Learn About AncestryDNA Genetic Communities

Yesterday Ancestry launched a new component of AncestryDNA origins called Genetic Communities.  The ethnicity breakdown by percentages is still there.  Now there is also a set of one or more Genetic Communities for most testers.

Genetic Communities were created based on Ancestry trees and DNA results.  They are smaller regions than in the ethnicity breakdown results.  Genetic Communities can be defined because certain groups of people generally intermarried with others from the same group over a number of years, often because of geography or religion, so DNA of people today descending from and inheriting DNA from such a group is somewhat distinct.

For example, I have found that many descendants of settlers of Spartanburg County, South Carolina, share DNA because not many people lived in this generally rural community, and they generally stayed in one area over many years.  This doesn’t necessarily imply cousin intermarriage, though that could happen as well, but after a number of generations most people ended up being related.  In my research I have found DNA sharing is even more pronounced within an area of Sweden, Dalarna County, probably because there people generally stayed put in their community for centuries.

The AncestryDNA site explains Genetic Communities:

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.  For example, some Genetic Communities trace their roots back to groups of people who were isolated geographically. Mountains, rivers, lack of roads, or other barriers made it likely that each new generation would marry someone who lived close to home. Others have their roots in groups who typically married others of the same religion or ethnic group. In each case, these groups came to share a significant amount of DNA. Modern-day descendants who inherited some of that DNA make up Genetic Communities.

Ancestry created a video that explains how Genetic Communities work.  The video is on YouTube as Introducing AncestryDNA Genetic Communities.

Blaine Bettinger, The Genetic Genealogist, has created a good article introducing the Genetic Communities at AncestryDNA’s Genetic Communities are Finally Here!  Tomorrow he is giving a webinar about the Genetic Communities at Legacy Webinars.  You can register for free here: Exploring AncestryDNA’s New Genetic Communities.  (If the lecture is already past, it is available for free on the Legacy Webinars website for about a week, then available to paying site subscribers after that.)

I have looked at the Genetic Communities for some of my family.  Here are some examples:


This genetic map shows a “possible” connection to three genetic communities, “Early Settlers of Tennessee & the Deep South,” “Settlers of the Missouri Ozarks & East Tennessee,” and “Settlers of the North Carolina Foothills & Northwest South Carolina.”  All three regions are consistent with documented research.

You can select a genetic community and learn more about its history. For example:


This shows more about the “Settlers of the North Carolina Foothills & Northwest South Carolina” group.  There is a general overview, and then a timeline with additional information about important events in that area’s history.  When you choose time periods, some of your ancestors may appear on the map as well.

Here is another genetic map:Genetic_Communities_sample3

This one has a “Likely” connection to “Norwegians in Østlandet,” then “Possible” connections to “Early Settlers of New York” and “Settlers of West Tennessee, West Kentucky & the Virginia-North Carolina Piedmont.”  These are indeed some of the regions this person’s ancestors are documented to come from.

Here is a third map:


This genetic map shows “Possible” connections to “Settlers of New York City & Long Island” and “Mormon Pioneers in the Mountain West.”  The first group is documented.  The second group, Mormon Pioneers, is not.  When I click through the time periods, no family members appear in those places and times.  Perhaps distant cousins joined this group, but this is not part of the tested individual’s history, so a false result.

It interesting to note that the individual in the third map is the child of the individual in the second map, the same two individuals I wrote about in DNA Testing, The Difference it Makes Testing One Generation Back: Case Study; however, none of the parent’s Genetic Communities, which are all good results, show up in the child’s Genetic Communities.  This serves another reminder to test the oldest relatives now while we still can, because some of their genetic information is not passed on to their children, and will be lost forever if they don’t take the test.

Summing up, if you have already taken a DNA test at Ancestry, great, go and check out your new Genetic Communities results.  If not, this feature is interesting.  It will be developing more in the future.  If you haven’t tested, if you have early American roots, Ancestry is the best test company to test with anyway.  And if you are searching for biological family, you should get your DNA in every database including Ancestry.  If you can, check out Blaine Bettinger’s lecture at Legacy Webinars.  Finally, as with any genetic map, use a healthy dose of skepticism using the Genealogy Communities information, but it could indeed provide clues for further research.

Posted in DNA

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