The one aspect of my DNA results that I haven’t discussed yet is the ethnicity estimates provided by Ancestry.com and by MyHeritage. I am baffled by the results that I see at MyHeritage.com, and I will write about them later. In this post, I will discuss the results from Ancestry.com where the only real surprise is that it shows that I am not as French as I thought I was – at least not ethnically.
This is what Ancestry has determined is the makeup of my ethnicity:
36% from Ireland,
29% from “England and Northwestern Europe”
22% from Scotland
8% from Wales
5% from “Germanic Europe.”
These numbers are a bit misleading because although it does not list a connection to French ethnicity, there is, as you will see below, a lot of overlap into France for these other groups. Such that those who were not ethnically French were at least linguistically Francophones.
Looking at these numbers, The first question I have is how does Ancestry determine ethnicity? Ancestry estimated my ethnicity by comparing my DNA to DNA samples from groups of people whose families have lived for a long time in one place. For example, Ancestry collected samples from people whose families have lived in Wales for generations for the Welsh (Cymry) ethnicity region. They then used those samples to create a unique “genetic fingerprint” for this ethnic region to which they compared my DNA sample.
Although the Welsh region’s ethnicity estimate is 8%, they further state that it can range from 0% to 17%. I already know that I have ancestors who came from Wales, probably sometime in the mid-18th century. These would be my Prothro ancestors who settled in South Carolina. In addition to that, this feels like proof that the Dobbs were of Welsh origin, not English and not Irish. (Some have fantasized of a connection to the Dobbs Castle built near Carrickfergus in County Antrim in 1723.) Yet, the Dobbs who first settled in North Carolina and eventually made their way into Georgia seemed very fond of Welsh names such as David and Lodowick.
In the case of Ireland, Ancestry.com claims to be able to narrow down some of the cousin connections to a particular county in what is now the Republic of Ireland. That county is Connacht. I haven’t explored this in-depth, so I do not know how Ancestry arrived at these specific regional connections. The 36% number for Ireland makes sense considering that my paternal grandmother’s family (O’Malley) who came over from somewhere in what is now the Republic of Ireland (maybe Connacht) in the 1840s, and my maternal grandmother’s mother’s family (Bannon/Campbell) came from Northern Ireland (Belfast Lisburn and County down). Those families alone would account for my being one-third Irish.
My Knox/Kelsey ancestors on my mother’s side who lived in Northern Ireland had roots in Scotland, yet the 22% Scottish does seem excessive. Nevertheless, there appears to be a reasonable explanation for this. An explanation of my Scottish connection is provided via a link on Ancestry that reads, “Surprised by your Scotland result?” The link takes you to a page that explains that “[m]any people with Scotland in their results are from Scotland or have ancestors who lived there. But that’s not the case for everyone, and it might not be for you.” The in-depth explanation is that there is a long history of people’s movements from the Scottish region to England and Northern Ireland and vice versa. It references the Celtic settlers of Great Britain and the 17th-century Plantations in Northern Ireland. I am a descendant of the latter group (Knox/Kelsey), and some of their ancestors originated in the English Midlands, as I recently discovered. Because they also include the region of Brittany on the western coast of France, I think it would be more appropriate if this group were referred to as Celtic and not as “Scotland”.
The 5% German roots seem about right, considering that two of my great-grandparents were German. Both of them were on my mother’s side of the family. My great-grandfather’s family (Kollros), came from the Grand Duchy of Baden in the 1840s. Erhardt Joseph Kollros’ grandmother was from Bavaria. My maternal grandfather’s grandfather, George Caspar Spiegel was from the east German kingdom of Saxony. The ethnicity estimate for this region is 5%, but the notes at Ancestry say it can range from 0% to 30%. Note that the map below covers Germany proper and surrounding areas such as Bohemia, Austria, Switzerland, the Alsace region of eastern France, and the low countries: the Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg. There is also some overlap between this group and the next.
England & Northwestern Europe
For some reason, the ethnicity estimator in Ancestry.com combines the Western part of Belgium (West Vlaanderen) and the northwestern portion of France (département du Nord) with all of England under the title of “England & Northwestern Europe.” In the map below, the wider region covered under this title includes England, all of the low countries (Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg), North Eastern France (Alsace), and Switzerland. According to Ancestry, the ethnicity estimator gives a figure of 29% for this region; however, this estimate could range from 18% to 45%. This estimate accounts for my Flemish ancestors (DeBacker, DeDonder, &tc.) and for my Jannin-Gaume ancestors, who came from a tiny Germanic principality that was located in the Jura Alps in what is now Eastern France. Some of their ancestors were of Swiss origin. Before emigrating to the United States in the 1830s, the family lived in the town of Montecheroux, located in what was historically known as the County of Montbéliard or Mömpelgard, a feudal county of the Holy Roman Empire from 1033 to 1793. After the French Revolution, Montbéliard was briefly incorporated into the Rauracian Republic. In 1793, the principality was annexed to France, and for compensation, the Duchy of Württemberg was granted other areas and became a kingdom. One of my ancestors from this region served for ten years in Napoleon’s army.
The DeBacker’s of Belgium came from a town with two names: Ronse (Flemish) and Renaix (French). They were French speakers (Francophones), as were more than a third of the Belgians. I know they spoke French because the passenger list documenting the DeBacker’s arrival in 1883 lists their national origin as France. I have read that the idea that immigrants had their names changed by immigration officials upon arriving is a fabrication and an urban myth. Still, in the days before passports, it appears that the recording of the national origin of passengers coming from overseas was flawed. Hundreds of passengers on board the SS Nederland arrived in New York from Antwerp, Belgium, on October 29, 1882. According to the passenger list, approximately 50 people were traveling in first-class, most of whom appear to be Americans returning home. The rest of the passengers, including the DeBacker family, traveled in steerage. They numbered approximately 200 people. Almost all were farmers and the majority of them were listed as being from Germany. The DeBacker family, which included my great, great-grandparents, my great-grandfather, age 20, and his siblings, ranging in age from 18 to 3 months, were one of only two families traveling in steerage whose national origin was listed as France.
As best that I can determine, the DeBacker’s of Flanders became French speakers at some point in the 18th-century, no later than the time of the French Revolution and Napoleon Bonaparte. As for the Gaume family, French is one of Switzerland’s official languages, and the French linguistic region takes up the western third of the country. It is most likely that the Jannin-Gaume and allied families of Eastern France and Western Switzerland had been French speakers going back for centuries.
Fun Fact: French fries are not French. They are Belgian. According to Wikipedia, from the Belgian standpoint, the popularity of the term “french fries” is explained as “French gastronomic hegemony” into which the cuisine of Belgium was assimilated because of a lack of understanding coupled with a shared language and geographic proximity of the countries. Potatoes were first introduced to Europe through Spain in the 1500s. At that time, Flanders and the rest of what is now Belgium was part of the Habsburg Empire of Carlos V, the Holy Roman Emperor and the King of Spain.
Another Fun Fact: Over the centuries, what is now known as the kingdom of Belgium has gone by many names. They have been known as the Burgundian Netherlands, the Spanish Netherlands, the Austrian Netherlands, and the Catholic Netherlands. They have been part of the Dutch Republic, the kingdom of Netherlands, the kingdom of France, the French Republic, and the French Empire.