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Thread: The "Northumbria Problem" - A Short Story About Scottish Roots and Living DNA Tests

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    The "Northumbria Problem" - A Short Story About Scottish Roots and Living DNA Tests

    My primary interest and reason for DNA testing in the first place is in Celtic ancestry, and when the news came that Living DNA had gained the right to use the data-set of the People of the British Isles (POBI) study for a commercial test, I was among the first to sign up. I wanted to verify that I had Gaelic roots of some sort, hoping I would get some amount of Northwest Scotland among my percentages. I got something quite different instead.

    My living DNA results came with a surprise: I have always been given a consistent amount of their “Northumbrian” category: initially, 26.2%, then to 29.8%, then to 42.1%, down to 12.4%, and finally back up to 20.3%. I also uploaded a second test, and the pattern continued: The uploads gave me 22.8%, 22.9%, then 20.8%. Whether on the upload or the regular test, Northumbria has always been my highest British percentage.
    Looking at my paper trail, this was impossible: the only ancestry I have from this region is one third-great grandparent from the Scottish Borders; ~3%. My initial uploads for both my parents did not show particularly high Northumbrian percentages; dad showing zero, mom showing 9.7%.

    The bulk of my Scottish ancestry is from two great-grandparents, my mother’s grandmother, and my father’s grandfather. My father’s grandfather comes from Stirling, but many of his roots come from Perthshire. My mother’s grandmother is of Northern Irish ancestry, from what I can tell, those ancestors came from Scotland, but I’m sure many of you know how tricky it is to determine exact origins for ancestors from Northern Ireland.

    Living DNA initially stated that ancestry from Stirlingshire and Perthshire would fall under their Northwest Scotland category. This didn’t line up with my results.

    Fortunately, a genetic study focusing on Scotland finally came out: The Genetic Landscape of Scotland and the Isles (GLSI&I). What it found was that much of Perthshire clustered with Fife, and was more closely related to people in Aberdeenshire than to the people of Western Scotland, such as the Hebrideans. Living DNA’s assumption about Stirlingshire and Perthshire was incorrect. The study tells us that their cluster which aligns most closely with many of the locations of my dad’s ancestors from Scotland, showed stronger similarities with English DNA than the other Scottish clusters – at least the ones listed in admixture chart 3A.

    Another piece of the puzzle arrived in the form of an update from Living DNA, producing drastically different results for the uploads of my parents, but nothing very different for myself. My mother’s Northumbria percentage dropped to 4.4% (paper trail, 6.25%) and my dad’s results gained a Northumbrian percentage of 11.2%, his second highest British percentage. Although it still didn’t add up, this update finally indicated that my “Northumbrian Problem” might be coming from both of my parents, possibly more from my dad than my mom.

    Why, if dad’s Scottish ancestry was from correlated with the Tayside-Fife cluster in the GLS&I, would he be getting Northumbrian?

    Those of you who have read the various genetic studies on Britain and Ireland will know that the genetic differences between most of these clusters exists on a cline or a spectrum, ranging from the extremities of Ireland on one end, to England on the other. In terms of England and Scotland, the borders, or Northumbria and Cumbria clusters, lie in between England and the Scottish lowland clusters.

    However, in the original POBI study, the Scottish Lowlands were very much under-sampled compared to the GLS&I. The South-West Scotland and Northern Ireland cluster numbered only 74 samples in the POBI, and in the GLS&I their Sco-Ire cluster, corresponding to the same geographic area, numbered 255 samples. The Tayside-Fife cluster didn’t exist, and the GLS&I gathered 177 samples for this cluster. The samples from the North-East of Scotland, “Aberdeenshire” in the POBI number around 52. The GLS&I upped this to 94 for Aberdeenshire, and 24 for Buchan-Moray.

    If you look at figure 1 C in the GLS&I, you’ll notice that this Tayside-Fife cluster falls between Aberdeenshire and the Borders.

    When sufficient samples are not available, a DNA test generally pulls from the surrounding populations instead. Another consistent category that has featured prominently on all versions of my Living DNA results has been Aberdeenshire, which is something my dad’s results have also featured. He doesn’t have any ancestry from the north-east of Scotland, only central Scotland, Easter-Ross, and Orkney.
    Being in-between the Borders and Aberdeenshire makes sense, but the Northumbrian component was still the largest out of all the potential Scottish categories. This indicates that a good chunk of my father’s Scottish ancestry wasn’t really all that Scottish, because the borders regions are as “southern” or "continental" as you can get for a Scottish category. If you look at figure 3 A of the GLS&I, the admixture chart which divides cluster ancestry into Welsh, English, and Scottish, you’ll see that the Tayside-Fife cluster has more English admixture than any other component listed, with the most extreme samples from the cluster being very English-like.

    To test this idea, I decided I needed an idea about my father’s overall PCA positioning – Eurogenes Global 25 and the Celtic vs Germanic PCA came into play. I found that my dad plots in a position that isn’t very northern relative to his ancestry on these plots. About 15% of his ancestry is French, but theoretically, his Scottish ancestry should more than counter-balance that and plot him firmly with the English. However, his position looks to be about as southern as you can get for someone of primarily British stock, clustering with Normans and Bretons on the Celtic vs Germanic plot, and on several Global 25 plots. To land in this position, I imagine his Scottish ancestry wouldn’t be all that much different from English ancestry, and then his French ancestry would pull him “southward” on the PCA.

    My dad’s family has a very romanticized idea about their Scottish ancestors, imagining tartan-clad, broadsword wielding, red-haired Jacobites. However, the story that our genetics tells is much less exotic, indicating that perhaps many migrants from the nearby continent contributed to the gene pool of my father’s grandfather. Rather than being proud Gaelic speaking folk, our actual Scottish ancestors could have very well contributed to the replacement of the Gaelic language with the Scots language.

    My opinion has changed over the years since I got my results from Living DNA, but ultimately, I believe consistency in DNA results appears to be telling us something, even if it takes genetic studies and updated results to be able to figure out what it may be saying. That said, if we are fortunate enough to receive another update from Living DNA, things might change again, throwing my theories out.

    Regardless of the accuracy, if you're interested in your British ancestry, Living DNA might be able to give you something to ponder. My Living DNA results have provided me with more entertainment than the other commercial tests.

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    Why, if dad’s Scottish ancestry was from correlated with the Tayside-Fife cluster in the GLS&I, would he be getting Northumbrian?
    Just making sure you know that when you click on the Living DNA map for Northumbria it includes Fife and all of southeast Scotland.

    Last edited by MitchellSince1893; 10-26-2020 at 01:07 AM.
    37% English, 26% Scot/Ulster Scot, 14% Welsh, 14% German, 3% Ireland, 3% Nordic, 2% French/Dutch, 1% India
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    Quote Originally Posted by MitchellSince1893 View Post
    Just making sure you know that when you click on the Living DNA map for Northumbria it includes Fife and all of southeast Scotland.

    Yep, I was aware of that

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    FWIW, my father should get around 10-13% North Sea facing Scottish. On Living DNA he only gets 4% for Aberdeen & Northumbria, so I'm not really that impressed with it.
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    Very interesting and well thought out post, Sktibo. I hope LivingDNA provides you with some new insight one of these days. It makes me want to read more into these studies myself.
    AncestryDNA results:
    England, Wales, & NW Europe 73%
    Ireland & Scotland 18%
    Germanic Europe 5%
    France 3%
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    British & Irish 62.9%
    French & German 15.0%
    Scandinavian 0.9%
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    Broadly Southern European 0.9%
    Broadly European 0.1%
    Sub-Saharan African 0.7%

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    Quote Originally Posted by MitchellSince1893 View Post
    FWIW, my father should get around 10-13% North Sea facing Scottish. On Living DNA he only gets 4% for Aberdeen & Northumbria, so I'm not really that impressed with it.
    The point of my story isn't about Living DNA being good, I don't think it is for most people. My results and those of my parents are full of problems. The story was about the consistency of an unexpected, arguably inaccurate region that just wouldn't go away, but led me to reconsider my regional ancestry. I think there was truth in it, but it was nowhere near face value, as explained by the years of thinking about the results and trying to compare all the relevant data to come up with an explanation.

    I ended my little story by saying "Regardless of the accuracy" this test "might give you something to ponder"
    Last edited by sktibo; 10-26-2020 at 01:37 AM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Garimund View Post
    Very interesting and well thought out post, Sktibo. I hope LivingDNA provides you with some new insight one of these days. It makes me want to read more into these studies myself.
    I wish they would somehow gain access to the data from the Irish DNA Atlas and the GLS&I. That would be amazing. The POBI dataset was great when it came out, but it's been built upon massively since then, with major regions like central Scotland and Ireland left un-sampled.

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    Quote Originally Posted by MitchellSince1893 View Post
    FWIW, my father should get around 10-13% North Sea facing Scottish. On Living DNA he only gets 4% for Aberdeen & Northumbria, so I'm not really that impressed with it.
    What did your father get all in all, compared to his known ancestry?

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    Quote Originally Posted by sktibo View Post
    What did your father get all in all, compared to his known ancestry?
    A few months ago I talked about it here

    https://anthrogenica.com/showthread....l=1#post643539
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    Quote Originally Posted by MitchellSince1893 View Post
    A few months ago I talked about it here

    https://anthrogenica.com/showthread....l=1#post643539
    Interesting to see what was consistent between your dad's two updates and with his half-sister's upload. Ireland is frequently assigned to what should be Scottish ancestry, because they got a boatload of Irish samples in from many kind people, including forumites here, and their Scottish panels in some areas remain woefully under-sampled.

    LivingDNA2020dadmomstibo.png

    As a point of comparison, here's my dad, my mom, then my two uploads. None of us were lucky enough to have actual Irish ancestry, but we all get it on Living DNA. I think there's generally truth in the consistent percentages, and the upper percentages, but I don't interpret the percentage amounts assigned literally.
    Last edited by sktibo; 10-26-2020 at 05:39 AM.

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