Understanding AncestryDNA Genetic Communities

Diahan Southard

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AncestryDNA keeps adding new regions to their ethnicity results! Here’s what their genetic communities and ethnic regions are, and how they can help you understand your ancestral heritage.

AncestryDNA Genetic Communities Ethnicity Understanding IO.pngYour AncestryDNA test results include a component called your DNA Story, which itself has two parts:

  • Your ethnic regions are based on comparisons of your DNA with AncestryDNA’s standard set of values for a particular location. (These values are called reference panels and they group together DNA testers “who have long-standing, documented roots in a specific geographic area.”) See frequently-asked questions about DNA ethnicity and get our free DNA ethnicity download.
  • Your Genetic Communities are based on how genetically connected you are to actual individuals in the AncestryDNA database whose ancestors lived in a particular area or traveled a particular path. Compared to your ethnic regions, your communities often connect you to much more recent and specific populations and places.

Below, I focus on AncestryDNA communities, which continue to become more numerous and detailed as AncestryDNA regularly refines and updates its data). Also, I think it’s important to remind everyone how these genetic communities might help your genealogy research. Keep reading!

AncestryDNA genetic communities

Genetic communities are “clusters of living individuals [who] share large amounts of DNA due to specific, recent shared history,” explains an AncestryDNA white paper on the topic. “For example, we identify groups of customers that likely descend from immigrants participating in a particular wave of migration (e.g. Irish fleeing the Great Famine), or customers that descend from ancestral populations that have remained in the same geographic location for many generations (e.g. the early settlers of the Appalachian Mountains).”

The company uses the DNA you have in common with others to assign you to various ancestral genetic communities. Then they assign places to each of those clusters by drawing on both the ethnicity data and family trees of everyone assigned to that cluster. Once they get enough data on a particular community, they can confidently say something like, “What these testers all have in common is that they descend from Irish immigrants who came to the United States during the famine of the mid-1800s.”

As the company gradually amasses more data, they periodically add new genetic communities. Here are some highlights:

Asia and Oceania genetic communities

You can now explore 20 communities in Southeast Asia, from Thailand and Cambodia to the Bicol region. East Asia now includes nine communities “in regions from South Korea and Eastern China to Japan.” South Asian communities now number 14, including India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and more.

Western Asia Genetic Communities, released in mid-2021

Western Asia Genetic Communities, released in mid-2021

In mid-2021, a new cluster of Western Asia Genetic Communities became available. Think Iran, Iraq, Armenia, Turkey, Syria, and Eastern Anatolia (some of these places have more detailed Communities within them). Read more about Western Asian Communities.

The area of Oceania is divided into more than 30 communities that include New Zealand, Tonga, Samoa and others. Read our discussion of DNA testing for Asian origins.

Central and South America genetic communities

In April 2020, AncestryDNA added 25 new Mexican communities, 20 South American and 10 Central American. According to a company announcement: “Members may see an update in their results if they have ties to Venezuela, Peru, Bolivia, Chile, Argentina, Paraguay, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, Honduras, Belize, Dominican Republic, Cuba, El Salvador, Guatemala, Colombia, Ecuador, and Southern, Central, and Northeast Mexico. and Southeast Texas.”

European and European colonial genetic communities

AncestryDNA 2021 new genetic communities.jpgIn 2021, the number of communities specific to Germanic Europe more than doubled (from 15 to 33!). In the United States, New England-based communities nearly tripled, from 9 to 26. The Mid-Atlantic practically exploded! There are now more than 150 Mid-Atlantic communities, six times the previous number. But the Midwest grew even more: from 6 to 138 communities!

Just take a moment and let that sink in. Many of the regions mentioned above are not very large, and yet they have been divided into many communities. This much better represents the diverse groups who have peopled these areas over the past few hundred years.

In 2019, new communities were announced for France, Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand. Among these were more than 35 new French American communities; over 120 new Canadian communities (which encompass British, French and Acadian roots); 73 new United Kingdom communities; and 14 communities “for descendants of primarily British settlers in Australia and New Zealand.” The time frame for these communities ranges from the past 75-300 years.

Africa and African-American genetic communities

Ancestry has identified a handful of African communities to date (in addition to several ethnicities) to help you connect with roots in Morocco, Algeria, and Asian and European populations on the African continent. A new Eastern Africa community was launched in mid-2021. We look forward with great hope to eventually seeing a LOT more communities that reflect the deep historical diversity and specificity across the African continent.

Overview of all AncestryDNA African American communities from 1925-1950. This image shows the exodus of many African Americans from the South to areas in the North and West. This event is commonly known as the Great Migration. Source: Ancestry.com.

Overview of all AncestryDNA African American communities from 1925-1950. This image shows the exodus of many African Americans from the South to areas in the North and West. This event is commonly known as the Great Migration. Source: Ancestry.com.

In February 2019, Ancestry added 94 African American and Afro-Caribbean communities: clusters that can help identify migratory groups active between about 1700 and 1950. Researching African descent in the United States and Caribbean can be challenging. Far fewer African ancestors are mentioned by name in historical documents. Forced migrations and family separations during slavery compounds the difficulties of reconstructing these family trees. Furthermore, major migration in the early 1900s removed many African Americans from their birthplaces in the South: one more step removed from the more distant past.

Mediterranean and Balkans genetic communities

Mediterranean communities launched in mid-2021

Mediterranean communities launched in mid-2021

In mid-2021, Ancestry launched 30 Mediterranean communities, expanding its prior coverage of 2 communities in that region. Some of these communities are: Sephardic Jews, South Greece, West Anatolia and the Aegean Islands, North Anatolia, Western Levant, Northern Lebanon and Mount Lebanon; Eastern Mediterranean and Egypt; and Cyprus. Several of these communities in turn are subdivided into smaller ones.

New communities for the Balkans also launched at the same time. Now there are multiple regions covering the Albania, Greece, Bulgaria, Romania, and surrounding regions, as well as for the Eastern European Roma.

Read more about the Mediterranean and Balkan communities.

These are just some highlights and recent additions. Between its ethnic regions and communities, they now spotlight more than 1400 regions associated with your ancestry. Use them to make educated guesses about the geographic origins of a partly-known group of ancestors. Or explore them to discover something about unknown branches of your tree.

How Genetic Communities Can Help Your Family History

To help you see how AncestryDNA’s genetic communities can help your research, I’ve pulled the following from my book, Your DNA Guide—the Book. (Just in case you don’t have a copy yet.)

“These are extremely accurate groupings that are based on both genetics and genealogy and reflect locations that absolutely (and I am not using that word lightly here) should be represented in your family history in the last 200 years. So before you even begin this search for your missing ancestor(s), take a look at your Genetic Communities if you tested at AncestryDNA. If you are a member of any Community that is currently not in your family tree, it’s time to take notes. It is very likely that one of your missing branches was standing on that very soil in the not-too-distant past.

“Here’s a good example: One of our clients here at Your DNA Guide was looking for a great-grandfather: one of those men who seems to show up in Pennsylvania long enough to get married and have a couple kids, but doesn’t seem to exist before or after. However, our client was showing a connection to a New Jersey genetic community, and didn’t have any other ties to that location in her family tree. As we worked through her Plan, we began to see matches with common connections to–you guessed it–New Jersey! So these maps and percentages are no longer just a coffee table piece, they may be THE piece that puts you on the path to discovering your missing ancestor.”

Isn’t that an inspiring example? I just love DNA.

Learn more: How DNA tells your family story

Book Cover (1).pngIf you’ve already taken a DNA test, we offer three ways for you to learn about using your results to better understand your family origins:

  • Get further with Your DNA Guide—the Book, the consummate do-it-yourself manual. (Yes, the one I quoted above.) It’s available in print and as an e-book.
  • Get the ultimate DNA education in the DNA Skills Workshop from Your DNA Guide—the Academy. My exclusive, five-week online master class offers a perfect mix of instruction, hands-on experience, real-life case studies, and personalized feedback.

P.S. A few more ideas for using your ethnicity results and communities

What emotional or practical value do your ethnicity results have? How can your results do more than just satisfy a passing curiosity? Get inspired—click on the links below.

Get Your Free Ethnicity Guide Here!

Armchair travel DNA ethnicity matches test results family history 11 (3).png DNA Clues Irish immigrant roots ethnicity tree 11 (2).png Surprise DNA Ethnicity Closer Look 11.png DNA Ethnicity Results Connect Us 11.png

<a href="https://www.yourdnaguide.com/author/guideyourdnaguide-com" target="_self">Diahan Southard</a>

Diahan Southard

As founder and CEO of Your DNA Guide, Diahan Southard has been teaching people how to find family history answers in their DNA for several years, and she's been in the genetic genealogy field since its infancy. Diahan teaches internationally, writes for popular magazines, consults with leading testing companies, is author of Your DNA Guide–The Book, and producer of Your DNA Guide–the Academy, an online learning experience.

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5 Comments

  1. Valerie Garton

    Is this lessons and are they free

    Reply
    • Diahan Southard

      Hi Valerie,
      I’m not sure of your question. Can you clarify?

      Reply
  2. Anoos

    Is this lessons and are they free

    Reply
  3. M

    When will they include aeolian islands of sicily?

    Reply

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