What are Ancestry DNA Genetic Communities?

One of the biggest selling points of AncestryDNA is their ethnicity estimate with many users taking the test for this feature alone. In this post we will be looking at this feature more closely with a focus on the genetic community aspect.

The Ancestry DNA Test

Genealogy super giant Ancestry offers DNA testing to help clients make major breakthroughs in their research. This is a basic autosomal DNA test which costs around $99 unless it is on sale. These tests can be ordered and mailed to your home where you take them and then mail them back directly to the company's testing labs.

AncestryDNA has been active now since 2012 and with a decade in the game they have created an impressive array of DNA tools. You can find out things such as your ethnicity estimate, find hundreds of cousins you share DNA with and even analyze your results to a reasonable degree.

Today we are looking at the ethnicity estimate aspect of the DNA test to try and answer a few questions regarding how their genetic communities work.

Ethnicity Estimates

As mentioned, the ethnicity estimate is a big reason many users take the test and it is usually the first thing we look at when we get our results. Using an extensive database of DNA including from customers and global projects the company can make some estimates about our ethnic roots.

Ancestry searches our DNA for specific segments of DNA which match up to those commonly found in specific ethnic groups or areas. This DNA is passed down to us from our ancestors so if we find a match from a certain region it is possible that at least one of our ancestors was born there.

My own ethnicity estimate is pretty mundane and indicates that I am about as British as you can get. In fact when I first tested years ago it simply indicated that I was over 90% British. As the years have progressed and the science has advanced, Ancestry has been able to refine my results.

According to the latest update of Ancestry’s ethnicity estimate in June of 2022 my main ethnic background is 43% Wales and 35% England and Northwestern Europe. This matches up with my documented family tree research.

The smaller aspects of my ethnicity report include 12% Irish, 6% Sweden & Denmark, 2% Norway and 2% Scotland. These results again are not surprising considering the history of the UK. The Scandinavian influences likely date back to the Viking era and it is not unusual to find Irish and Scottish DNA throughout the British Isles.

As mundane as my ethnicity estimate is, some people have very complicated results and may have many ethnic groups attached to their report.

It is important to note that ethnicity estimates are exactly as they suggest, just estimates. In fact low level matches in our ethnicity reports could be false positives. As an example, years ago when I first got my report it suggested I had 1% Native American in my results.

After a few updates that Native American DNA disappeared in my results and early on I was confused as to why. Well it turns out that because of the random nature of DNA inheritance sometimes a segment will form that appears to indicate something else.

In this case two segments likely merged to make a segment that matched Native American DNA. It was completely coincidental and with DNA we can’t really tell at what point a recombination was made. So if we assume a segment was passed down completely then it could be Native American in origin, If however it is a combination of two unrelated segments then it is a false positive.

This then is why we call it an estimate because we can not be sure that all of what we can see is actually connected to our heritage. The higher the percentage the more likely it is that we have ancestors from that region.

So What Are AncestryDNA Genetic Communities?

The ethnicity estimate primarily refers to our results as ethnicity regions for example Wales, Scotland, New Zealand and many others. When shown on our reports each will have a solid colored dot next to them.

Now in more recent updates regions have started popping up which have a solid colored dot surrounded by a halo of smaller dots. These are the regions that ancestry refers to as genetic communities. So what is the difference?

Ethnicity regions are determined by comparing our DNA to thousands of others on a reference panel. The genetic communities are assigned by assessing people who share a significant number of common matches.

The theory behind the genetic community is that these members likely share common ancestors that may have originated in a specific area. They may have been part of one bog community years ago and they intermarried spreading their DNA far and wide.

Examples of AncestryDNA Genetic Communities

In my own ethnicity estimate I have three genetic communities listed which frankly are not at all surprising. Wales for example also has a genetic community listing and I know that my grandfather was 100% Welsh.

I also have connections to the Midlands and West Midlands communities. This again is not surprising. I was born in this region as were many generations of my family extending back to at least the 1700s. The fact that I have many modern day matches still living in this region is how Ancestry deems that I have a family connection.

When I look at my wife’s results they are more diverse than my own even though she has over 60% Irish in her estimate. She has no fewer than three Irish genetic communities in her results: North Leinster & East Connacht, North Leitrim & East Sligo and North & East Cork. We have proven that she has known ancestry from Leitrim, Sligo and Cork so these are obviously accurate.

In my wife’s results she also has genetic community connections to Pennsylvania, Kentucky and Delaware. All of which have been born out by the research done on her tree. Essentially as the records show her ancestors were part of mass migrations in the United States as people went in search of land and work.

Do Genetic Communities Have Percentages?

This is a good question and the simple answer is no they do not factor into your total ethnicity percentage. As an example with my wife’s results all of the Irish communities would fall under the percentage of Irish DNA in her estimate.

The U.S. settler communities listed in my wife’s ethnicity report do not have a percentage nor does she have American DNA as an ethnicity in her estimate. This is simply because the only DNA recognized as American would be that of indigenous peoples. Non indigenous peoples have only been in the Americas for a short period comparatively so their DNA will mainly come from outside of the Americas.

How Are Genetic Communities Helpful?

Genetic communities are actually very fascinating because Ancestry will give you a whole load of information regarding the ones in your results. Not only will it tell you the living people you match with who are also from this region but they will give you a history of the community.

If you have a well built family tree they will also show you the names of your ancestors who lived in the area during the historical events they mention. Information on why people may have left a certain area is also offered which may answer the question as to how your family made its way to where you live today.

Essentially genetic communities are a great resource for better understanding some of your more distant ancestors. For example many of my wife’s ancestors came to America looking for work and in the case of the Irish likely fleeing the effects of the famine.


Ancestry DNA genetic communities are offshoots from our ethnicity report which are compiled based on the number of shared living DNA matches we have from a certain region. They often accurately determine that some of our ancestors settled in or originally came from a small community.

As the results refine in terms of our DNA more and more of these communities will be recognized. This for me may mean that the Wales genetic community which today encompasses the whole country may break down into smaller regions.

The genetic communities are a great resource for learning a little about what some of your ancestors may have been going through. It may give you answers to why they likely moved from an area to somewhere else and who they left with.

If you find a genetic community in your ethnicity report give the information about a read. In my opinion genealogy is more than names and dates, it's the people we came from and the struggles they faced. Any chance to understand these long dead ancestors should be taken.

Neil Edwards

Neil Edwards

Genealogist and family-tree research specialist

Neil was born in Shropshire, England surrounded by centuries of living history. His interest in the past has been a lifelong passion leading to undergraduate degrees in both Economic History & Geography and History & Politics.

This interest in history quickly translated to family history when he moved to the U.S. in 2010. It was here that he began working on his own family tree as well as that of his American wife. That research allowed him to gain a wealth of experience working with both U.S. and European genealogical documents and studying their best uses in researching family history.

Following 9 years of honing his genealogical research skills, Neil was proud to have earned a certificate in Genealogical Research from Boston University in late 2019. Neil also took part in the research process for a Duke University study into the families of 19th Century UK Members of Parliament.

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