Hoots, mon! So now I’m even MORE Scottish?

The New Me: My latest ethnic makeover from Ancestry.

“They send you information. Mine just said, ‘Dude, you’re white. In fact, you’re very white. I hope you feel guilty…'”

Jim Gaffigan

Yeah, Ancestry has told me that from the beginning. On that one point their message has been consistent: “You are officially the whitest white boy at Bypass High. Don’t even think about trying to be cool.”

But beyond that, they can’t seem to make up their minds. I’ve written about this before. I need to stop complaining, I guess, because it just seems to irritate Ancestry, and they get vindictive.

But it irritates me no end, because after all this research, with 8,902 people on my tree (no, I am not making that up; guys like me are really uncool enough to amass something like that), I have noted certain patterns. And since I’ve traced almost every branch back to the Old Country, I can make this general observation: Most seem to come from England. Not all — there are a few here and there from Ireland, or Scotland — but mostly England. If I get on a lucky roll that carries me centuries back before their descendants came over here, some of those “English” people got to Albion from the Continent.

Now, I realize that this is grossly incomplete. I have records on the people who were in the dominant culture, and weren’t, like my obscure Irish ancestors, conquered (by, say, the English). If my Viking ancestors hadn’t come and conquered part of France and become Norman, and if they had not, as Normans, jumped over and conquered England, and if the English (really, the Norman ones) hadn’t conquered Ireland, maybe more French, Saxon and Irish people would show up on my tree, with complete records.

But still, based on the information I have, it seemed natural when Ancestry told me my DNA showed that 65 percent of my ancestors were from “England, Wales and Northwestern Europe,” and 29 percent were from Ireland and Scotland.

That was in 2019 (which was itself a change from before). Then a year ago, Ancestry said never mind all that. Really, you’re 40 percent Scottish, 24 percent Irish, only 17 percent from England and Northwestern Europe, and 8 percent Welsh.

Which ticked me off. Because it really shook confidence in the whole project. Really, that’s a pretty wild swing — or multiple wild swings. So I complained about it.

So Ancestry showed me. The other day, I got a new notice from them. Now, they say, I’m 48 percent Scottish, and only 13 percent Irish. I’m still 17 percent from England and Northwestern Europe, but slightly more Welsh.

So I guess I should just shut up, before they tell me I have to start wearing a kilt…

Stuart Mackenzie, my new role model, I suppose.

9 thoughts on “Hoots, mon! So now I’m even MORE Scottish?

  1. Scout

    Mine changed to 67% England and Northwestern Europe, 20% Scottish, 6% Wales, 4% Sweden and Denmark, and 3% Norway.

    I have not found the Welsh or Scandinavian yet in my tree. What’s interesting is both my Parents and my Sister have done their DNA too, so I can see how it compares. Apparently the Scandinavian is from my Dad. Both my parents have England/Europe, Scottish, and Wales as their top three but different orders and percentages. Both of my parents have some Ireland and I have none. My Sister is very similar to me except she got some Irish.

    I’ve heard people from Ancestry talk about how they do it. Somewhere in all the releases of information there is a question about whether you give permission to be part of their research. If you say yes and you make a tree – they comb those trees for people whose ancestors have all lived in the same region for a long time – not sure how far back they go for their standard. Then they vet those people’s trees to make sure the research is sound – and if it is – they add you to their sample as representative of that region. They keep getting more and more people in the sample, so presumably it gets more accurate, especially as they add more people from previously lesser represented areas.

    I’ve also heard genealogy researchers talk about DNA as it applies to family trees. The thing to remember is you only get half from each parent and it is completely random which half you get. So some things you document in your tree may be completely skipped in your DNA if it’s from the half you didn’t get. I guess that’s what happened to my Irish. This is why genealogists encourage you to get as many family members as possible to do their DNA also – then you get a fuller picture – because they may have gotten something that skipped in you. If I didn’t have my Parents’ profiles – I wouldn’t know about the Irish, except since my Sister has it, I know it’s there.

    Interestingly, 23andme says I’m 69% British and Irish, 25% French and German, 2.9% broadly Northwestern European (this includes the Scandinavian), and 2.6% Italian and Sardinian. So It’s not terribly different, except for the Italian. Ancestry has a much bigger sample, so is probably more accurate, but 23andme’s maps pinpoint areas in those regions that your DNA presumably originates and their maps more closely match places that I know actual ancestors left from.

    So who knows? It’s a rabbit hole I go down easily. Obviously.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      And God bless you for that, because it gives me a similarly obsessed person to talk to.

      As for this:

      “Mine changed to 67% England and Northwestern Europe, 20% Scottish, 6% Wales, 4% Sweden and Denmark, and 3% Norway.”

      That’s what I’m supposed to be! Except with some Irish — at least as much Irish as Scottish, and probably more.

      As for what you say about the 50 percent, and the ways siblings divide up the DNA. I’m very jealous of my brother right now. They say he’s only 34 percent Scotland, and 50 percent England & Northwestern Europe. I say “jealous” not because there’s anything wrong with being a Scot — “If it’s no Scottish, it’s crap!” — but it just inspires more confidence in the technology. His ethnicity estimate looks more like the family tree I’ve been able to construct. If my estimate were more like his, I’d feel less like I’d wasted those hundreds, if not thousands, of hours on my tree. But then, maybe I simply got more of it than he did. And if you knew him, and compared him to me, you’d say I’m the one more likely to go around saying things like “If it’s no Scottish, it’s crap!” Sort of a temperament thing. (But I do want to go on the record to say that I hated “Braveheart.”)

      Your description of what you’ve heard Ancestry people say about how their estimates work is new to me — probably because the company doesn’t go out of its way to explain it to us. The new part is what you say about the analysis of trees (to which I say, “Obviously they’re ignoring mine!”). I have sort of vaguely thought they based it on the DNA of people who live in those countries NOW (which is a grossly flawed way of doing it, hence the wild swings in my “estimate”), and that the estimates change as they get more people in those areas doing their test.

      Maybe one day they’ll straighten it all out. Or I will come to understand it better, and square it better with my tree. All I can say is that I hope so, after all this work…

      1. Scout

        I think it is based on people who live in those countries now – but only ones that they can verify have had all their ancestors on both sides for awhile also live there. Those people must have really boring trees.

        I learned it from this lady: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL0xuz8BBkD4iXLa6xPYUeimX1CFUADnIx

        She is a genealogist employed by Ancestry. She apparently does these little video tutorials on the ancestry you tube channel. I heard her speak at a virtual genealogy conference I listened to this summer, where she explained the percentages. She was entertaining and informative to listen to. I haven’t listened to any of these you tube bits though. Perhaps I should one day.

  2. Brad Warthen Post author

    Since, as you’ve probably noticed, Mike Myers is my favorite interpreter of Scottishness (which alone argues that I can’t really be Scottish), I thought I’d share this one:

  3. Lynn Teague

    I administer several DNA studies. Lots of folks are puzzled by how Scottish they have gotten in the last update. I’m down to 7% in the category that covers Switzerland and Germany — weird for a known descendant of the Shuler, Ulmer, Felder, Eisenhut, Keller, Keitt, Holman, Shaumloffel, Frauenfelder, Kern, Strobel, etc families.

      1. Lynn Teague

        I don’t know why they seem to want us all in tartans. My best guess is that they have classified DNA segments that are common to multiple groups of European ancestry as uniquely Scottish.

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          Either that, or over the last year or two, they had a stupendously successful marketing effort for their DNA services north of Hadrian’s Wall, and somehow that data has overwhelmed everything else…

          I imagine the guy in charge of that sales campaign looking like Mike Myers…


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