My DNA gets refined

A year or so ago I had my DNA analyzed by in the hopes of learning more about our family’s history. The results were slightly underwhelming- but the other day I received an updated analysis that’s pretty interesting.

I was told originally that my heritage was 98% from the British Isles, and 2% “unknown”. Of course that’s probably pretty accurate as far as it goes- I have 825 people in my Sheehan-Dunn database, and every one of my direct ancestors, as far as I know, was either born in the British Isles, or can trace his or her ancestry to them. So the percentages didn’t really give me any new information. Of our eight great-grandparents, all four on Dad’s side are Irish, along with two on Mom’s side– Daniel Dunn and Catherine Creegan. The remaining two on Mom’s side are very English: Nana Dunn’s father, Daniel Farrar, was actually born in Leeds in Yorkshire. Grandfather Dunn’s mother, Mary Alice (Smith) Dunn, was descended from a long line of Yankees, going back to some of the first English settlers in Massachusetts and Rhode Island in the 1600’s. Which makes Mom 50-50 Irish and English on both sides of her family, and us 75% Irish, 25% English.

Ancestry also suggested other participants whose DNA was similar to mine, but none of the predicted relationships were closer than fourth cousin, which isn’t really all that close. Consider that a second cousin shares a great grandparent with you- like our cousins from Ireland whom I met in New Haven last year. They’re descended from Grandfather Sheehan’s sister Ellen. A fourth cousin would share a great great great grandparent. Barring marriages between cousins (which happen more frequently than you might think), you should have 32 third great-grandparents. That’s when things can get murky, especially when you don’t know the names of all those distant ancestors.

So far the only DNA matches that have actually led to common ancestors in my family tree have involved a handful of fairly distant Shippey ancestors. Ruth (Shippey) Smith was Grandfather Dunn’s great-grandmother. The Shippeys settled in what is now South Kingstown Rhode Island some time around 1660. The family has been fairly prominent (and prolific) in the state ever since, which might have something to do with the number of hits. Almost all of the other suggestions Ancestry DNA has come up with for me tend to be more English than Irish, which I suspect also has to more to do with the availability of documentation for English ancestors than with actual relationships.

ethnicityGiven all of that, I was still surprised when I took a look at my updated “ethnicity estimate” from Ancestry the other day.

The estimate is more specific now- 81% Irish, followed by 6% Scandinavian(!), and 13% “Trace”. The “Trace” ethnicities are detailed as:

  • Italy/Greece 5%
  • Europe East 3%
  • Great Britain 2%
  • Europe West 1%
  • European Jewish 1%
  • Iberian Peninsula 1%

Scandinavian? Italy/Greece?

I suspect the Scandinavian part may have more to do with England than with Scandinavia itself. The Farrars have a long history in Yorkshire, which saw its share of Norse invasions over the centuries. The name Farrar comes from the Old French “ferour”, which might suggest descent from the Normans, who spoke French, but were originally from Norway. Ancestry also notes that Scandinavian markers are more common in England than anywhere outside of Scandinavia itself. A Norman connection might also explain the “Italy/Greece” entry, since the Normans invaded Italy and Byzantium before they headed for England in 1066.

All of the numbers are estimates, based on comparison to a panel of reference DNA samples that are thought to be representative of the listed ethnicities. The estimates are averages of forty randomly selected DNA markers, and all of the estimates, with the exception of “Irish”, have a lower limit of zero. “Scandinavian”, for example, ranges from 0%-15%, and Ancestry says a typical native of Scandinavia would have a score of 84%. My range for “Irish” is from 67% to 90%- a typical Irish native would have a score of 95%.

And as for “European Jewish 1%”, I don’t know! Maybe the mailman??

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  • Wayne Sheehan


    I had my DNA tested through Ancestry as well. I also uploaded to results to I have also had my Uncle Joe (my grandfather’s only remaining sibling tested through Ancestry & uploaded to GEDMatch)

    I wonder if we share a family tie?

    My family has ties to the following Massachusetts communities;
    Medway, Milford, Framingham and Cambridge.

    Best Regards,

    Wayne Sheehan