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!

    1. Their definition of "British" means ancestral Britains, which are the pre-Anglo Saxon and pre-Celtic inhabitants of the British Isles, and these people were closely related to Iberian Peninsula. The Stonehenge people

  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?

  12. 23andMe has done the same thing. The tell me that I am 84% British and Irish. I have done my genealogy back many hundreds of years and I have found no Irish ancestry. My grandfather's family was fro the Edinburgh area and I have many Scottish ancestors. This is frustrating.

    1. Exactly! I know my mother's ancestry because my grandmother wrote everything down . My ancestry came back as mostly French an German. Under that British and Irish under that Scandinavian. Here is the kicker ...yesterday they added Japanese ...umm.I think I was taken . I would never recommend23 and me

  13. I am glad to read this post. I had the same issue. I agree with the conclusion. Ancestry.com is erroneously designating Scots as Irish. They should really be saying Celtic. Irish specifically refers to someone from the island of Ireland, not the genetic group of Celts which are spread over Scotland, N England, Wales etc.
    They need to re-define their categories to make sense, otherwise they are misleading people.

  14. I'm about to do an ancestry DNA test. It'll be interesting to see what it says because my research shows that i'm 50/50 Scots/Irish but I can only trace some of my Scottish roots to the mid 19th century. I suspect based on the names Fanning and McEnearney that half of those Scottish roots are actually Irish. But if ancestry dna doesn't distinguish, I may not get my answer.

  15. Does ancestry ever say than anybody is *any* percentage "Scottish"? If Ancestry doesn't even do that, then all we have to go by is family trees. Being further labeled as Irish is just about as effective as being labeled "white" and being called "Caucasian".

  16. I had my Ancestry DNA back yesterday and I was disappointed to see my highest % was Irish, only for the fact that I, family & ancestors were born in Cornwall.
    So thank you for this

  17. If you upload your raw DNA results to GED Match.com (its free) they will give you a deeper analysis , I have just dome this.

  18. I know my ancestors were Irish, Scottish,Manx and English.At first glance I thaught I was 48% Irish.l am disappointed it's not broken down more.

  19. Celtic is a linguistic term, not a genetic one which is why Ancestry.com did not use it. By using the term Irish, Ancestry.com was indicating how genetically similar the participants were to the people of Ireland.

  20. Thank you for this informative post. I am one of those who was rather surprised by the percentage of Irish ancestry. I chalked it up to my English ancestors once I saw how "Ireland" was identified on the map.

  21. The LivingDNA test is the OPPOSITE. I know that I am solidly 25% Irish descent because my paternal grandfather was ENTIRELY Republic of Ireland Irish. Yet Living DNA gave me 3.9%. Now I know that you inherit varying amounts from each family member.....but REALLY ??? One girl online who states she is entirely Irish only got a 20% score with Living DNA !!!
    On my Ancestry.com test, I was 42% Irish !!! - which is TOO high I think. My mother got an even HIGHER score for Irish, and she's not the one with the Irish father -her mother/my maternal grandmother is from England (her mother is about 7/8 English and 1/8 Welsh) and her father/my maternal grandfather is at least half English with a small amount of German and an even smaller amount of Welsh and a VERY VERY tiny, tiny bit of Ulster Scot. That would be a gigantic coincidence for her to have inherited half of her DNA from that ONE Scottish ancestor.
    So according to one test, I'm 42% Irish and according to another, I'm 3.9% Irish.
    Maybe I should take an average; that would make me about 23% Irish. That sounds about right, :).
    What bothers me though, is now I'm questioning all of the other scores for parts of the UK/Germany/Northern Europe/Scottish/Scandinavian that these DNA companies gave me.

  22. There is a wonderful ancestry.com commercial where a pleasant middle-aged woman says she always thought she was "hispanic", but now she finds from her DNA results that she isn't Hispanic but instead is "from all over". I was in Mexico talking to evolutionary geneticists there, and mentioned this and they roared with laughter. The woman was probably Mexican-American and when Mexicans are tested the same way would get the same result, a mixture of Native American and European, with a smaller fraction of African. But she was so excited to be something other than Mexican, even though the test was just giving the results expected for a Mexican.

    1. I like the commercial where another women is surprised to discover that she's 26% native American. How could she not know that one of her grandparents was 100% native American? (Or several great-grandparents?)

    2. How could she not know that one of her grandparents was 100% native American? (Or several great-grandparents?)

      I lived in Oklahoma for a while. There, native Americans were consigned to lousy farmland that later turned out to be sitting on top of oil. So there has been a constant claiming of native heritage by non-natives for about a century, leading to lots of litigation to get ancestry sorted out. I could see how people in this sort of atmosphere over decades could get a little confused (were great-grandpa and great-grandma really natives, or were they saying that to try to get their hands on oil money?).

  23. My MacLellan family showed up very Irish, yet we know we have Scottish roots from the Highlandds. It's indisputable. I just assumed whatever out Scottish roots our DNA had more in common with Ireland. The funny thing is, in terms of genetic community - we all were connected to Nova Scotia and Highland Scots despite showing up Irish. I may take 23and me and other tests to see what maybe they have to say about my Irishs/Scottish DNA. Though, the problem with 23andme and is they don't separate British and Irish.

  24. They need to rename it either: Celtic; Brythonic & Irish; or Insular Celtic.

  25. Let's be honest this is a cynical business decision by ancestry.com. Their main market is the USA and they are trying to tell american customers what they want to hear that they are 'irish'.

    My father's came back as 15% irish although we have no irish ancestors at all. Indeed the heat map corresponded, as expected, to the English midlands but somehow that means he's 'irish'. All thats being picked up is the base celtic genes.

    23and me coming from a more medical background is more honest and accurate and puts british and irish together.

  26. Actually you will find that originally the people referred to as Scots WERE in Ireland. At a certain point they migrated to Scotland. I believe what they are referring to as "Irish" is actually Celtic.

    The 3 types would be Celtic or Irish, Norman or French and (Anglo) Saxon which is Germanic. You could originate from the British Isles but show any of those 3 DNA and it would be correct.

  27. Now I'm really confused. What is a haplotype and how is it there are many in southern Scotland? What is a haplogroup? My haplogroup doesn't tell me if I'm Celtic, Scottish or Irish. I agree with Little Me.