Understanding our roots with Ancestry DNA

Understanding our roots with Ancestry DNA

Where you can live is heavily dependent on where your family comes from.  While I had an idea of my family history, it only went back to four or five generations, I was fascinated to understand my DNA and my family history in more depth.  Here I review the Ancestry DNA kit and take you through the really fun part of looking at my results.

So who am I?  It is a fundamental question that we all ask, and the answer is made up of many parts. One part is where you come from and even the most detailed family tree gets tangled at some point. Now there is a way to see much further back into your past with almost no effort. At-home DNA kits have been booming in popularity; last year on Black Friday and Cyber Monday alone, Ancestry DNA sold over 1.5 million kits. Over the years, these testing packages have become easier, more affordable and more accurate. Now everyone can see where exactly their ancestry lies, and start to understand the foundations are of who they are.

Why Ancestry DNA?

I looked into all the options and decided that Ancestry DNA was the best fit for us for the following reasons:

  1. Ancestry has the largest database at approximately five million people at the beginning of 2018
  2. It finds people that are related to you – 2nd, 3rd,4th cousins and adds these to your family tree if you have one on the ancestry.com main site. (I do)
  3. It has really good information on genetic communities which are large groups of people who have migrated from place to place.
  4. Your results will be updated as more information flows into the database that Ancestry uses to analyse results.

How do you inherit your DNA?

Just a quick side note on understanding how DNA works – from my non-science background!  Everyone gets 50% of their DNA from each parent. The key point being for me is that 50% of each parent’s DNA IS NOT inherited and is no longer part of your make-up. This has some surprising outcomes:

  1. You and your siblings (unless you and they are identical twins) will inherit a different DNA mix from your parents, although you will share many similarities.
  2. Your DNA results are not a comprehensive view of the identity of ALL your ancestors as you have inherited different DNA in each generation along the way.
  3. Your siblings may have some surprisingly different results to yours, depending on which DNA they inherited.

Be prepared for some surprises when your results arrive! 

The Process

Hubby and I went to Ancestry.com and ordered our Ancestry DNA kits.  A couple of weeks later a little pack arrived in the post.

Ancestry DNA Package that arrived

The process is easy, if a little gross. You fill a small test tube with spit (which requires a LOT of spitting to fill!) and it is from this that your DNA is extracted. 

Closing the top of the test tube both releases a preservative and seals the sample to ensure it arrives in tip top shape. Pop the sample into the provided envelope and send it back to Ancestry. 

There is a registration on Ancestry’s website that takes about a minute and this ties the reference number of the sample to your details.

Now you wait….

The results are meant to take 6 – 8 weeks to be returned and so hubby and I were in patient mode.  Imagine how delighted we were when after just two weeks we received an email saying “Your AncestryDNA results are in!”

There are three areas to explore.

Ancestry DNA screenshot of areas to explore

Your DNA Story

Clicking on the “Explore your DNA Story” link in the email takes you rushing back through place and time.

Your results are presented in an easy to ready format with a map of the world showing your regions and a text percentage breakdown.:

Ancestry DNA My Story

Your results are shown against the 350 plus regions that are tested.  You can view the details of all of those regions below.

Ancestry DNA all regions tested

So who am I?  

Well, disappointingly I am 100% European (I was really hoping for a trace of something more exotic for interest sake).  But the breakdown of my European ancestry was a huge surprise!.  I expected a result that reflected the story we tell of our origins in my family, a family tree that says that I am English, Scottish and Irish with only one German grandmother four generations back.

My results were different and a big surprise!

I had:

53% Irish/Scottish – well no real surprises there.  My maternal grandfather was Scottish, and we can trace my Scottish Heritage back centuries from that line.  My maternal grandmother was Irish and so that is all clear.

I expected the rest to be English but that was not the case.  Only 2% English and  35% Europe West – This heritage comes from Belgium, France, Germany, Netherlands, Switzerland, Luxembourg, Liechtenstein.  Who knew – there must have been some traders, raiders or runaways! These ancestors are further back in time than my family tree reaches with their influence hidden in my past.

Ancestry.com helped me to understand my DNA from this region.  They have a great informational section on each DNA region. For example, Western Europe describes Roman times and beyond as far as the stone age.

Ancestry DNA detail on western Europe

The 5% Scandinavian was interesting.  With my Scottish heritage I am guessing some marauding Vikings left their mark.

The rest is trace DNA stretching as far as the Caucuses with small influences from across the continent.

Now hubby was a little different.

His family legend was of Swedish and Dutch mixing with an English and Irish majority but that wasn’t all of the story.

He was 50% Europe West, and 27% Ireland/Scotland/Wales with only 10% from the Great Britain area which included all of England and parts of Scotland, Wales and France.

It was the traces in his DNA that were interesting. 4% from the Iberian Peninsula (maybe a sailor from the Spanish armada who washed up in Ireland?) and then a veritable who’s who of trading regions. A touch of each of Mali from North Africa, the Caucuses, Finland and North Russia, the Middle East, the Sub-Continent and Melanesia. It seems hubby’s ancestors were trading more than just spices and tea!

DNA Matches

Now this is fun!  When you sign up you are asked if you’d like to have your details shared with potential cousins.  I said yes and I was delighted with the results. I was shown one hundred and forty eiight 4th cousins or closer and two 2nd cousins who I didn’t know.

If you don’t have a family tree already on ancestry.com, you can now sign up to set yours up. Ancestry has 70 million family trees that you can learn from and link to. There are birth, death and other records from all over the world that you can search through to flesh out your family tree if that interests you. If you have one of those aunts or brothers who have already done all the hard work, it is easy to link into existing trees. I have those family members, and if you are as lucky as I am, soon your tree starts looking expansive and really interesting. A word of warning, investigating the family history can be seriously addictive! For each family member anyone can add information, documents and photos.  I found some fabulous photos that someone had posted of my great grandparents!

Ancestry DNA picture of my grandparents

Once your tree is up and running Ancestry will suggest where your DNA linked relatives may fit in. 

I found some really fun stuff when digging through my history, some of which was as much of a surprise to my parents as it was to me.

  • My grandfather’s first name was Andrew.  So was his father, grandfather and up the tree for generations.  I had no idea that this was such a strong family name. 
  • My paternal grandmother was Lydia and it turns out so was her aunt.  Who knew that this was a family name or that she was named after her aunt.
  • It looks like I had a convict relative who was shipped off from England to Australia way back when!  
  • I have tons of cousins in Australia and the US that I did not know about!

DNA Circles

I was lucky enough to have a DNA circle.  You need a public family tree that is linked to your DNA test and DNA matches with two or more relatives further removed than 2nd cousins who have public family trees.  I have a 3rd Great Grandfather who lived and died in Australia and five of his descendants have done their DNA test. Our DNA was found to be a match. If I choose, and they accept, we can make contact though Ancestry.com. I am still thinking about that one.

We’ve loved doing our DNA tests and it has provided no end of conversations with our family and our friends. It is great to have some of the assumptions we make about who we are challenged in a fun and informative, way. I am looking forward to keeping an eye on our results to see if there is more information to come through as Ancestry keeps adding to their database. And, if we get to meet up with a few distant cousins and have a laugh, so much the better!

If you want to go on your own Ancestry DNA journey, you can purchase a kit by clicking here.

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Ancestry DNA pinterest graphic



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Alison Johnson

Alison is a travel junkie, digital nomad and the co-founder of www.wherecani.live She has lived in 7 countries on 4 continents and is passionate about opening the world up for others.


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