Kiss Me, I’m Donegal Irish: How AncestryDNA® Revealed Where In Ireland My Family’s From

by Elizabeth Anderson

Growing up, we always thought my dad and I were Scottish or Irish, since we both had blonde hair, blue eyes, and fair skin. But we didn’t really know for sure.

Dad’s mom was adopted, with no knowledge of her biological parents. And whenever my dad asked his dad about our family background, he would just say we’d been here for centuries.

The author and her father.
Dad and I thought we might be Scottish or Irish but didn’t really know for sure.

Our roots might have remained a mystery forever if it weren’t for AncestryDNA®.

I Found My Irish in San Francisco

Where I grew up, in New Mexico, there wasn’t a significant Irish population that I was connected to.

I then went to college in San Francisco, where there was historically a very robust Irish community (in fact over 30% of the city’s population was Irish by the 1880 census).

Still it was mostly on St. Patrick’s Day that I vaguely wondered again if I was part Irish.

It wasn’t until I took an internship at Ancestry® and got excited about the science behind family history that I really began to be more curious about my roots.

I got AncestryDNA tests for me and my dad. And we found out some of our theories about where our blonde hair and blue eyes came were right:

Side-by-side comparison of the author and her father's AncestryDNA ethnicity estimates.
My current results showed 44% Ireland and Scotland. Dad’s showed 63%.

I’m pretty Irish (44% Ireland and Scotland). And Dad’s super Irish (63% Ireland and Scotland).

We originally took our DNA tests in 2016, and at the time our Ireland and Scotland percentages were pretty much all there was to our Irish DNA story.

But with subsequent updates to AncestryDNA, including the expansion to over 90 regions in Ireland in December of last year, we now have way more detailed results.

Map of AncestryDNA's regions in Ireland and Great Britain.
AncestryDNA has over 90 communities in Ireland, so customers with Irish heritage can potentially get very specific results for their Irish roots.

More to Our Irish Story

What you can see if you look more closely at our AncestryDNA results is that we didn’t just find out we were Irish.

Detail of the author and her father's AncestryDNA ethnicity estimates showing breakdown of specific regions.
Our AncestryDNA results show genetic connections to specific Irish communities: Donegal, Ireland and Munster, Ireland.

We found out very specifically where in Ireland our ancestors came from—known as “communities” in AncestryDNA results.

Donegal Ireland Communities: North West Donegal and West Donegal

My results showed I have genetic ties to the community of North West Donegal. That’s in the northern part of Ireland.

Thanks to Dad taking the test too, I know that my family story includes the community of West Donegal as well.

Munster, Ireland

Dad’s results also showed DNA connections to Munster, in southwestern Ireland.

Two things really stood out to me when I saw Munster in his results:

If Dad had not taken the test, I would have been unaware of our family’s connection to southern Ireland (since his test showed Munster and mine didn’t). I now work at Ancestry, and according to my scientist colleague Barry Star,

“Because you only get half of each parent’s DNA, it’s not surprising that sometimes Dad will have genetic ties to a community, and you won’t. You just didn’t happen to get the DNA from Dad that’s connected to that community. This is why it’s important to test as far back in your family tree as you can get. Otherwise there are traces of your family history in your family’s DNA that could be lost.”

My dad’s results also showed our family’s ties to Chicago. According to AncestryDNA,

“Chicago, already home to many Irish immigrants, appealed to many from Munster.”

Well, can you guess where my dad’s mom is from, and where my grandparents met? That’s right! Chicago.

Map showing where Irish immigrants from Munster landed in the US.
My dad’s AncestryDNA test results showed the migration path between Munster and Chicago, where his mom was born and his parents met.

I knew about the paths to America the Irish took when fleeing the Potato Famine, but seeing the movements of my ancestors pinpointed by just providing my DNA—the science blew me away. As my colleague Barry explains,

“Even if we’d somehow never heard about the Irish Potato Famine, we would still be able to piece together that something huge happened in Ireland at that time—just by using insights from customers’ family trees and DNA. That connection between your DNA and pivotal events in human history is something very unique that you can get from AncestryDNA’s patented Genetic Communities technology.”

Grandma Virginia Rae

Thanks to Ancestry, I know I have Irish roots–and not just anywhere in Ireland but specifically in north and western Donegal, and Munster.

Since my dad’s more than half Irish, at least some of that had to come from his mom, Grandma Virginia Rae. She’s no longer with us, but I bet she would have gotten a kick out of our Irish roots.

Growing up, I didn’t get a lot of time with her, since she passed when I was young. But I felt very connected because people have always told me I have a similar look and personality.

I actually found an old yearbook photo of her on Ancestry!

Yearbook page including the author's Grandmother.
I found a pic of Grandma Virginia Rae (top left) in a yearbook on Ancestry.

An AncestryDNA test is not an option to learn more about Grandma, since she’s passed.

But I may be able to learn more about my Irish family by finding family trees of other AncestryDNA test takers who are related to me (known as DNA matches).

And AncestryDNA will be regularly updating their product and what it can tell me—and other test takers—about our family stories.

So who knows what else AncestryDNA will be able to tell me about my family in the future!

Do you know where on the Emerald Isle your Irish roots come from? Find out what an AncestryDNA test can reveal about your family.