A very common question when people see their DNA results is: “Where is the Iberian Peninsula and what is it doing in my DNA?” Many people who take the Ancestry DNA test (or a similar test with another company) are surprised to know that they have to explore history and geography to best understand their ethnicity results.
In this article, I will show you:
- The location of the Iberian Peninsula
- What Iberian Peninsula DNA is
- How Iberian DNA might have ended up in your results
- Whether or not you might be able to find the ancestor(s) who contributed Iberian DNA to you
Where is the Iberian Peninsula?
The basic geography question is an easy one. The Iberian Peninsula is located on the southwestern part of the continent of Europe – almost like a little tip – and it is where Portugal and Spain are located. Here’s a fun fact: The Iberian Peninsula is named after an ancient people who the Greeks named “Iberians”.
For those that like maps and mental imagery:
So What is Iberian Peninsula DNA?
“I don’t have any Spanish or Portuguese ancestors,” you say. Maybe you do, maybe you don’t. More importantly, you should know that it is not only people who live in Spain and Portugal that identify genetically with the Iberian Peninsula.
It turns out that people in a large geographic area have “Iberian” DNA. According to Ancestry DNA’s reference population, you can find high levels of Iberian DNA in an area as large as the one shown below:
The area that falls within the Iberian Peninsula DNA is shown within the “light blue” circle in the graphic. This means that people who live in Portugal, Spain, France, Morocco, Italy, and Algeria can show strong genetic links to the Iberian Peninsula. How did the original Iberian DNA spread to cover a section as big as the one in the image? It’s easy to imagine that people used to be more stationary in the past, staying close to their local communities and never moving their families to other areas. In reality, even though people didn’t have cars and airplanes, they still found reasons to travel. People traveled for business and even pleasure, and others found themselves living in new areas after war, famine, or even marriage.
Why Is there Iberian Peninsula DNA in Other Parts of Europe?
The reasons behind why Iberian Peninsula DNA spread beyond the mountainous and relatively isolated peninsula is due to politics, trade, and migration – a very typical human story. Because of all of the political and merchant connections between Spain/Portugal and other European and North African populations, you can find high percentages of Iberian DNA as far north as Ireland and as far south as Algeria.
How did I get Iberian Peninsula in my DNA Results?
There are many, many answers to this question. That said, here are a few of the major groups of people who live in the US who are likely to have Iberian Peninsula ethnicity show up in their Ancestry DNA test:
- Test takers with at least one Italian grandparent (or even one great-grandparent who is Italian)
- Those who are from a Latin American country, like Mexico, or have a parent or grandparent who is.
- Those who have many British or Irish ancestors, even if they are very distant (i.e. those with strong colonial ties because of what genealogists call endogamy – basically tons of people descended from relatively small, isolated populations – just like the origins of the modern U.S.)
If it isn’t obvious by reading that short list, I’ll say it: There are a LOT of people in the US with Iberian Peninsula DNA.
What does this all really mean for my Iberian DNA Results?
What having Iberian DNA really means is going to be different for everyone. For some (like me) my Iberian DNA might come from 300-500 years ago, via my colonial ancestors on both sides of the family. There are thousands of possible ancestors that far back, and it is almost impossible to know who they all were. And that is not including non-paternal events (occasions where paternity is mistaken or hidden).
I was very curious to know why exactly so many people who having ancestors from the British Isles are descended from people from the Iberian Peninsula. It turns out that there are several theories on why this could be – and possibly, there is more than one explanation. Basically, there has always been contact, such as war and commerce, between European regions. Additionally, some scientists believe that the islands that now make up Ireland, Scotland, Wales, and England were actually originally populated by Iberians, the original inhabitants of the Iberian Peninsula (though ancient peoples are unlikely to be the source of your Iberian DNA).
Can I Trace My Iberian Ancestry?
For some, finding the ancestor who gave you your Iberian DNA might be easier, especially if it occurred within the past 100-300 years. The only way to really know which is the case for you is to start building your tree (I like using Ancestry for this) and see where your paper trail leads you. Using your DNA results as a guide is an extra bonus!
If you see a small amount of Iberian Peninsula, and you aren’t Latino/Hispanic or Italian, as well, your Iberian DNA might just be from several very, very distant ancestors who migrated between the regions at some point in history. You could have even inherited very small amounts from more than a few lines of your family tree, making it look like your Iberian DNA is more recent than it actually is. That said, it is theoretically possible to trace your family back that far, especially if you are lucky and very patient.
If you are Latino/Hispanic or Italian/French, you might be able to track down those ancestors who left their Iberian DNA to you. Fortunately, the Catholic Church has kept excellent records over the past several centuries, and that makes your success more likely. This is because the Catholic Church was extremely influential in most Latin American countries, as well as France, Spain, and Portugal. This means there is a good chance that you will be able to trace your family tree – with some elbow grease – back to your Iberian ancestor.
How to Research My Iberian Ancestry?
If you are new to family tree research, the best place to start working on your tree is by looking through (sponsored link – I earn a small commission to help support this site if you purchase, thank you so much for your support) Search US Federal Census Records in order to locate your grandparents and/or great-grandparents. I like to use Ancestry for building my tree because it is easy to add people and records to the tree, and I can easily share the tree with family or friends or even export it so I can send it as a file to someone.
The US Federal Census was done every ten years beginning in 1790, but the census records that provide the most detailed information are from 1860 and more recent. I recommend checking all of the census records from 1860 to 1940 in order to make sure that you learn as much as you can about your family. Open up the census page, don’t just look at the summary that Ancestry gives you. You’ll find so much more there when you do, like the month of an ancestor’s birth, their occupation, year of arrival, and whether or not they were naturalized US citizens.
After you’ve exhausted the census records, you will find that you have built yourself a nice little tree, and you should try to collect information on everyone in your tree, including marriage, birth, and death records from those individuals. At this point, you will know who your immigrant ancestors are, and possibly where they came from. This is the first thing you need to know to accurate figure out where your Iberian might have come from.
For next steps, I would encourage you to read this post that gives more information on how to find family records.
I hope that this article helped you understand a little bit about the Iberian Peninsula, and how it ended up in your DNA ethnicity estimates. Do you have Iberian Peninsula DNA in your results? What percentage do you have? Do you have any ideas about where it came from? I’d love to hear your thoughts and comments!
If you are interested in understanding more about your DNA results, and specifically your ethnicity, you might be interested in this post about understanding your DNA results. I also wrote a more in-depth post about how DNA tests can tell you ethnicities, and you can access it here. If you are interested in learning more detail about the Iberian Peninsula people and ethnicity, you might be interest in this post.
Featured image photo credit: Nick Kenrick (Flickr)