This post is somewhat afield of my usual themes, though if you’re a regular reader you’ve probably caught on that genealogy is one of my hobbies. This summer I decided to pony up $100 to get my DNA analyzed.
There are a couple of companies that do this. A popular one is 23andMe, which started out offering a range of health-related genetic information. In 2013 the FDA shut down most of that area of their business until further notice but you can still get an ethnic breakdown and some limited health information from them. Since my interest was only family history, I decided to go with genealogy giant Ancestry.com, where I’ve housed my family tree (15,361 members and growing!) lo these many years.
The way it works is this. You send them the money with a credit card and they send you a kit in the mail. The kit contains a test tube which you spit into and then send back in a prepaid envelope. I couldn’t really do this from Ethiopia so I had them send the kit to my brother-in-law in LA and I mailed it back to the company when we stopped there on our way to Costa Rica.
The kit comes with an access code number which you enter onto the Ancestry website to activate your account. Then you can log in to check the progress of your results. After a few weeks they will have finished the analysis and you will see your results, just like I did this morning here in Leon. Your results are anonymous unless you choose to make them public. The results page links to a lot of explanatory material that tells you how the results are calculated, how reliable they are, and other pertinent information. But the most interesting part looks something like this (this is me):
It would be fun if that were me… I’d have many new genealogical avenues to explore, for sure. But the nice thing about my results is that (other than the Polynesia and Caucasus bits) they line up pretty much exactly with my historical research. So while the test can’t provide me with names, at least the ethnic breakdown doesn’t point to any huge errors in my work.
You don’t have to have an Ancestry subscription to do the test, but if you do have a tree on Ancestry, there are a few interesting additional features. Ancestry produces a list of other people who have taken the test with approximate degrees of relationship. By getting in contact with those people you can explore your common ancestry. There are obvious benefits if there is a question of parentage in your direct line, and these contacts might help you find the answers. Ancestry also produces a list of “new ancestor discoveries”: people who do not appear in your Ancestry family tree, but who are direct ancestors of at least two other otherwise unrelated people who share your DNA. In other words, dead relatives who probably ought to be on my tree but aren’t. I have 17 of those right now that I am trying to place. If you like genealogy, this passes for fun.
Here are two of my mystery relatives. If you know these guys, drop me a line.
Update 6 June 2016: cool little video of a group of young people getting their DNA results: