57% of My Ancestors Were From Great Britain?!

It’s nearly impossible to get past through the entry page at at  AncestryDNA without seeing their banner to make your “Ancestry Player” card. I went ahead and made my little card, although where they pulled this ancient picture of me from is anyone’s guess.

My “ethnic background” was pulled for my “stats” on the card:

  • 57% Great Britain
  • 15% Western Europe
  • 12% Scandinavian
  • 5% Eastern European
  • 4% Ireland, Scotland, and Wales
  • 3% Finland and West Russian
  • 4% other

Of course these are not areas where I necessarily have recent ancestry. That’s not the intent of the “Ethnicity Estimate” at  AncestryDNA. This estimate is back to a time period that I will never be able to actually trace any human in my peasant-filled family tree.  While the percentages are not quite what I expected, they are all very reasonable given where my various families originated before arriving in the United States. I always thought that my Irish great-great-grandfather, given his Protestant faith, most likely was not Irish at all and likely had family origins in Scotland.  My great-uncle always stated that the great-great-grandmother was Catholic, but there’s no evidence for that and the DNA results would be consistent with her being Protestant with significant family origins in Scotland as well.  But it’s not evidence in any way that she was Protestant.

The 57% I have that classified as coming from Great Britain is not a surprise when one becomes aware that AncestryDNA is including low-lying areas in northwestern Europe (relatively close to the English border) as part of Great Britain given migrations that took place over ten thousand years ago. My maternal ancestors, all of whom hail from Ostfriesland along Europe’s North Sea, fall into that geographic area. That’s why my percentage from Great Britain is higher than one might expect–considering that my “paper pedigree” (if it were complete) would likely indicate I had at most approximately 20% English heritage (and that’s probably a high estimate).

The 12% Scandinavian likely results from various Viking invasions into Great Britain and the European continent. The other percentages are small and, while perhaps interesting from a historical standpoint, I’m not all too worried about them–except for my Irish and I think I understand why it’s lower.

The ethnicity estimate can be helpful when it is extremely inconsistent with what is known about the person’s paper pedigree and when the historical context is taken into account. Mine is not close to being extremely inconsistent with my paper pedigree.

Now if it said I was half Russian or Asian that would have been another matter entirely.

See Michael’s list of genealogy DNA webinars.



3 thoughts on “57% of My Ancestors Were From Great Britain?!

  1. Michael, I tested with four companies, and am primarily from Ireland and England, with a few other Western European countries, (Bosnia, and Greece thriwn in, in small amounts not previously known to me). One company says I’m approximately 1% Nigerian! That got me to reading last week about slavery during Colonial times, and now I am aware that the vast majority of slaves originated in Nigeria. I know a couple of my direct ancestors in Boston and Old Saybrook, CT had a few slaves between the Revolutionary War and 1800. I think they would be 9 generations back. If one of them had a “relationship” with a slave, wouldnt I be more than 1% Nigerian? Any other ideas?

    • The percentages are estimates based upon a variety of statistical models, tests that have been submitted by other users with self-reported ancestry, etc. The 1% is not necessarily exact and could very easily be a statistical anomaly.

  2. michael mendham says:

    I Live in the usa now I have just got my dna results summary back saying Great Britain (southern England 57%. then it go’s to Scandinavia 17% then Iberian Peninsula 11% . and people that I do not know not one of my mother or my famlly in England . con you help its very upset in as I was told my farther was german as a flyer in second world war.

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