Our 2020 ethnicity update is the first time we are dividing results in the UK and Ireland into four populations instead of two. Over the years, the names of our ethnicity regions for the UK and Ireland have changed, but we’ve always had only two regions to compare customers’ DNA against, roughly an Ireland/Celtic/Gaelic group and an Anglo-Saxon/Britain/England group. Now we have four: England & Northwestern Europe, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales.
Now because I am on the science team, I knew that my England & Northwestern Europe would probably go down and my Scotland would go up. And that is just what happened:
As you can see from my results, my Scotland region is larger than my previous Ireland & Scotland region. In fact, my Scotland is higher than my England & Northwestern Europe.
While this may seem surprising it really isn’t. It is consistent with what we see among results for people who are native to various parts of the UK and Ireland.
To calculate the percentages in your ethnicity estimate, we compare your DNA to our reference panel. The reference panel is made up of DNA samples from people with long family histories from a single region or group. We use the DNA from those samples to create a profile for each population in our ethnicity estimate. Then we compare segments of your DNA to those profiles and assign each segment to the population in the reference panel it looks most similar to.
However, the DNA. of people from closely related regions can be very similar, making it harder to tell regions apart. That’s why it’s taken so long to get separate profiles for Scotland and Wales—and why you may see further refinements to your percentages for these populations in the future as those profiles get clearer.
Typical Regional Results
We give the populations in our reference panel names based on where people get assignment to that population, but your genetics aren’t usually as cut and dried as the names in your estimate. For example, for our 2019 ethnicity estimates we knew that Scottish people typically got a lot of both Ireland & Scotland and England, Wales & Northwestern Europe in their results —often almost a 50/50 split. Since Scotland appeared in only one of the names, some people wondered what had happened to their Scottish ancestry. It was there all the time, but “hidden” under another name.
In our 2020 update, we now have separate profiles for Scotland and England & Northwestern Europe, but again, people’s DNA isn’t so neatly organized. There are plenty of people in England and Scotland who will see a mix of both in their results. In fact, we know that most will. And the typical mix of those percentages will change based on where their ancestry is from.
If we average typical results for someone from England, they might look something like this:
If we average typical results from someone from Scotland, they might see results more like these:
And that’s not all. Those percentages. can change depending on what part of England (or Scotland) you’re talking about. In the Northeast of England you tend to see even more Scotland and Ireland in average results:
In the West Midlands we see less Scotland and more Wales:
All Mixed Up
England, Scotland, and Wales have very admixed populations. Which means, while they have. very distinct cultural, linguistic, historical, and genetic differences on the one hand, on the other, they also share an island that’s about the size of the state of Louisiana. Two thousand years ago, primarily Celtic people lived on the island. Since then, the history of the people in the region has become more complicated with the arrival of Romans, Germanic Angles and Saxons, and also Nordic Vikings and Normans. There have been invasions and Acts of Union, migrations for work going back to the Industrial Revolution, and the draw of cities like Edinburgh, Glasgow, Liverpool, and London. All that leads to a certain amount of jumbling up of Scots, Welsh, and English people over the years, which is what causes “admixture.”
I’m excited to see this new level of detail to the United Kingdom and Ireland, and I hope you are too. AncestryDNA has made changes and refinements to our estimates for these populations over the years, but nothing quite like this. Expect to see further refinements in the future.
It's cutting-edge science, which means as the science advances you'll see even more precise estimates over time. But that’s part of the fun and fascination—and the intriguing promise for the future. Isn't science cool?
Barry Starr, Ph.D., Director of Scientific Communications at Ancestry, is a science communicator and educator with a passion for genetics.