these clusters, or communities, that would have not otherwise been possible.

We then added context to these clusters of genetic communities with family tree data to understand the origins of these groups of people, and to uncover the groups’ migration patterns and ancestries. From this we uncovered, in great detail, the historical explanations for the patterns observed in the genetics.

For example, certain groups of individuals corresponded to descendants of Scandinavian or French Canadian immigrants to North America, and we even identified groups of descendants of settlers such as the individuals with ancestry in the Appalachians and in New Mexico who experienced geographic or cultural isolation within the US. The data also depicted movements and settlements across east-west and north-south gradients within the United States – and remarkably matches known history.


Caption: Figure 4 | Genealogical data by generation trace migration of French Canadians (magenta) to the US and origins of Cajuns/Acadians in Atlantic Canada (blue). Map locations are plotted if OR > 10 within the indicated range of pedigree generations (date ranges give the 5th and 95th percentiles of birth year annotations). Points are scaled by number of pedigree annotations, separately for each of the 6 maps. Note that not all current political borders are shown. See Fig. 2 for more details.


What does this research mean for me?

This research has exciting implications for current and potential future customers of AncestryDNA. Recall that this research identified clusters, or genetic communities, of individuals, as well as their histories – where their ancestors may have lived, where they migrated to and from, what were their last names, and more. Inversely, that means that we can identify the genetic communities that an AncestryDNA customer belongs to. That in turn means that we can use an individual’s DNA to provide them with an extremely detailed historical portrait of the lives of some of their recent ancestors – more recent than previously possible. For example, we could tell someone where some of their ancestors might have lived and moved throughout their life, as well as potential historical reasons for those migrations, during the last several hundred years.

This work was made possible by the contributions thousands of customers who have researched their family trees, taken the DNA test, and agreed to participate in scientific research. In the coming months, we’re excited to share these findings with each of you in a personalized experience.


  1. Brian Podoll

    While this map shows a couple specific ethnic identifications in the Upper Midwest, such as Scandinavians and Finnish, the largest settlement group across the entire Midwest and largest pre-1920 immigration group, Germans, are not identified at all. Furthermore, it remains to be seen whether there is enough of a DNA database or of willing participants, but very different groups from specific historic regions of Germany could be identified by their migrations. As one example, there could be a large swath of settlement from the northwestern counties of Indiana, most of east central Wisconsin, central and southern Minnesota, as well as eastern portions of both Dakotas of Prussians who came from the Netze River Valley region at the confluence of the former provinces of Posen, West Prussia, Pomerania, and Brandenburg. The DNA identification of these people would likely be complex, because many reflected ancient admixtures of Teutonic and Slavic elements and in some cases, even earlier Baltic influences. These were reflected in their surnames alone, much less their specific places of origin. Other such examples would be East Frisian people from northwestern Germany, whose migrations went from northern Illinois into east central Iowa and certain parts of southern Minnesota and South Dakota. Likewise with North Frisian people from Schleswig in northernmost Germany, who made specific settlements in easternmost and northwestern Iowa. At this stage, their DNA is likely to say little more than “Europe West.” Those are but a few German-specific examples, but could be applied to other ethnic groups across the Midwest, especially to farming people who relocated to terrains similar to their European homelands.

  2. Lori Hansen

    In addition to the lack of German data, there is also a lack of Jewish ancestry data. Instead of trying to Define Jewish populations by country of origin, it makes sense to identify them as a group that settled primarily in Manhattan and Cincinnati, Ohio.

  3. Patti

    Brian Podall is correct. With over 25 million descendants of German born ancestors recorded in 2008, they make up the largest ethnic group of immigrants in the United States.

  4. Patti

    I agree with Brian Podall. The largest ethnic group – German immigrants – is missing. Over 25 million descendants of German born immigrants are in the US today. These immigrants escaped fascist Germany. Many fought in the civil War and world wars against fascism and slavery.

  5. Tobias Kemper

    The Germans as largest group of immigrants came in the 18th and most in the 19th century. They did not escape fascist Germany 1933-45.

  6. Anita Richards

    i recieved my dna i can see the history in it but in no way did it refure to my family in the least my family came from paris to migrate to Canada nothing was mention i was looking for

  7. Annette Crawford

    Am always interested to see where “settlements” of various ethnic groups. Since beginning to research my family on both sides, I have traced my maternal grandfather from Finland to Florida. He went back to Ellis Island 6 years later to pick up my grandmother and their 7 year old son. Instead of going back to Florida, they went to South Carolina. The family moved through lower SC and appears to have set down roots there. Unfortunately both were deceased by 1938. My uncle was left to care for 2 sisters and 1 brother. Now working on finding out their history in Finland. I have made contact with a 3rd to 4th cousin on my grandfather’s side. She is helping me locate other family members. It is still a mystery as to why he went to Florida. I do have his ship’s listing that listed he was meeting up with an individual who appears to be Swedish. I am still in the dark when it comes to my grandmother’s side. The parish has given me some data, but there is more to learn. Taking the DNA test has opened some possibilities.

  8. Al Doyne

    I want to ditto Brian’s comment above and anxiously await similar maps showing German migrations especially to the Midwest; and then there’s the Irish.

  9. Tom McCorkill

    Wow! What a wonderful advance. I can rememb3er my genetics course in college when I knowledge was limited to the eight pairs of chromosomes then identified. Why are people so critical at this point as there is surely much more to come.

  10. Pauline Pendlebury

    Thank you This is wonderful..and it will be exciting to see what the future advances bring also in relation to other countries etc. Great work !! 🙂

  11. Ryan Springer

    “In coming months” is the worst part as I hate waiting. My best guess would be around DNA day, but coming months never mean soon so we will see.

  12. Daniel Hester

    Nothing against Acadians, but they migrated to Louisiana more than 60 years after the French culture and language had arrived at the Gulf Coast. I wonder if my French Creole IBD groups are lumped in with the Acadians, even though I have no Acadian ancestry.

  13. Cindy Brady

    I think it is a little premature to get out underwear in knots over any particular Ethnic groups being left out. I don’t see the Irish or Chinese singled out either. What I do note is the stark difference a river makes. Early migration depended on the waterways, and without those waterways, groups seemed to be far more isolated. The other thing I am VERY interested in knowing is how the validity of the 700,000 family trees was tested. I LOVE the East/West route linking UTAH. It only serves to highlight both the blessing and the curse we all deal with in the LDS’s focus on family history. Thank you, LDS for all of the research and preservation of records worldwide. However, we are all only human and there is a multitude of bogus family trees in the LDS data bases, and all of our have errors, “mirror tree,” family legends, franken grafts, and downright fakes. If that was allowed into the 700,000, what did you use for your merging of error? I have 40 years of researching my family – building and correcting, adding on to what what left by prior generations. I am very confident on some branches, and those Mayflower, DAR, SAR and Salem connections are all verified and State pioneer certificates abound to validate our family’s East-West journey. I could have told Ancestry that without the DNA and the map. I even have the journals of the river journeys. All that said, it is interesting research and it will be very interesting to see where it leads – it is the unverified family tree information that is the weakest part.

  14. LeVaJe

    Most if not all of the concerns in these comments are covered in the actual study. There are even additional images with info on European Jewish, Irish, African American, and others. Hopefully they will update the ethnicity estimate maps with this information.

  15. Lisa Coan (Anderson)

    This is really interesting!! I can’t wait for more information–super exciting development. I see it now as a work in progress, with much to look forward to.

  16. Donald

    Hopefully those 700,000 people have well researched trees and not those ones based in fantasy. Also I am still waiting on the update that Ethnicity was supposed to go through. Is it ever coming? I tell you FTDNA and Ancestry are both lagging behind on the DNA scene lately.

  17. Larry Morin

    In spite of some of the negative comments, I look forward to seeing your findings. Progress is progress. As a French Canadian descendant (both maternal and fraternal), of those I could, I’ve mapped all my documented ancestor birthplaces in France. It’s interesting to see where in France they started from, e.g., Brittany.

  18. Hasani Carter

    Thank you for doing this! I hope this helps me with tracking my enslaved Ancestors. Possibly back to their African homes

  19. walimpet

    What a fascinating study! Thank you for sharing it with us. It’s exciting to be part of your groundbreaking DNA research. Keep up the great work and keep on sharing!

  20. Elistariel

    Maybe this will one day help me learn more about my German immigrant ancestor who first appeared in the middle of South Carolina in 1852 from Baden-Baden.

  21. mary

    This is good news. However, with the new batch of “Christmas gift” DNA tests coming on line, I have a bigger problem than ever. Ancestry has provided us with massive amounts of data and no way to manage the data. A star is practically useless when faced with thousands of DNA matches on multiple test results. I would really like to see some folders, color coding, or anything useful to at least triage the data into manageable segments.

  22. Jeff

    Probably the reason you don’t see Germans or French listed is because the test are not offered there because of privacy concerns there, hence because of that no way to really track migration patterns from there.

  23. Janis

    While some may find this useful, I hope resources are also being devoted to making it easier for us to analyze and categorize our matches. A chromosome browser is absolutely necessary for me to sort out my connections since ALL of my ancestors on both my paternal and maternal sides have lived in southeastern Pennsylvania since colonial times. They came and stayed put — no migration in my direct lines. I also echo Mary’s request for folders, color coding, etc.

  24. Sally

    I am speaking out also, as yet another member of the German – American community. I live within 25 miles of the location my ancestors settled in back in the early 1700’s. We are “thicker than the fleas on a dogs back” in this area, and happen to be an extremely inquisitive bunch. All the information I have been able to find is from sources this side of the Atlantic. I would LOVE to have more!

  25. Dorothy Partridge

    Do you also do DNA from Canada? I can’t see any maps even thought it was called North America.I find the results that people get are very confusing like chromosone browsers, no German or French are offered?? I wish the site would say in plain English what we get and don’t get.(espeially for the female. D.PArtridge

  26. Elistariel

    I just now realized I misread this. I thought we were getting a map that would link our DNA to a “Genetic Communities” Map. I’ve been checking the “My Results” page of my Ancestry DNA results looking for it. *Facepalm*

  27. jacqueline

    My mother’s french canadian heritage did not show up in my DNA. My fathers English, scottish and Irish showed up very strongly, also a little greece and Italy did. I think it must have been my twin brothers who got all the French Canadian. He is deceased so we cannot do his .

  28. Teresa Zakrzwski

    Im adopted i have no clue. My name was Amelia then changed when adopted. I was adopted through catholic charities in Altoona PA

  29. Tom Hospod

    Does anybody have an idea as to when this will be generally available to all AncestryDNA members? I don’t see it in any of my family’s results.

  30. Patricia Jeanne Lenwell

    YES!! Color coding, folders etc to organize our DNA matches ! It is crazy to go through page after page (and I have less matches than the average person, I suspect). I spend way too much time going through it all. I keep meaning to see if a search on matches would bring up what I say in my notes but I suspect it will not.

  31. Ben

    My kit arrived on the 14th of February, and still hasn’t started lab processing in fkn 6 weeks. Anyway, will this feature be available for my results?

  32. James

    As like similar sites is designed to appeal to the general person that little about their own lineage and less about history. The fact that the Germanic is glaringly absent possibly stems from the erroneous belief of many “British” American families whose jaws drop open when they start looking past their great-great grandparents and realize their “British” ancestry is German, Swiss, etc. My point if you have enough bogus people claiming to be X ancestry when in reality they’re Y ancestry it is going to skew results.

    Also remember the simple fact, as is often bemoaned on genealogy sites, etc., that is PLAGUED by inaccurate trees. If that is what the site is using to make their basis for genetic communities of course it’ll suck.

  33. Nicol

    I was utterly shocked to find that I had NO genetic communities! My father was born in Nurnberg where the family lived for generations. My mom was English, Irish, and German. Northeast settlers from the 1600’s… scratching my head.
    My husband’s dad was from Belgium, where generations of his family lived. He was given Northeast settlers or whatever it is. His mom was a Mayflower descendant, so that fits.
    But nothing European…. just clueless….
    I have a $0.17 back to school special spiral folder for each main surname grouping. I jot down the DNA matches in there and draw up trees to show matches to others. Seems like Ancestry could easily make all that possible online. “I want to: _____________” and a drop down box to see certain types of connections. Argh. I think I’d be more positive if SOMETHING matched for me. Just grousing.

  34. Tom Gull

    The communities listed for me were pretty much right on target. But they are so huge and my American lines so well documented that the value of the additional information is really low. I’d pay like maybe $5 to $10 for it as it is entertaining but doesn’t further my genealogical research at all. Now an opt-in chromosome browser – THAT would have enormous value to me given the Ancestry sample size. I should be able to break through my five or so brick walls around 1800 with a chromosome browser. Without it, I have lots of leads and no way to use most of them.

  35. toni

    Tom, Upload your raw data at GEDMatch and FTDNA. Use their tools. Also the matches you get there WANT to correspond with you. they will answer your email. And you get their email address not the web site message center. They don’t have a message center.

  36. Kevin Thomas

    I find this new area of very interesting. A week after I accidentaly discovered all of my family in some way lead back to Virginia, and of course slavery, I received the genetic community of African-Americans Virginia and Deep South.

  37. Rebecca Canales

    What are you guys talking about? The German ancestry is there. If you look at the Missouri Ozarks and East Tennessee grouping for example you will see that they came not just from the UK but also from the Baden Wuerttemberg/Rhineland regions of Germany.

  38. Cindy Clifton

    I was happy to see that my mother was linked to two communities; Eastern Europeans and Sicilians. I found it odd that I didn’t link to either, since we share most of her listed supporting matches. My father’s side is Creole. I have MANY well documented Creole close family members and cousins, and the history of our ethnic group is well documented as well. However, the only group I link to is African Americans in Louisiana. Very few of my close family members and none of my siblings are listed in this group. I truly enjoy the Ancestry site and I have been a member for quite some time. I have made many wonderful discoveries through this site. However, it was very disappointing to hear Ancestry credit the Acadians with the introduction of French culture to Louisiana, and very disappointing as well to notice the complete exclusion of Creole people as a genetic community. Creoles, more than most genetic communities, have historically relied upon and clung to family connections and bonds. These connections have been critical to our survival as a people. Creole people are more than just the individual components of our identity. We DO have African American heritage, we are also Spanish, Native American and French; but above all else we are Creole, with our own unique language, traditions, and culture. And if Ancestry does decide to include Creole people, I hope that they remember we aren’t limited to New Orleans. I might even lend them my copy of “Cane River: The Forgotten People”.

  39. Donna Krumrei

    Can you still be linked to a genetic community that they have available right now? Or will a person only be added to new communities that come later on? Like many, I am very surprised I am not linked to certain ones that my relatives are already linked to.

  40. Donna Mullins

    In other words, it sucked. I don’t use your circles no more. I don’t use this. People are talking about Ancestry more and more every day. I know you have my dad’s DNA wrong and I have called too many times. I was told that old kits would be upgraded to all the new DNA in your data bank…still waiting. I like doing my researching on Ancestry and that is it period. I hope you improve to where you use to be…number one in DNA, and keep your word to the old kits, to upgrade. I was told this when I order my first kit, that it would upgrade eventually when you got more DNA into your data banks. The communities is off on mine too. Documentation is the Key!

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