|IMPORTANT: This article was written in 2015. If you would like to read a more up-to-date version of this article please visit my post:
Ethnicity Estimates and Britishness – 2017 Edition
Last week I received my DNA results from ancestry.com. This means I’ve now tested with the “Big 3” DNA testing companies, namely Ancestry, FamilyTreeDNA and 23andMe. For fun I thought it would be worth comparing these results. I had been thinking about doing this for a while, and as luck would have it another blogger, Debbie Kennett, recently worked through her British ancestors and also ploughed through the information provided by the testing companies. It’s worth reading her summary in conjunction with this post.
To start I want to state my own biases. Culturally I consider myself British. I assume I’m ethnically British, mostly English. In addition I believe that the assumption made in the Peoples of the British Isles project, that anyone with four British grandparents located within 50 miles of each other probably represents a group of people that would have lived in that part of Britain for a much longer period. (I’m planning another blog post which will look at this idea in more detail).
It’s probably easiest to look at my 16 great-great-grandparents, in part because I’ve already prepared a map showing where they were born. (To make a map like the one shown below please read the walk-through guide here). To put it in context my gg-grandparents were all born between 1811 and 1832, just as Britain was in the throws of the Industrial Revolution.
As you can see they fit into 3 clusters, namely North Yorkshire/Tees Valley (10 people), East Anglia (4 people) and finally a Northern Ireland group (2 people). The Northern Ireland cluster is important in that it represents, I believe, mostly Scots-Irish ancestry. My gg-grandfather was a Stewart, his wife’s surname is unknown. I have a Stewart second-cousin from this line who has tested as part of the Stewart Surname Project and is identified as part of the Sir John of Bonkyll grouping. I assume my Stewart ancestors came across to Northern Ireland from Scotland as part of the Plantation of Ulster. I do not know enough about the history of Ulster to accurately comment, but I assume there was only limited mixing between the Protestant Scots and the Catholic Irish.
The other groups mostly lived in rural villages, and my ancestors were for the most part illiterate “Ag Labs” (Agricultural Labourers). The only group that may have had more exposure to recent immigrant groups, or foreigners were based in Darlington. At the time Darlington was a port and centre for light industry, such as cotton-weaving and leather tanning. Having said that, if I look back to the generation before, the parents of both people born in Darlington had actually moved to Darlington from Aycliffe, one of the outlying villages.
OK, enough of the pre-amble, here are my three ethnicity estimates.
It’s really worth actually diving into the Ancestry estimates a bit further. For one thing Ancestry runs their tests 40 times and then gives you an average results over the tests. If you click on each regional component e.g. Britain you will get both a maximum and minimum percentage, as well as the average figures. Here are my results in more detail.
It’s worth pointing out that the only region with a non-zero minimum percentage is the British Region.
If you click on each region it will show you how close you compare to their “native” reference sample. This is how I compare to a British “native”.
Finally there is a chart which shows what other ethnicities are found among the “native British” reference group. It’s important to understand here that they are show how many of the reference group have an identified ethnicity not how much. Here’s the chart they provide for their native British sample population. Note there are 4 significant other ethnicities identified (Ireland / Europe West / Scandinavia / Iberian Peninsula). These correspond with my 4 “secondary” ethnicities.
I would recommend viewing the 6 minute video “Breaking Down the Science Behind Your Ethnicity Results” that Ancestry put up on their blog about how they calculate their ethnicity estimates.
Family Tree DNA (ftDNA)
[Update 19-May-2015] This is the most interesting of the results. When FamilyTreeDNA first launched their myOrigins feature I assumed their analysis was quite broadly based, rather like 23andMe, where they grouped their ethnicity into Northern and Southern European groups. My results, which showed me as 70% W&C Europe and 30% Scandinavian, did seem a bit like a “back of an envelope” type calculation. After publication of this article I discovered that ftDNA actually have a specific “British” ethnicity, but according to ftDNA I’m 0% British. This may sound daft, and probably does reflect on the low sample size of the ftDNA British sample (39 people). On the flip side it may be that my ethnicity does reflect ancestors in eastern England that have had relatively little mixing with the rest of the British population. After all I have very few matches from my yDNA results and the genetically closest trace their paternal lines back to continental Europe (Denmark and Switzerland).
[Update 24-July-2015] Recently I received the test results back for my brother. Since both our parents would also be considered British you should expect that our ethnicities would be similar, so his 32% British seems surprisingly high. This could be explained by the different genes he inherited, but probably reflects the inherent problems of separating out British ethnicity from the relatively similar “Western and Central Europe” and “Scandinavian” ethnicities. Below is a chart comparing my brother’s and my ethnicity.
23 and Me
I’m showing 23andMe’s “Speculative” analysis (51% confidence levels). They also provide a Conservative (90% confidence level) and a Standard (75% confidence level) analysis. You can read about their methodology here. With my results the Standard and Conservative analysis reduce the detailed ethnicities (e.g. “British & Irish” ) and remove the “Southern European” components.
[Update/re-written 19-May-2015 + 09-June-2015] I think the ethnicity estimates don’t tell me anything I don’t know from my conventional genealogical research. I’m considered ethnically mostly British Isles, or at the very least European. It looks like my ethnicity results on ancestry.com correspond quite closely with their profile of a “native” Brit (average 59% British vs 60% for a “native” Brit). The fact that Ancestry give such a detailed breakdown of my results is another plus for them.
The FamilyTreeDNA analysis shows some fuzzy results and would benefit from further research…
Overall, I guess one of the biggest problems is that the British themselves are a mix of immigrants. If you look at the work of the Peoples of the British Isles project you will see that the British can be broken down into mixes of other populations, so for example whilst my 7% Scandinavian (from ancestry.com) could be one gg-grandparent, however it could as easily be a composite measure from virtually all my ancestors, many of whom lived on the eastern side of the British Isles and closest to any Scandinavian or Northern European invaders.
The other good thing, as far as the analysis goes, is that I’m not showing any unexpected ethnic identities. Please don’t mis-understand, I would love to have them, but so far nothing in my conventional genealogical research suggests any.
Finally, if you have found this post interesting and would like to understand more about the ethnic origins of the British, then you should read my post on the results of the People of the British Isles Project:
[Update Notes 19-May-2015]
Since first publishing this post it’s been pointed out that the FamilyTreeDNA analysis was considerably different from the other two. I’ve therefore made changes to the article to reflect this. Thanks to Debbie Kennett and Robert Gabel from the ISOGG Facebook group for their comments. Along the way I’ve also done some other minor changes to clarify my writing.
[Update Notes 02-June-2015]
I’ve expanded the ancestry.com results to show their minimum/maximum percentage estimates and their comparison with their typical “native” British.
[Update Notes 09-June-2015]
Addition review of the ethnicity breakdowns provided by ancestry.com.