Tuesday 28 March 2017

AncestryDNA's new Genetic Communities have arrived

AncestryDNA's long awaited new Genetic Communities feature has finally been rolled out to everyone. I've had access to the Communities for some time as I've been involved in the beta testing programme but there have been a few updates to the presentation of the communities since I last wrote about the feature last week. This is what my AncestryDNA home page now looks like.

There is a link to a short video introducing the Genetic Communities which you can watch below. It makes a pleasant change to have a video which is specifically tailored to the UK market with someone talking in an English accent!

N.B. The above video is for the British and Irish market. There is a different video for the American market which can be found here.

When I click on "View Your Genetic Ancestry" this is what I see.

Th display of the "ethnicity" estimate has changed to clarify that this information relates to your genetic ancestry going back thousands of years, while the Genetic Communities provide an indication of your ancestry in the last couple of hundred years.

I currently have just one Genetic Community which is known as Southern English. This is what I see when I click through to visit my Southern English Community.

For each community there is a storyline where you can learn about the history of your community in the last few hundred years. Below is a close up of the details for my Southern English community from 1825-1850. This was a period when many people emigrated to start a new life in Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the USA. There is a cool map which uses the birthplaces of people in the community to show the emigration patterns.

In addition to the storylines there is another tab where you can view your connections within your community. This is what I see for my Southern English community.

There are 42 people in my community who also appear in my match list and I can now click through and view these matches from the community page. The surnames listed are all familiar English and Welsh surnames though none of these surnames actually appear in my tree. If you click on a surname you are taken to a page which gives you information about the surname and provides distribution maps of the surname in the various censuses. You are also encouraged to search for references to the surname in the Ancestry records.

The Genetic Communities can also be accessed directly from your match list. This is a very handy way of filtering your matches.

Other Genetic Communities
It is also possible to see a list of all the other Genetic Communities available. There are around 300 at the time of the launch with the promise of more to come. Here are the continents currently covered by the Genetic Communities.

There are further regions within each continent. Here is the breakdown of regions in Europe.

Each of those regions is broken down into further regions and sub-regions. There are nine communities for the UK and Ireland, some of which also have sub-regions. Here is the current list:
  • English Newfoundlanders
  • Southern English. This includes three sub-regions: English in the South West Peninsula, English in the South East, and English in East Anglia and Essex
  • Northern English
  • Scots. This includes four sub-regions: Scots in the Highlands and Eastern Nova Scotia, Scots in Northeast and Central Scotland, Scots in the Highlands and Nova Scotia, Scots in Central Scotland, and Northern Ireland
  • English Midlanders and Northerners. This includes three sub-regions: English in the West Midlands and Northwest England, English in Yorkshire and Pennines, and English in the East Midlands
  • The Welsh and English West Midlanders. This includes three sub-regions: North Walians, English in the West Midlands, and South Walians.
  • Ulster Irish. This includes five sub-regions: Irish in Donegal East, Irish in Donegal Southwest, Irish in Ulster East, Irish in the North Midlands, and Irish in Derry and Inishowen
  • Connacht Irish. This includes five sub-regions: Irish in Mayo and Galway, Irish in Galway, Irish in Connemara, Irish in North Connacht, and Irish in Mayo and Sligo,
  • Munster Irish. This includes six sub-regions: Irish in Southern Ireland, Irish in Cork, Irish in West Cork, Irish in Kerry, Irish in West Kerry, and Irish in Limerick and Kerry. 
Although I am in the Southern English community I don't yet show up in any of three sub-communities though I imagine it's only a matter of time before this happens.

It's also very interesting reading through the historical background information about all the other Genetic Communities. We were taught very little about American and Canadian history at school so it's very useful to have a potted overview of emigration to these countries.

If you want to have a full list of all the Genetic Communities Blaine Bettinger has helpfully provided a complete list which you can download as a PDF file from his blog. See his blog post AncestryDNA's Genetic Communities are finally here! for further details.

Most people I know are reporting that they have at least one community though there are some people who don't yet have any.

The science behind the Genetic Communities
The new feature has a sound scientific foundation. AncestryDNA have published a White Paper describing the methodology in more detail.

If you really want to dig more into the science behind the feature it's worth reading the paper Clustering of 770,000 genomes reveals post-colonial population structure of North America published in the peer-reviewed journal Nature Communications. This research provides the proof of concept for the feature. An overview of the paper is provided in the following two blog posts:
This is a very exciting new feature and its value will grow over time as more people get tested. We can expect to see more communities added in the future and increasing regional resolution within the existing communities.

I already know from my genealogical research that most of my ancestry is from Southern England so this feature is not telling me anything I don't already know. However, the Genetic Communities have a very real practical application. One of the big problems for those of us who are not American is that our match list is dominated by Americans. Very few of my American matches have family trees that have identifiable locations in the UK, which makes it an impossible task ever trying to find the genealogical connection. It can be quite soul-destroying clicking through match after match only to find that every single ancestor is in Colonial Virginia or Maryland. The Genetic Communities filter provides me with a readymade list of the 42 people amongst my thousands of matches who actually have identifiable connections with Southern England and with whom I stand a much better chance of finding a genealogical link.

The Genetic Communities will be particularly helpful for people who are researching their Irish ancestry. Irish research is often difficult, and most people struggle to trace their trees back much beyond 1850 or 1800. There is also a huge Irish diaspora who are desperate to trace their roots to a specific region in Ireland. There is already an impressive level of sub-regional resolution within the Irish communities, and this feature could potentially have a big impact on Irish research.

For those who know nothing about their ancestry, such as foundlings, donor-conceived individuals and adoptees, the communities will provide valuable clues to inform their research and will provide them with focused lists of matches to search through.

As DNA testing is going mainstream many people are now testing out of curiosity purely for the admixture percentages. Although some of these people do become interested in genealogy and are encouraged to take out an Ancestry subscription, there are many others who sign in once to look at their results and don't come back. The Genetic Communities are provided free to everyone who tests with Ancestry, and the feature is likely to encourage people to spend more time looking at their results and learning about the history of their community. Hopefully they will also be inspired to contact their matches, find out more about their family tree and become genealogy addicts like the rest of us!

The Genetic Communities will also help to dispel a lot of the misunderstandings about admixture percentages. I find a lot of people take these percentages far too literally and expect the percentages to correspond to their known genealogy. It is now made much clearer that these percentages do not relate to your recent ancestry. The Genetic Communities provide a much more accurate picture of an individual's recent ancestral origins and will help to allay some of the misconceptions about the "ethnicity" estimates.

Kudos to AncestryDNA for providing us with such an exciting and innovative tool.

What Genetic Communities do you have and what do you think of this new feature?

Update: Following my comments about the presence of a Yorkshire region in a community for the Midlands, the name of this community has now been changed from "English Midlanders" to "English Midlanders and Northerners". I have updated my article accordingly.

Further reading


Trevor Rix said...

Initially I am shown "View your 1 Genetic Community". When I click that link I see that it is Southern English. After clicking on that right arrow link, a dropdown arrow is shown to the right of Southern English, which lets me flip between Southern English and English in East Anglia & Essex. In Southern English I have 47 DNA matches. In English in East Anglia & Essex I have 20 DNA matches. Clicking View All Matches, the 20, I am indeed shown those 20 matches. At the top of the list I have a dropdown box to the right of the green Genetic Communities "Select Genetic Community". In there I only have one choice Southern English which shows me those 47 matches. I can't get back to the 20 English in East Anglia & Essex from that point.

Debbie Kennett said...

I can't see any sub-communities. I have access to one account that has "English in East Anglia" as a community. She only has matches in that community and is not in the Southern English community as well.

Unknown said...

I am seeing something similar to Trevor. I seem to be in Southern English and "English in the South East" (snappy name!), I can view which of my matches are also "English in the South East" from the "Genetic Communities" screen, but that is not an option in the drop-down menu in my matches list, I only have "Southern English" there. I have 37 matches who are in "Southern English", a subset of these (10) are also "English in the South East".

I would have thought that everyone who is in "English in East Anglia" would also be in "Southern English"?

Debbie Kennett said...

I can't seem to find any way to access a sub-menu. Emma Jolly mentioned on Twitter that she had an extra arrow to access a Welsh community but I can't see anything like that:


Peggy Homans Chapman said...

As you mentioned, the domination of Ancestry by American testers obviously affects the outcomes. I have not had useful matches for the most part as being in Canada Ancestry DNA tests only available a year plus. My Scottish GC is bang on, and shows the migration pattern directly to NS and this is only one identified as highly likely. Another GC is identified as Early New England Colonial and much to my surprise saw a map with the maritime provinces( then calledAcadia) included in this group. While I have very distant matches with this group, it reflects 2 families who emigrated from England. Different branches went to Canada or the US. Perhaps a little American filter on the history! Surprised to see no Irish but have Newfoundland English. My Newfoundland roots are Irish and Jersey Islanders and need to do a bit more reading of how they define English Newfoundlanders. I think this is a great start and will definitely have strong appeal for those who were attracted by ethnicity rather than genealogy. I wish more UK test results forthcoming. I know the Canadian contingents for the most part. I did find the North America history/background a tad US biased but it's an American company. I am hoping that this will draw in some of my reluctant test subjects! I did complete the feedback survey on the site and encourage everyone to do so as this will assist in refining this exciting tool.

Debbie Kennett said...

Peggy, The AncestryDNA test was available in the US for three years before they started selling it in other countries. It was only launched in the UK in January 2015. However, I think we are now at the stage where we are starting to see some useful matches in the AncestryDNA database. I'm now getting better matches then than I have at FTDNA.

It does seem as though a lot of the communities have been determined by the birth locations of the emigrants, and this is very evident from some of the community names. However, this is possibly an advantage because the emigrants often tended to marry within their community so their Irishness or whatever was preserved whereas the people who stayed behind went off to live in big cities like London and became more admixed.

It's interesting that the feature is picking up that Early New England Colonial link. It may again be that the population bottleneck helped to "conserve" the DNA to a certain extent. The labels are added after the genetic communities have been identified so it may be that some of the labels change as more genealogical information about the people in the communities is added to the mix.

There are now plenty of people testing in the UK. DNA has almost taken over at WDYTYA Live and I'm sure many more people will sign up there. AncestryDNA are at least advertising on TV here and specifically targeting their marketing for a UK audience, and I think that's all helping. They probably could have done more to tailor the histories for the Canadian market. It's certainly very exciting!

Unknown said...


thank you for this article, which really helps to explain the differnces between ethnicity report and genetic commumity which should show a closer match to ones paper genealogy.

I am wondering if the reports are still settling down within Ancestry. Yesterday eveing my community was Southern English, however this morning the right arrow shows me all in the "English in the South East" sub division.

Taking the birth places of my 32 x gg grandparents, I have 12 from Devon & West country, 6 from Hampshire and South, 8 from Middx, Essex, Suffolk and 3 each from birmingham and Lincolnshire. The fact that my genetic community is Southern England is no surprise, I would though expect to have a portion of my DNA from each of the three sub-divisions, not all in South East as is currently being shown...

I agree this is a great improvement for Ancestry DNAers, I have 37 matches, mostly all American, but no obvious cousin connections as they are all quite distant matches. Thank you for putting this out on your blog.


Debbie Kennett said...


I only see "English in the South East" when I look at the timelines and migration maps. It's not showing up in my filters at the moment. I think we will see these communities evolve over time as more people test and we get more matches.

Remember that the communities are not reflecting just your DNA but the DNA of your matches and of the wider AncestryDNA database. There is an inherent bias in the AncestryDNA database because of the large number of American customers, but this is slowly changing and the market is growing very rapidly in the UK. I'm sure that we will eventually get more resolution within the communities.

I have quite a few UK matches in my Southern English community. Hopefully the American matches that it's picking up on will be people with ancestors who emigrated to America in the last 200 years or so where we will have a better chance of finding a connection.

Flameseh? said...

Perplexing! I must say I love the concept and am fascinated by others results. However, my underlying ethnicity prediction is considerably "off" when compared to FTDNA, 23andme and DNA.Land. So, I have only one community-- "Southern Germans in Midwest." The German angle is from paternal grandmother and maternal grandfather. This is with an ethnicity estimate of 61% Europe West (NB not more specific), 25% Ireland and 7% Italy/Greece. However, nothing shows up with my paternal (Y line) which is totally English with a paper trail going back to 1566!

With that said, my wife on the other hand is spot on! She has 3 communities "Early settlers of the Northeast", "Settlers of Colonial New England" and "Scots". All of her "paper" aligns with this very closely. Her ethnicity estimates are 75% Great Britain, 11% Ireland, and 4% Europe East.

So, does anybody have any suggestions? I'm about think I need to retest with Ancestry-- the first one was done about 4-5 years ago.

sdjeft said...

I'm not very impressed with the possibility of using this feature for filtering matches. I connect to my known 3rd cousin via our common Cornish ancestor but she comes up in the Scots group as well as the English in the South West peninsula. Does this mean she has Scots Ancestry that is irrelevant to how we match?

Debbie Kennett said...

sdjeft Perhaps you are connected to your third cousin in more than one way. The point is though that filters have correctly highlighted in your matches lists and also eliminated all the irrelevant matches that don't have genetic connections with those areas. It's really just another tool that we can use to help us with our matches.

Debbie Kennett said...


The admixture percentages are looking at your very deep ancestry and have little bearing on your recent genealogy. I don't think there's any need to re-test with AncestryDNA. I believe they are working on updating their admixture results and hopefully the updates will be rolled out before too long.

If you've not already done so I suggest you also transfer your autosomal DNA results to Family Tree DNA. The transfer is free but you have to pay an extra $19 to access additional tools. The FTDNA test will give you a different mix of matches and also a free MyOrigins report. A new MyOrigins feature is due to be rolled out in the next few weeks. See the following links: