Friday 31 March 2017

AncestryDNA launches Genetic Communities

AncestryDNA has rolled out a beta experience for its customers called Genetic Communities™.

It is designed to give researchers a more detailed connection to the people, places, cultures, and stories of their heritage, and is the result of millions of AncestryDNA members around the world who participated in the Research Project as well as the huge collection of family trees created by Ancestry customers.

Ancestry DNA's Munster Irish map
More than 300 Genetic Communities around the globe have been identified by Ancestry. The science behind this feature was recently published in Nature Communications, a prominent scientific journal.

Whereas previously, AncestryDNA customers received an Ethnicity Estimate based on ethnicity 'thousands of years ago', Genetic Communities relate to ethnicity 'hundreds of years ago', and are more specific in geographical terms. So, rather than quoting an estimate of ethnicity based on, for example, ‘Ireland’, the Genetic Communities feature can currently distinguish 'genetic regions'.

In the case of Ireland, it has identified three regions — Munster Irish, Connaght Irish and Ulster Irish — each of which is further split into smaller Genetic Communities, as you can see from the 'Munster Irish' map above.

I'll use my own AncestryDNA tests to explain more clearly what this Genetic Communities development delivers. 

Previously, my AncestryDNA ethnicity test results showed that I'm 83% Irish, and 10% British. The high Irish percentage was no surprise as my paternal family is pure Cork and half my maternal line is based in Tipperary, but the Wicklow connection of my mother's family throws up a long line of Doolittles. Clearly that's not a Gaelic name! I can track this line back to 1756 in Wicklow, but can't connect it to Staffordshire in England, which is where the name seems to have originated.

I was interested, then, to see that the new Genetic Communities feature had identified not only my Munster Irish roots but honed this down to a 95% certainty of a genetic connection to the Irish in Cork community. Apparently, this genetic community is made up of 36,000 other researchers found in AncestryDNA's database.

It goes on to highlight 31 of my AncestryDNA matches that share a place in this community, and provides a list of the surnames appearing most often in this genetic community.  Eight of these surnames appear in my paternal tree alone.

The only other Genetic Community identified in my dna was The Welsh & English West Midlanders. This region takes in Staffordshire, so lends weight to the possibility of my Doolittles having sprung from this English county. With this connection marked up by the new feature as 'Possible', with only a 20% confidence rating, it's food for thought, at least.

There are other features to explore, too. There's a world map showing migration paths based on the family trees held in the database, and an overview of historical eras relevant to the ancestral lives of those in different Genetic Communities. For the Munster Irish these eras are identified as Home of Outlaws and Rebels (1775-1825), Poverty Amidst Plenty (1825–1850), The Great Famine Migration (1850–1875), Survival in the City (1875–1925) and On the Move to America (1925–1950), and each overview additionally offers short articles about specific issues from that era ie The Irish Rebellion of 1798 and Flax Farming in Ireland both feature in the Home of Outlaws and Rebels era.

AncestryDNA has created a video (below) to introduce these new developments, and there is also a more detailed Help file here.