This is an article that has been published in the May edition of ‘The Surname Scribbler’, the journal of The Surname Society, of which I am both a member and the Social Network Coordinator. You can find out more about The Surname Society at www.surname-society.org and I encourage anyone undertaking a surname study to join up; it’s only £5 a year.
DNA is one of the biggest developments in genealogy since I started researching over ten years ago. It is ‘big business’ and as prices drop and it becomes more affordable, I suspect that all serious researches will have provided their spit / swab to at least one, if not all, of the major databases.
Before going any further, if you want to learn more about DNA; the how it works, why you’d do it, what different tests are available etc., I suggest you head over to the International Society of Genetic Genealogy (ISOGG) and explore their extremely helpful Wiki page.
I tested with Family Tree DNA (FtDNA) in 2015 in an effort to locate cousins. I’d like to say I’ve now got unknown cousins coming out of my ears, but I’d be lying and it’s ENTIRELY MY OWN FAULT. I’ve not had the time to fully explore my results, or to narrow down the 1915 matches I have in their database alone. But this isn’t about what I’ve not done, it’s about who I am.
Admixture percentages; this is something that the testing companies are ‘hot’ about this year – Provide your DNA and they’ll tell you where you come from. Well, this isn’t exactly true. Admixtures are calculated by comparing your DNA results to the self-reported last known ancestor of the current population. Further discussion about the process involved can be found on ISOGGs Admixture Wiki page. So basically they compare your DNA to modern day population clusters and the self-reported most distant ancestor.
First, we’ll have a look at what my paper records say; back to my 16 14 great grandparents (as we have an unknown father situation).
As you can see I’m Welsh. My parents are Welsh, my known grandparents are Welsh … and then I’m Welsh again, aside from two boarder-hopping great great grandparents. So let’s see what the DNA says.
Family Tree DNA
They have recently launched ‘myOrigins’, which is a revamped version of their previous ethnicity tool ‘Population Finder’ – I don’t like the term ethnicity as I think it is misleading so I’m going to stick with admixture.
According to this I’m 100% European, 72% of which is British Isles. The remaining 29% coming from West and Central Europe and East Europe.
This probably relates to the general population movement as my Haplogroup is Rb1 (my dad has been tested).
On the basis of this it appears to agree with the paper records, I am from the British Isles. Although saying someone is from the British Isles is more than a little vague and entirely unsurprising.
I will admit the only reason I tested with Ancestry was to gain access to their database, and they had a sale on.
The admixture breakdown that Ancestry gives me is seen below.
The percentages are completely different to those given by FtDNA, although they do agree I’m 100% European.
Ancestry give me only 18% for Great Britain, as opposed to FtDNA’s 72%. But Ancestry separate out Ireland; a whopping 32% into its own sub-group. Now, this is a bit of a bug bear for me. Ancestry class Scotland, Wales, Cornwall, Ireland and Eire ALL as ‘Ireland’. Personally I think this is a marketing strategy to get more American’s who believe they have Irish links to test, but that’s just my own gripe. So if I were to take this admixture at face value then I am from Ireland.
If I put the Ireland percentage back into the Great Britain mix (mimicking FtDNA’s numbers) then I’m 50% from the British Isles, 43% from Western Europe & and the last 7% is a mixture of low confidence regions and are probably false readings.
Ancestry have just launched ‘Genetic Communities’. If you would like an in-depth explanation I’d suggest reading Roberta Estes’ post about it on her blog, DNAeXpalined – Genetic Genealogy.
The Genetic Community, in my view, is a more accurate breakdown of my DNA. As you can see one of the communities they have placed me in is North Walian. [I’ll admit this makes me happy]. The clusters appear to be around Mold, Wrexham, and Oswestry but it also includes Chester, The Wirral, Liverpool and Manchester.
The Genetic Community suggestions that I am North Walian.
This is the final company that I have tested with. Although they appear to be the new kids on the scene they’ve actually been around for a long time under different guises. You can read more about that on their website, or if you’re a member of The Surname Society and haven’t already, go and view Dr. Martin Blythe’s presentation to The Surname Society 2017 Conference, (but remember to be logged in before you view).
As you can see the process is painless enough. I tested in February 2017 at RootsTech, and the results came back in April.
LivingDNA is different in that they focus on the British Isles, but this does mean that if a part of your DNA doesn’t match their database it is unclassified.
LivingDNA definitely have the prettiest presentation of your results
As you can see LivingDNA also bunch Great Britain and Ireland together, giving me a percentage of 89% ‘British Isles’, which is the highest of all the companies I’ve tested with. They break this down further to 36.2% North Walian and 13.6% North West England. Now there is a lot of border hopping so this result was to be expected. What I didn’t expect was to see Central and Southeast England, or Orkney! The South Wales Border and Cornwall could be Celtic movement so I’m not too worried about this. However there is 11% which is European but unassigned, and when some of the percentages given are so small this is a huge amount of data that is unknown. LivingDNA however are always growing their datasets and results will be updated accordingly so maybe more information will be provided in the future. So, for the moment, LivingDNA suggests I am North Walian – but not as North Walian as I thought. They also provided my maternal Haplogroup, and I’m part of the U5 Haplogroup; subgroup U5b3.
So to summarise, I asked the question Where am I from? All the admixtures agree I am 100% European. Two companies say I am North Walian, and one of those two also says I am Irish.
Admixture is not an exact science. There is not currently enough data to provide conclusive comparisons and therefore absolute data. There is a lot of false assumptions around admixtures at the moment, and I urge you to PLEASE, PLEASE take the information with a huge dose of salt. The exploration is a bit of fun but nothing more.
The other question I asked was Who Am I?
I’m Carole, a rugby-loving, crazy cat lady. I’m a genealogist. I’m a wife and a surname studier. I’m Welsh. My admixture doesn’t change the way I think of myself, or how I classify my heritage.