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What is the Iberian Peninsula: DNA Ethnicity

A very common question when people see their DNA results is: “What is the Iberian Peninsula DNA ethnicity?”  In this post, learn how to how to understand this region and find out why you might have it in your DNA.

Many people who take autosomal DNA tests are surprised to see Iberia in their ethnicity estimate or ancestry report.  If you have recently discovered that you have Iberian Peninsula ancestry, you have come to the right place.

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
What is the Iberian Peninsula_ DNA Ethnicity

The Iberian Peninsula has turned out to be one of the most mysterious European DNA ethnicities.  Over the years, it has been one of the most popular topics on this site, and I have received more e-mail questions about Iberian ancestry than I do any other region in the world. 

Most DNA testing companies are now able to distinguish sub-regions in the Iberian category. Originally, many of us received simply “Iberian” or “Iberia” on our ethnicity results.

Since the original publication of this post, Ancestry DNA has added more specific regions for the Iberian Peninsula. People who previously saw Iberian in their DNA results might find that it has been replaced with Basque, France, Portugal, or Spain.

Still others might have seen their Iberian disappear completely only to be replaced by a seemingly unrelated region. This has occurred in the ethnicity estimates of many people with Colonial US ancestry.

Where is the Iberian Peninsula DNA region located?

This 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”.

It is important to note that Iberian Peninsula DNA ethnicity is very commonly found in people who live in areas that are not located directly on the peninsula.  Keep reading to find out where people who have Iberian DNA can be found.

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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:

Image source: Ancestry DNA

The area that fell within the previous Iberian Peninsula DNA region on Ancestry 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, and usually do, 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 means and methods to travel, even during the Middle Ages.  People traveled for business and even pleasure, and others found themselves living in new areas after war, famine, or even marriage.

People who are native to the Iberian Peninsula DNA region are generally very admixed as well, showing only about 51% Iberian DNA, on average.  A person from this region is likely to have DNA from Europe South, Great, Britain, Ireland, North Africa and Europe West, along with others.

Why Is there Iberian Peninsula DNA in Other Parts of Europe?

It’s easy to understand why someone in France or Morocco is likely to have Iberian Peninsula DNA, but what about those of us who don’t have any known ancestors in the nearby region?  How did people who don’t have heritage from Iberia get Iberian DNA?

It’s very common to find Iberian Peninsula DNA in Western Europe, Ireland, and Great Britain, too.

Some select details (not a complete list!) about the percentage of natives of European regions who show Iberian Peninsula DNA, according to data from Ancestry DNA prior to previous ethnicity updates:

  • 20% of people in Western Europe may show Iberian DNA
  • 15% of people from Great Britain may show Iberian DNA
  • 8% of people from Eastern Europe may show Iberian DNA

Iberian Peninsula DNA can be found in varying degrees all over 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.

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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.

Who might have Iberian Peninsula DNA?  People who have Spanish, Portuguese, or French ancestry, as well as those who can trace their roots to Colonial US, or those who are of Hispanic, Latino, or Italian descent

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 have 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?

Most people are very curious about whether they will be able to find out exactly how they inherited their Iberian Peninsula DNA.  It’s common to wonder whether a relatively high amount, like over 20%, means that you have an Iberian grandparent, or whether a 6% Iberian Peninsula result means that there was a single Iberian ancestor 5-7 generations ago. 

It should be noted that having a low or high percentage of Iberian ancestry is not proof positive of a recent or distant Iberian ancestor.

For some, finding the ancestor who gave you your Iberian DNA might be easier, especially if it occurred within the past 100 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 suspect that you have recent Iberian ancestry, then you should find DNA matches at the 4th cousin level or closer who show ancestry in an Iberian country.

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 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.

To see if you can locate your ancestors on US Federal Census records, the best place to start is Ancestry.

Even though it is free to create an Ancestry account and build a tree, you’ll need a subscription to view records and documents, but it’s easy to add information from those documents automatically to your family tree.

If you use the following sponsored link, you can get a two-week free trial on Ancestry – perfect for adding records and documents to your tree:  Ancestry Free Trial

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.

Conclusion

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!

P.S.  Don’t forget to check out my DNA Tools page where I have lots of information about how to understand DNA results, ethnicity regions, and how to find records to help you build your family tree.  Check it out: DNA Tools Page

***

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 your 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.

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Maureen K Cosentino

Saturday 25th of July 2020

A different kind of question. My great grandfather, John Francis O'Shaughnessy (2 brothers and a sister) immigrated from Ireland, believed from Limerick. In trying to find his father and mother, I ran into confusion. Family records, and other records state he was born December 25,1851 or 1852. Told his father could most likely be Daniel O'Shaughnessy and his mother, Mary McGrath but their son John was born in 1845, a large difference. It would also mean that he was much older than his wife. Marriage to Mary Ellen McCarthy (Born 1861) in 1876. Person who did the research said my great grandfather could have lied about his age but other records, e.g., birth of siblings, do not confirm this. My question: Is there any way, without paying more money, to find out the truth? Thank you.

Helen Kruse

Tuesday 6th of February 2018

I never knew my father,and my daughter had a DNA test done for me, herself, her son and husband. I came up 41 almost 42 % Iberian,and 8% Scottish/Welsh/Celt,and the other half I already knew was Lithuanian and this showed Baltic/Eastern Europe/Russia. And that was the other half. The test was MyHeritageDNA. That means both parents were about 100%. Like I said, my moms side I knew was 100% and this proved it. I don't have a name to even start with my fathers side. I just know he was Iberian. My daughter came up about 25%Iberian the other half Lithuanian which would be right since she's my daughter. I guess I need a name to enter on these sites to find family on my fathers side. I like to call him my Sire. It's all he was. I never knew him, and he probably didn't care. I heard several stories from my mom about me who knows. I guess I just wanted to find out about how to find out more on the other half of me,that's all. I guess at 55 it doesn't matter, everyone is gone anyway.

Suzanne Davis Grafe

Saturday 3rd of February 2018

Very interesting article. I was curious about the Iberian peninsula since my Ancestry DNA results show 18% from that area. I have been working on my family tree in Ancestry for years and have been able to get very far back but have very few ancestors listed from that area. The majority of mine are from eastern England, Scotland and Ireland which could explain my 43% Scandinavian results. My father's family are Acadians that moved from France to Nova Scotia and then were expelled to Louisiana in the 1700's. So it looks like those French ancestors are the ones with the Iberian Dna

frenchbeans

Wednesday 31st of January 2018

Took a 23andMe test, and Iberian came up. Strongly suspect that this is from my mum, who has a very rare genetic trait that is found mostly in Mediterranean people (specifically, Italians). Always wondered what that was about.

Tina Garza

Thursday 11th of January 2018

I am fascinated by this. My Father recently took a DNA test. His Results: 39% Iberian Peninsula 20% Native american 15% Europe South 10% Middle East 4% Europe East 3% European Jewish 2% Ireland / Scotland / Whales 2% Europe West 1% Caucasian,1% Great Britain, 1% Asia South And 2% Africa Southeastern Bantu

Can't wait to see what my mom can find out. Is there any other sites you recommend utilizing besides Ancestry.com?

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