Thursday, 30 March 2017

AncestryDNA Genetic Communities

Several bloggers who focus on DNA and genealogy have posted their views of the new Genetic Communities component to the AncestryDNA service. As is often the case opinions differ depending on the individual case and expectations.

Lacking US ancestry my expectations were not high. I did hope to get some insight into the largest component of my ethnic ancestry according to Ancestry, 30% Irish. It's a component I have only a hint about how it arrived in my family tree, nothing passed down in family oral history. Yet 30% is substantial. In my recent studies of LivingDNA results everyone who had 30% of more from one of the UK areas could confirm it from their known ancestry. Alas Ireland was not one of the two communities Ancestry found, both were communities well established in my paper-based family tree.

English in the East Midlands
Ancestry provides the information that "You and 10 of your DNA matches, along with 21,791 other AncestryDNA members, are all genetically linked to form the Genetic Community English in the East Midlands." Ancestry considers it likely, 60% certain I'm in that community.
The area encompassed is where I have documented ancestry in East Staffordshire, Birmingham and the Black Country on my maternal side. Also listed in the community are two ancestors on my paternal side who never lived in the area and, as far as I know, had no ancestry from it!
Not identified in my list of matches in the region was a person with whom I share 5 times great grandparents found through an AncestryDNA surname search.

Jews in Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg
Ancestry describes the connection as "You and 9 of your DNA matches, along with 20,725 other AncestryDNA members, are all genetically linked to form the Genetic Community Jews in Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg." Ancestry describe it as  "possible you’re a member of this Genetic Community. Our confidence that you belong is 20%."
The area includes Amsterdam where my paper trail leads to a great grandfather born in 1864.

The results proved to be an attractive presentation of what I already knew. It's good as far as it goes, and it could go further. At present if Genetic Communities encourages those at an earlier stage of their family history journey that would be a benefit. What is needed is more family trees from those who have none, or don't post them. Could Ancestry be more proactive in encouraging people developing and sharing ancestral trees? Could there be a way to gamify that?  Could Ancestry find an automated way to develop straw man family trees for a client if they agreed to have it posted? While they might not all be accurate experienced genealogists know to treat compiled trees as clues rather than fact.


Debbie Kennett said...


I think Genetic Communities will go a long way to encouraging those people who only test for their admixture to go on to explore their family history.

AncestryDNA did a very useful post looking at the distribution of the "Irish" component in people from Britain and Ireland:

I've seen a lot of people with little or no Irish ancestry come out with 20% to 25% Irish. It does not correspond with known genealogy. Also, people with Welsh and Scottish ancestry generally get assigned with high percentages of "Irish".

JDR said...


It's misleading to trumpet Irish in the headline when you know it may well not be and only explain in an easily overlooked blog post.

All the best for your Guild and WDYTYA talks in the next few days.

Jane Down said...

Hi John
Thanks for the tip. I just checked my Ancestry DNA and my Genetic Community is Southern England. They got that right. I have many many ancestors from Southern England. Also they seem to have done some work on the ethnicity percentages from when I checked last. Mine seem to agree more with my sister's results than they did before. So that is encouraging.
Lots of fun. Thanks...jane

Debbie Kennett said...

I agree it's misleading to market the tests in that way. I'm hoping that the release of the Genetic Communities feature will encourage more responsible marketing and downplay the admixture percentages.

I'm looking forward to the Guild conference this weekend. It's always an enjoyable get-together. We have a whole afternoon of DNA tomorrow. I'm surprised how many people still haven't experimented with DNA yet.