Tuesday, November 03, 2015

We are all Irish according to Ancestry.com

One of my wife's relatives just had her DNA tested by Ancestry.com and the results show that she is 61% Irish.1 She was (pleasantly) surprised so she shared the information with her relatives, including Ms. Sandwalk.

I was also surprised because I have a pretty extensive genealogy of my wife's side of the family and there's no ancestor from Ireland. Her grandparents—the aunt's parents—have typically Scottish surnames and they are the product of several generations of Scottish ancestors from a small community in Eastern Ontario.

I know of all the ancestors of the aunt (and my wife's mother) for five generations. That's 32 ancestors—their great-great-great-grandparents (Ms. Sandwalk's great4-grandparents). There were four ancestors born in England and 28 born in Scotland, mostly around Glasgow. The original settlers of this district all came from Scotland. That means that to a first approximation about 87% of the aunt's DNA comes from Scotland.

No ancestor was from Ireland.

So Ms. Sandwalk and I decided to check the DNA records on Ancestry.com. Here's the geographical area they define as Ireland.

Looks a bit strange, doesn't it?

Here's the Ancestry.com description of what they mean when they say your DNA is from Ireland.

Primarily located in: Ireland, Wales, Scotland

Also found in: France, England

Ireland is located in the eastern part of the North Atlantic Ocean, directly west of Great Britain. A variety of internal and external influences have shaped Ireland as we know it today. Ireland’s modern cultural remains deeply rooted in the Celtic culture that spread across much of Central Europe and into the British Isles. Along with Wales, Scotland, and a handful of other isolated communities within the British Isles, Ireland remains one of the last holdouts of the ancient Celtic languages that were once spoken throughout much of Western Europe. And though closely tied to Great Britain, both geographically and historically, the Irish have fiercely maintained their unique character through the centuries.
It seems pretty clear that when they say "Ireland" they really mean "Celtic."

I followed the link to What does our DNA tell us about being Irish? and found this chart (left) of "the average amount of estimated Irish ethnicity among individuals born in each region of Ireland, England, Scotland, and Wales.

Isn't it strange to refer to people from Scotland with Celtic ancestry as "Irish"?

Look at the table below showing the average "Irish" ethnicity in various locales throughout the British Isles. If you are from Scotland then you probably have about 40% Irish DNA!

That's nonsense. You don't become Irish just because you have Celtic DNA in your genome.

Recall that about 87% of the aunt's DNA was from Scottish ancestors. Most of them were from Southern Scotland where there's about 47% "Irish" haplotypes. Thus, my wife's aunt should have about 0.47 ×: 87% = 41% Irish Celtic haplotypes. It's more than that because the 4 English great-great-great-grandparents are from Northern England (Durham and Yorkshire) and the other Scottish great-great-great-grandparents may have had more than the average amount of Celtic heritage.

Lots of people who had their DNA tested by Ancestry.com are as puzzled as we were. There are many forums where the issue is being discussed. See, for example: So am I Irish or Scottish?.

Ancestry.com screwed up. They shouldn't be saying that their client's DNA is 61% "Ireland." They should be saying it's Celtic. There are an awful lot of people like my wife's aunt who don't know how to interpret their "Irish" DNA and they are going to be very confused.

1. 61% Ireland; 24% Europe West; 7% Great Britain; 7% Trace Regions; 1% West Asia.


  1. My mother's ancestors were Irish by geography, but Scottish by descent and by culture.

  2. AMEN. I watch this stuff a little on youtube because of my interest in history.
    I am suspicious of DNA things like this anyways.
    they are indeed just doing a celtic origin. In Britain today they are all, weirdly, starting to identify themselves by race and not historic identities. So they would take away the word scottish but leave in Irish.
    its true and common as i say. in fact they say the english are more celt then German.
    Scotland and Ireland at the time of cHrist were the same big tribe even with divisions. only later did segregation change things.
    They do say they can focus it down to areas but if so the IRISH tag would be more confusing.
    I'm 75% English by bio identity but probably 50-75% bio celtic. i don't know.
    Yet thats not who I am. i'm a canadian boy and that DNA trail is another trail and another story. Byers is a Scottish name. I understand it means a cow pen or the like.

  3. That's nonsense. You don't become Irish just because you have Celtic DNA in your genome.

    That's why one should carefully distinguish labels from various classifications, referring to different aspects of identity. "Irish" is mainly a geographical/ethnic/cultural label today. It used to be linguistic as well, but precious few modern "Irish people" have Gaeilge as their mother tongue. Hiberno-English is a variety of English, which makes it technically a Germanic language (like, say, Black English in the US). But "Germanic" and "Celtic" may mean completely different things to linguists, historians, archaeologists, folklorists, etc.

    Scottish Gaelic was brought to western Scotland from northeastern Ireland in the early Middle Ages, replacing the local Brittonic Celtic languages (closely related to Welsh) and Pictish (whatever it was -- probably also Brittonic). The Highland regions of Scotland became part of the Irish kingdom of Dál Riata. At about the same time the Old English-speaking Northumbrians annexed the Lowlands, and then speakers of various Scandinavian dialects settled here and there. So late medieval Scotland was a melting-pot of peoples and languages, with immigrants from Ireland accounting for a large percentage of the population. Little wonder that there's some genetic affinity between the ex-Gaelic-speaking groups on either side of the North Channel.

    By the way, in Old English the term "Scottas" referred to the inhabitants of Ireland as well as the Irish colonisers in Scotland, but not the "aboriginal" Scots, speakers of now-extinct Celtic languages.

  4. What I find odd is that there is no hotspot for these Celtic haplotypes in Cornwall when the Cornish people are supposed to have descended from the Celts just as much as the Scotts, the Irish and the Welsh.

    Perhaps it doesn't mean Celtic after all or perhaps these haplotypes just refer to a subset of the Celts

    1. http://www.geocities.ws/reginheim/celts.gif

    2. "Celtic" is primarily a linguistic term. Once upon a time, "the Celts" were speakers of any of the Celtic languages. Those languages (and the ethnic groups speaking them) did not originate in the British Isles. They arrived there in several different waves of migration (from different continental "homelands" in Western Europe), imposing their languages the earlier populations of Britain and Ireland, and of course partly absorbing their genetic traits. Before the Roman conquests, most Celts lived in Gaul, northern Italy, the Alpine region, and Central Europe.

    3. The Scottish are descended from the Irish. The Picts in northern Scotland are their own people, not Irish. You can go further back to the firbolgs, which are a part of the Celts. My ground mother is from Scotland, my other grandmother is an O Driscoll. My grandfather is from Wales ( Morgan) and the other grandfather is from Alsace-Lorraine. 99.6 Western European, 60.6 British Irish. 23 and me?

  5. This is going to ruin the "would you like a little Irish in you" joke

  6. Larry,

    You are very secretive about your ancestry for some reason. All I know is that you don't talk about it and your last name is not your real name. It was changed. There must be a reason why you are uncomfortable to reveal your true ancestry. I wonder why?

    1. I would so love to know what you are trying to insinuate here. Could you be a bit more forthcoming?

    2. Why? I'm not insinuating anything here. If Larry is not comfortable with his father's side of ancestry, so be it.

      90% of Australians probably are.

      Just because most of them are descendants of the British criminals sent there, it doesn't make them criminals does it? Violence is not genetic is it Hirschman?

    3. Why? I'm not insinuating anything here.

      Of course you aren't. And it's Hirschmann. Or used to be.

    4. @liesforthedevil,

      Anyone who is interested can look up my family tree on Ancestry.com. It's public and it's called KDRM Canada.

      My father was Laurence Victor ('Vic") Kirsch, a fighter pilot in World War II who was killed in a plane crash while ferrying lend lease planes back to the USA in September 1946. I was 4 months old.

      My mother remarried a man named Moran and I was adopted.

      I didn't talk about this very much out of respect for my mother but she died a few months ago.

      Why did you think it was important to bring this up here?

    5. Why did you think it was important to bring this up here?

      I didn't think it was important to bring your father's ancestry up here. I was just curious why you brought up your wife's and not yours. I'm a curious person. It's my nature.

      I thought it may have been or still is a sensitive issue for you.

      No kid I know would have loved to be raised without their real father, that's why some kids are not told the truth at all or just when they are old enough to handle it.

    6. I didn't think it was important to bring your father's ancestry up here.

      Really? Why did you mention Australians?

      I was just curious why you brought up your wife's and not yours. I'm a curious person. It's my nature.

      Why did you ignore all of my posts about my own ancestors?

      You are a liar. You and I know full well why you brought up my father.

      Say "goodbye" liesforthedevil.

  7. This puts my mind at ease. Ancestry.com defined me as 42% Irish , 37% British 13% Scandinavian with the rest as Slav, West European and Iberian.
    Irish? I am of Welsh, Scots and Manx descent with a wee bit of English thrown in. There is no sign of Irish lineage at all in my family tree.
    I thought Ancestry had messed up the analysis especially as Family Tree DNA who also did an analysis for me provided me with a "heat map" showing the closest matches for my DNA in the British Isles as to be found in Southern Scotland, Cumbria, Lancashire and North-East Wales. [ But not Ireland!]
    Now that I realise that Ancestry has redefined "Irishness" to include all the Celtic regions it makes sense. The old folk were right - we Celts really are of one stock!
    By "British" I suppose they mean English? A little disappointing to discover there is so much Saxon in me - but we can't have everything!

  8. Delighted to find this blog as I have, this morning, just received my Ancestry DNA results and have been identified as 29% Irish even though I haven't found a single Irish ancestor going back over 200 years. Certainly have some Yorkshire ancestry (a paternal GGF) but the majority are from south / south east and south western England which might explain my 48% European West result I guess. Surprisingly despite thinking I was pretty English I only have 7% United Kingdom.

  9. I believe Ancestry DNA should reclassify "Irish" as "Celtic" in order to avoid all this confusion. I had the same problem with a 29% Irish result. Surely the western migration of the Celts classifies the DNA group, not the occupants of their westernmost destination.

  10. Spot on Sandwalk. My fig dont make sense.. 39% Irish , 55% Western Europe . 3% Brit , 3% Something else. Traced my male line back to the 1700's all from Wales.

  11. Question, hope someone can help!
    My family have always believed that my great grandfather was Irish. My Ancestry DNA shows that I am 93℅ Britain, 4℅ Eastern Europe, 3℅ Western Europe, so no mention of Ireland. Is it possible that my great grandfather's Irish-ness has not been passed onto my DNA or was our belief unfounded?