I always thought I knew my ethnicity: Italian (via Sicily, Naples, and Rome), German, and Irish/Scottish by way of Canada. I grew up in a typical Catholic New Jersey Italian household, so I was surrounded by rich culture, strong traditions, and delicious food. Despite that, I was curious about what surprises my DNA could hold.
According to my AncestryDNA results, it can apparently hold a lot.
If you read my previous post, you know that I was waiting for the results from my DNA test, because I made it a goal to travel to each region where I have ancestry before I turn 30. I was under the impression that I would have maybe four places to go (I've already been to Italy). I thought I knew my heritage (listed above), but was prepared for one or two surprises. What I received was much more unexpected.
First, let me give a brief explanation of how AncestryDNA breaks down their results. After you send in your saliva sample, they test and compare your DNA to a reference panel. They run several different analyses, then take the results to create the range of 40 estimates of a person's ethnicity for each region. After that, they average those estimates to give you your percentage.
Your results are given to you by Ethnicity Region, not by country. AncestryDNA has 26 regions in total (9 African, 3 Asian, 9 European, 1 American, 2 Pacific Islander, and 2 West Asian). When you are given your specific results, these regions are broken down into three categories: Main Regions, Trace/Low Confidence Regions, and Other Regions Tested. They also have over 300 Genetic Communities, which show where your family most likely lived within the past several hundred years. This feature is still in beta.
I finally received my results via email this morning. I was anticipating a breakdown close to 50% Italian, 25% German, and 25% Irish/Scottish, with maybe a couple surprises thrown in. Instead, what I got instead was a bit more unexpected:
MAIN REGIONS (78%)
Great Britain: 53%
Italy/Greece: 25% ✈️
Genetic Community: Sicilian
TRACE / LOW CONFIDENCE REGIONS (22%)
West Asia: 10%
Middle East: 6%
Eastern Europe: 5%
European Jewish: 3%
Western Europe: 3%
Iberian Peninsula: 2%
Asia South: <1%
Native American: <1% ✈️
OTHER REGIONS TESTED (0%)
Asia East: 0%
Pacific Islander (2 regions): 0%
The first thing that took me most by surprise was how low my Italian percentage was. Being Italian is such a huge part of how I grew up, and both of my parents have family from Italy. Being part of the Sicilian genetic community doesn't surprise me at all. In fact, it might explain the Middle East and Caucasus.
Conversely, I'm fascinated by how much of my heritage is British, and that Irish doesn't even register (I wonder what markers differentiate the two?). I knew I had family from Ireland and Scotland, I'm a little bit of an Anglophile, and my skin tone and hair make a lot more sense now, but I would have sworn to anyone that my two main regions would have been switched. Though, the British did colonize a lot.
I'm also amazed by my lack of German ("Europe West") ancestry. I also have relatives from Germany. My dad had his suspicions about our European Jewish/Eastern European history, but we were never sure.
I totally called being a tiny bit Viking, though 😉
TLDR: My AncestryDNA results were absolutely fascinating. They showed me that knowing where your great-grandparents are from doesn't give you the full picture of your genetic history, but also that culture has just as much (if not more) influence as genetics. The number of Italian DNA markers being lower than I believed doesn't make me feel any less Italian. I will always identify with it, because it's how I was raised. Conversely, knowing that I have so much British ancestry, and that my ethnicity extends to so many different places, makes me want to explore those cultures and see how they can fit into my life.
What does this mean for #1 and #2 on my list of 30 Things To Do Before Turning 30? Sadly I don't have the time or the funds to travel EVERYWHERE. I've been to Italy, but did not make it to Sicily. I would like to go there if I can, but I would rather focus on getting to Great Britain/Ireland, Germany, and at least two other countries from my list of Trace Regions. Then, I would like to travel elsewhere as well. I want to see what the rest of the world has to offer, too!
I'm also curious to see how my results would compare to my younger brother Nick, or to a second/different DNA test. Would they be exactly the same? Would the percentages be a little off because the estimates were a bit different? It might give us more information if we have more data to go off of. Hmm... maybe I can convince Nick to get a kit...
NOTE: The airplane emoji ( ✈️ ) will be used to denote places that I have travelled to. Updates and further details will be listed below as more are added.