Has Ancestry.co.uk been nobbled?

In recent years, there has been a significant upsurge in genealogical research. Programmes like Who do you think you are? have inspired many people to find out who their ancestors were and the internet has greatly facilitated such a task.

One website which anyone can can use for research (on payment of a subscription) is ancestry.co.uk and, until recently, I personally had a very favourable impression of it after a very interesting time last year using its facilities to discover a great deal about my origins, going right back to the 17th Century. I’m sure that readers won’t be remotely interested in the history of the Petley family past and present, but what may well be of interest is the pro-EU bias which has crept into this website.

The website’s home page informs us that “the average British person’s DNA is only 36% British” but a little footnote adds “Based on AncestryDNA customers born in the UK to Nov 2017” – in other words, a limited sample size. Is this accurate? Ed West, in his superb book The Diversity Illusion, states that as far as DNA is concerned, the English of 1927 were more than 90% the descendants of the English of 927. Even allowing for the scale of immigration since the end of the Second World War, it is hard to believe that our DNA make-up has changed so drastically in less than 100 years.

Not content with using its website to make us feel less English or British,  Ancestry.co.uk has produced a series of videos and even TV adverts pumping out a pro-EU message.  A comment below the first video from “Ancestryuk” says “The average Briton’s DNA is 60% European.” No source is quoted for this statistic and no definition of “European” is offered either.

The adverts have produced both anger and derision among genealogists. Why should genealogy be politicised in such a blatant manner? Most other leisure interests are not. What is more, the pro-EU slant is very misleading and selective.

Firstly, having “European” DNA is no surprise. We know little about the origins of the ancient Britons who lived in these islands for centuries before Julius Caesar paid us a visit, but virtually everyone who followed in his footsteps in the next two thousand years, including those who decide to stay for somewhat longer and interbreed with the natives, came from the continent of Europe – Romans, Saxons, Vikings, Normans, Flemish weavers, French Huguenots and so on.

If you go back 12 generations, in other words, to the beginning of the 18th century, every person will have a maximum of 8,190 ancestors in total, the precise number depending on whether or not any given ancestor is common to two or more branches of your family tree (e.g., cousins marrying cousins).  Even if, like my forebears, yours were rather stick-in-the-mud types that didn’t move very far, within such a large total, it is highly probable that you will find the odd foreign-born  ancestor in that total. If the Irish are included  in Ancestry.co.uk’s definition of “European”, that certainly skews the pitch, especially as they were in political union with us for many centuries before 1922 and migrated over here in great numbers in the 19th century.

Secondly, having ancestors from another European country does not necessarily create any sense of belonging, even partially, to that country. OK, I promised not to bore you with details of my ancestors but it may be appropriate to mention briefly that I have both Irish and French (Huguenot) blood. I’ve been to Ireland and France. I enjoyed visiting both countries and it was interesting to think that I have forebears who originated from them, but I can’t say I feel the slightest bit French or Irish – even though I would probably meet the eligibility criteria for a St Patrick’s Day parade if I lived in the USA!

Thirdly, Ancestry.co.uk is guilty – at least by implication – of the same mortal sin as the remain campaign two years ago – conflating “Europe” with the EU.  The You Tube clip mentioned above doesn’t mention the EU once, but  this one mentions us “leaving” while this one  takes a dig at Nigel Farage. It also features a person discovering they have Norwegian ancestry. Well, maybe the it has escaped the notice of Ancestry.co.uk, but Norway isn’t in the EU.

Finally, many people from mainland Europe who have arrived here since the Middle Ages chose this country either to escape from  tyranny at home or to make the most of the entrepreneurial culture which was a feature of the UK, particularly in the 19th Century. To be a descendant of such people is a testimony of the success of our own country over the years and does not in the slightest imply that we should therefore stay in the EU.

One question which inevitably springs to mind given the appearance of high profile people like Alastair Campbell in one of the videos is where has all the money to produce these videos come from?  Has ancestry.co.uk been nobbled? If so, judging from the reaction of genealogists, it has done this thoroughly fascinating subject no favours at all.

Photo by annapmagistra

Print Friendly, PDF & Email


  1. Adam HileyReply

    I have no problem with being of European decent but I resent the failed corporatist EU bureaucracy being shoved down my throat by Our dumb politicians and mentally ill remoaners

  2. CheapcustomessaysReply

    The earliest inhabitants of Vanuatu, arriving about 3,000 years ago, were the Lapita peoples who spoke a form of Austronesian language and who had largely East Asian genetic ancestry. But Vanuatu’s contemporary population has largely Near Oceanian heritage, showing that over time the genetic ancestry of the early inhabitants was mostly replaced by that of Bismarck Archipelago migrants, who began arriving very soon after initial settlement. Yet the original Austronesian language persisted and over 120 descendant languages continue to be spoken today, making Vanuatu the per capita most linguistically diverse place on Earth. Vanuatu therefore presents an unprecedented case, where a population’s genetic ancestry but not its languages were replaced.

  3. Simon BlanchardReply

    I think about 99% of my DNA is “European”. Mostly English, French, Welsh and Spanish, but culturally identify as English. England is where I was brought up, lived and worked. I certainly don’t think the EU a political construct has any part of my DNA. I wonder if the EU has put money up front in the advert.
    Perhaps Ancestry should look up Walter Halstein, first president of the EEC to see where his Nazis roots are.
    I have done my tree going back to 1590. Some of my ancestors the first French Hugonot settlers in present day Nova Scotia (Acadia), later thrown out by the British in 1759 by General Woolf, left to rot in French concentration camps for over 20 years before being invited to Louisiana in 1785. I still have cousins in Louisiana. My paternal grandfather was a “Cajun” who crossed the Pond to work in England for Tate & Lyle.
    Every line you trace back tells a story of a sort. It still won’t change my mind to leave the EU.

  4. Derek ReynoldsReply

    It’s all about homogenisation of a species in order to create greater control. A subtle, and partially hidden way of compressing enough people together in one space to create diffidence and friction, in order to enact control regulations. If you want to encourage people to wish for more regulations, introduce equality acts; health regimes; safety laws. The culprits? Friends of the Earth; Greenpeace; the World Health Organisation; the World Wildlife Fund; the World Bank; IMF; Cancer Research Institute; trading standards organisations; the education system; the United Nations. All of whom encourage and support harmony; peace in our time etc. The air is contaminated with the stress of living lies. We go out to seek what we can have in order to progress, to save labour and increase convenience and fail to see what we need, which in so many cases is already around us.

    The internet has given the populations of most countries a window on the world, it has opened up communications between nations, and villages thousands of miles apart – or just down the street. It has also been the tool of surveillance organisations to glean information on who we are, what we think, and where to target their next regime.

    Be careful what you look for.

  5. JIm MakinReply

    According to http://www.ancestry.com/corporate/about-ancestry/company-facts ,

    The company’s management team, led by interim CEO Howard Hochhauser, is comprised of seasoned executives with prior experience at companies like Amazon, Intuit, Martha Stewart Living, Johnson & Johnson, eBay, and Box.

    Ancestry is a private company with multiple strategic equity investors including Silver Lake and GIC along with Permira funds, Spectrum Equity, and Ancestry management.

Leave a comment