Do You Really Know Where You’ve Come From?

January 13, 2016

It’s common for most of us to know where our grandparents and great-grandparents were born and raised. But go back a few more generations and things get a bit murky. Less so in England, where detailed birth and death records have been kept for hundreds of years. But what about before we started obsessively keeping track? Do you know where you really came from?

A 2015 paper in the journal Nature discusses the fascinating new genetic map of England, created by researchers from Oxford with data gathered over 20 years from 200 families who have had at least three generations living in the same area. What it shows is amazing.genetic-map-british-isles

Although Britain has been a melting pot of cultures for hundreds of years, the University of Oxford team have mapped out the United Kingdom’s genetic past from long before written records. And even though the Romans, Vikings and Normans ruled Britain for hundreds of years, they apparently left barely a trace on the British DNA.

Who contributed most to the gene pool? Germany. The study shows that the Anglo-Saxons, who arrived around 400-500 AD were the only invaders who substantially altered the country’s genetic makeup. Now it’s understood that most white British share 30% of their DNA with modern day Germans.

Though this common ancestry is true for the UK population in general, the people of south central England share about 40% of their DNA with the French. What’s surprising is that the French ancestry was not linked to the 1066 invasion but rather a previously unknown wave of migration 10,000 years ago at the end of the last Ice Age.

“The results give an answer to the question we had never previously thought we would be able to ask about the degree of British survival after the collapse of Roman Britain and the coming of the Saxons.” Said Professor Mark Robinson, an archaeologist at Oxford University.

Does this make you curious to better understand your own ancestry? Several private companies offer test kits that will reveal your lineage as well as your inherited medical risk factors, even how you might respond to certain medications. Sites such as and are big business though some speculate they can’t possibly tell you if you’re related to Cleopatra.

But if you’re interested in discovering your general ancestry while at the same time helping create a world-wide ancestry map, take a look at National Geographic’s ‘Genographic Project.’ For about half the price of what you would pay a private company to obtain ancestry results, you can help the Genographic Project, now in its eleventh year, chart a more complete map of the early stages of human history. Along the way, you can participate in National Geographic’s updates to the project, interactive stories, and understand the broader historical context of your own results.

Even if you’ve never left your home town, chances are your ancestors crossed continents and cultures to be where you are today. Discovering these paths is only one of the many exciting journeys we’re on as we explore the human genome.

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