Ancestry’s Genetic Communities is being released today after a long BETA that included many people in the genetic genealogy community. You may have been hearing the chatter.
Before I show you my results, let’s talk for a minute about Genetic Communities.
According to Ancestry’s white paper, Genetic Communities are groups of AncestryDNA members who are connected through DNA most likely because they descend from a population of common ancestors, even if they no longer live in the area where those ancestors once lived.
Ancestry created Genetic Communities by analyzing the DNA of their members and looking at their trees and who they matched. They discovered that they could predict “fine scale ancestral origins from the genetic sharing patterns among millions of individuals.
The research and resulting paper led to the 300 different Genetic Communities defined by the research and available for people to cluster into today.
Ancestry created a short YouTube video here that talks about Genetic Communities.
For the most part, I think that beneficiaries will tend to be individuals who have done less genealogy rather that more. People who have done more genealogy already know who their genetic communities are. Still, it’s pretty cool to see that these groups of people tend to cluster, and in the future, I’m hopeful for tighter clusters, even quite specific locations, that actually will benefit seasoned genealogists by reaching back further in time.
Now, the good news for you is that I’ve done a lot of genealogy and have proven many lines both with paper and DNA, so my tree for several generations back in time is fairly robust. I created a five generation birth and migration pedigree chart which will give us a good foundation for judging the accuracy and usefulness of my Genetic Communities.
The percentages across the top reflect how much DNA from that generation, on average, one would carry. In other words, I carry approximately 3.125% of each of my 32 3X great-grandparents.
Cut to the Chase
I know you’re dying to see what exactly Genetic Communities does, so let’s take a look.
Your Genetic Communities link is a part of your DNA Results, under Genetic Ancestry.
Click on “View Your Genetic Ancestry.”
Your ethnicity estimate will be shown above, on the upper left, and reflected on the map with the fully colored green European circles, in my case. Ethnicity estimates are now labeled as “thousands of years ago,” while Genetic Communities are labeled “hundreds of years ago.”
The Genetic Communities are reflected by the areas that are comprised of tiny dots with outlined shapes. I have two, both located in the US. You can view all of the Genetic Communities available by clicking on the “View All” button, but let’s face it, most people want to see their own first.
By enlarging the screen, you can see that I have a gold group and a red group. Both of these groups are clustered into two regions that overlap somewhat.
The dots represent matches and clusters of matches.
You don’t need a paid subscription to see your Genetic Communities, but if you don’t have a tree linked to your DNA, Ancestry can’t pull tree matches into your results. If you haven’t linked a tree to your DNA results, now would be a great time to do that.
Settlers of the Alleghenies and Northeast Indiana
I must say, I was surprised to see a region as finely identified as “Northeast Indiana.”
When you click on the area with the title in the box, above, or on the associated part of the map, you are taken to a screen with two links; Story and Connections.
The story will be showing in the box on the left.
In my case, I knew immediately when I saw the map that this was my mother’s Brethren lineage. The story isn’t that specific, but we’ll see in a minute how I know this is true.
Click on the “Connection” link.
You will see the confidence range that you belong in this community, but more importantly, you will see how many people are in this genetic community and the associated surnames, at bottom right. Miller, Cripe, Ulrich and several others that I recognize as being very specifically Brethren are showing. In the box at bottom left, you can click to view all of the matches that you have that fall into this community – including matches with and without trees.
By clicking on “View All Matches,” I can see my matches from just this community, as opposed to all matches in the data base, including matches with those valuable shakey leaves that mean they are a DNA match and we share a common ancestor on our trees. Within a Genetic Community, those common ancestors are very important and will define why you are found within that community.
On your match page, you can then click on “Search Matches” and search for everyone in the group with the surname of Miller, for example.
Please note that as of last evening, I was having issues with this search (as well as the maps) using browsers Internet Explorer, Edge and Chrome. I did not try Firefox, but others reported that both Chrome and Firefox were working for them.
Looking at the map, you can view the migration points. The Brethren settled as a group in lower Pennsylvania and into the Hagerstown, Maryland region before migrating, more or less as a group, in the late 1790s to the Dayton area of Ohio. Then another 30 years later they moved on into the Goshen/Elkhart region of Indiana, again, as a group. This map reflects that migration history amazingly well, including the larger circles located appropriately.
For some groups, there are also connecting “migration lines” back to the locations in other countries where those immigrants originated.
Early Settlers of the Lower Midwest and Virginia
Looking at the map, it was clear immediately that this was my father’s side of the tree.
The surnames are the first place I looked, and I only recognized one, Dodson, but there are many that I recognize as “married in” to various ancestral lines from this region.
So, how did Ancestry do?
The two Genetic Communities they reported for me are accurate. That’s the good news. The bad news is that major communities are absent and the communities that are present don’t tell me anything that I didn’t already know .
However, that wouldn’t necessarily be true for everyone. This tool would actually be more informative for people with unknown parentage, I would think, than ethnicity results. Furthermore, it appears to be more accurate than ethnicity estimates, although we’ll have to see if others have the same experience.
Half of my genealogy, on my father’s side, is indeed from Appalachia, originating mostly from Virginia. Of my 16 3X great-grandparents, the breakdown of their birth locations is:
- Virginia – 10
- Tennessee – 1
- North Carolina – 4
- England – 1
Their primary heritage is as follows:
- Scotland – possibly Scots-Irish – 2
- English – 5
- Uncertain – probably British Isles – 5
- Dutch – 1
- Irish – 3
Hopefully the American communities will someday morph into European ancestral communities as well.
On my mother’s side, Ancestry didn’t do as well.
My mother’s one Genetic Community is accurate for her Brethren line, but that’s only 1 of my 16 3X great-grandparents.
The 16 3X great-grandparents on my maternal side were born in the following locations:
- Netherlands – 4
- Maryland – 1
- Pennsylvania -1
- Germany – 6
- New England – 2
- New Hampshire – 1
- Connecticut – 1
Their heritage is:
- Dutch – 4
- Brethren German/Swiss – 1
- German – 7
- Acadian – 2
- English – 2
Ironically, the only ancestral line that translated into a Genetic Community was the Brethren line – probably because they have so many offspring who have tested. One of the other German lines may have fallen into this group due to geography, but the balance of the German immigrants were quite separate and lived in another areas.
The reason, I’m sure, that the Dutch and German lines don’t cluster is that there aren’t very many descendants, and there aren’t a lot of Dutch and German people living in the Netherlands and Germany who have tested. Hopefully, someday.
I’m surprised that the Acadian lines didn’t cluster as many Acadian descendants have tested..
The Good News
More than the actual Genetic Communities and maps themselves, the matches within the community will do more to tie people to the family sides and groups for me than anything else. In some cases, for people with shakey leaf matches, I already knew which common ancestor we share, but for people with no tree, it was impossible to tell. Genetic Communities will at least give me an idea.
Caveat – just because someone matches you and is in the same Genetic Community doesn’t mean that’s how you are genetically related to them. For example, someone could be descended from a Brethren line that I’m not, find themselves in the same community, but be related to me on a completely different line that doesn’t have a community showing today.
So don’t be confused and don’t assume. Use all of the tools available, together, including traditional written records, other DNA matching tools and triangulation which can be achieved at either Family Tree DNA or GedMatch utilizing chromosome browsers if your matches will transfer their data to either location.
- I hope that in time this tool can become refined enough that I will be able to tell where in Europe certain family groups originated.
- I hope that the “Early Settlers of the Lower Midwest and Virginia” can connect with other groups such as someplace in Scotland or Ireland, where I know many of my Scots-Irish originated, but I don’t know where.
- I hope that someday integration will exist between matches, Genetic Communities and perhaps ethnicity in a way that allows people to break down brick walls in their genealogy.
- I hope that Ancestry can pick up those areas that are missing from Genetic Communities today, like my mother’s German heritage, Acadian, and other prevalent genealogical heritage.
I’m very pleased that what is showing is accurate, unlike ethnicity results which can mislead people.
Ancestry plans to do a number of things in the future:
- Add Genetic Communities when new clusters form
- Show common Genetic Communities between you and your family members
- Add records collections focused towards Genetic Communities
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