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Sunday, 23 April 2017

I'm all over the place - my DNA results

A week ago, I got the results of my test with Living DNA.  Since then, I’ve been trying to make sense of them in relation to my genealogical paper trail and it’s fair to say that while the results confirm some things, they also raise more questions…

Living DNA are a relative newcomer in the DNA testing market and offer a good value test that looks at Y-DNA (for males), mtDNA and autosomal DNA.  For this blog post I’m focussing on the last of these.

I chose Living DNA as it is currently the only company that offers a sub-regional breakdown of the British Isles.  For someone in the US, a report from Ancestry placing 99% of your recent DNA in the British Isles might be interesting - for a UK native like me, not so much.  Living DNA uses methods developed in the People of the British Isles project to sub-divide Britain into 21 regions, allowing an individual to compare their genetic ancestry against this dataset.  When I originally bought the test the results were said to reflect around 6 generations, although this has recently been  updated and the company now advises  

"Your family ancestry map shows the areas of the world where you share genetic ancestry in recent times (10 generations)”.

So what do my results look like?

At a regional level, 98.5% of my recent genetic ancestry is from Great Britain and Ireland.  No surprises there.  Then there is the 1.4% from Chechnya, which is a bit of a revelation!  It probably goes without saying that I have no paper records reflecting an ancestor from the Caucasus and I think we can safely put this down to a residual trace element and not get too hung up on the detail!

At the sub-regional level, things get a little more interesting, as you can see from the map.


I cropped the list next to the map, so here are the results as a table:

Southwest Scotland and Northern Ireland
South Yorkshire
Southeast England
East Anglia
South Central England
Central England
Northwest Scotland
South Wales
South England
Northwest England

How does this compare to my known genealogical ancestry?  The chart below shows where my ancestors were born, back to my 3xGreat Grandparents (I’ve used the colour coding idea developed by J Paul Hawthorne here).

Looking at this, 4 of the top 5 areas in my Living DNA results make sense.  The Southeast England and East Anglia sub-regions reflect my London/Essex/Kent/Middlesex ancestors, while South Central England reflects the large number of Higgs to be found in Berkshire, Wiltshire and Oxfordshire.  Slightly further back, but from a number of lines, my ancestors from Northern Ireland and Scotland are showing up strongly.

Clearly the big question mark here is South Yorkshire and the low figure for Northwest England, given that I have known ancestors from Lancashire but none from across the Pennines.  Even allowing for Living DNA’s definition of ‘South Yorkshire’ as including West Yorkshire, I have nothing in my research to suggest ancestors from this area.   On average, we inherit 12.5% of our DNA from our Great-Grandparents, so 13% from Yorkshire would suggest I shouldn’t need to go back too far to find a link.  There is an unknown paternity among my GG-Grandparents, and still lots of gaps among the generation before that, so there may be something to be found there, but it would have to be quite a large Yorkshire representation to account for 13% now.

I’m also surprised at the much higher percentage for Cornwall rather than Devon, as I have no recorded ancestors in Cornwall to date but a clear line back to Devon – and they aren’t even on the right side of the county to suggest a close link to Cornwall!

Of the other areas coming in over 5%, 5.8% for Central England probably reflects ancestors from northern parts of Oxfordshire and/or Shropshire.  As for Northwest Scotland, I don’t have any definite ancestry, but it may reflect some of my Northern Irish forebears moving northwards from the central belt.

Overall, I’m glad I did the test even though it leaves a couple of big questions unanswered.  Before running off trying to identify fake paternity claims among my forebears, I realised there were a few things to bear in mind:

  • The results cannot be taken too literally – there is an element of art to the interpretation as well as science.  In particular, the spread of DNA doesn’t fit neatly into county boundaries!
  • These tests are continually developing.  Fundamentally they work by comparing your DNA against reference samples to determine which yours most resembles.   Generally the reference samples will be from individuals who have four grandparents born within the same area.  As the samples grow in size, and new analysis techniques are applied, results will be refined further.
  •  Living DNA are still enhancing their tools.  As well as a ‘standard’ mode of analysis, there is also a ‘cautious’ mode and a ‘complete’ mode in development, which may help to explain the breakdown further.

Living DNA don’t yet offer a matching service whereby you can establish links to others sharing recent DNA with a view to breaking down brick walls in your genealogical research.  The company says this is coming in the future, although depending on how long this takes I may decide to also test with another provider that already offers this.  In the meantime, I’d be interested to see how other people’s results from Living DNA reflect (or not!) their genealogical research.

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