What Do You Do with a DNA Test?

Some genealogists I have contacted over the years have begged me to succumb to the request to do a DNA test.  I resisted for a long time.  I’m still not entirely sure I believe the supposed science involved.  For a long time I felt there just wasn’t enough of a world-wide gene database to make the test worthwhile if the science was indeed good.  A cousin of mine took the test and was gravely disappointed in the results, as it told her she wasn’t nearly as related to Native Americans as she wanted to be.

But the test recently had a sale and being an adventurous person (which isn’t the impression I give very much, but I AM adventurous at times.  I even like to have fun, regardless of what you think), I fell for it and spent around $70 bucks to make it happen.  Here’s what took place.  The payment gets processed, you receive an email confirmation, and soon there is a little kit at your door.  You open the kit, which looks like an Apple product, with its sleek design and careful instructions.  You take out a vial and spit it in, close the lid and a little bit of blue liquid spills from a reservoir in the lid into your saliva sample, apparently to preserve it for the trip to the lab.

Once you send in your sample in the packaging provided you get another email telling you it arrived, and finally you get one with your “results.”  Of course its exciting to get that last email.  You go online, and if you are a member of Ancestry.com, you can connect your results with your online family tree (if you’ve made one).  If not, you will still get some interesting reports.

The first one is an “Ethnicity Report.”  What this report does is circle some areas of a world map that shows you where the majority of your genetic ancestry seems to hail from. In other words, it ranks areas of the world with your results so you can tell what your genetic ethnicity seems mostly to be.

In my report, I found that I am 73 percent British (which includes England, Scotland, and Wales).  I was entertained with the notion that the average Briton today shares genetics with only 61 percent of the ancestral peoples of Great Britain, making me MORE British than the average Brit.  With a purely Appalachian mountain accent, that is one funny discovery.

My next largest ethnic mix is from Scandinavia, in the 12 percent range.  I learned as I read about this result that this is because several invaders from Scandinavia intermixed with natives from Great Britain over time.  This is probably related to the Scottish roots of my family origins.

The rest of my main ethnic report is traced to Western Europe, which includes France, Germany, and Switzerland.  This makes much sense as I have a number of ancestral lines that hail from a region that is shared by France and Germany.  I’m just glad they learned English, because I can’t imagine how poorly we Appalachians would slaughter the German or French languages.

There is a small percentage in the ethnicity report that talks about “Trace Regions.”  This is other areas that seem indicated by the genetic markers.  My report of these includes Italy/Greece, Finland/Northwest Russia, Iberian Peninsula, Eastern Europe and the Caucasus Region. Added together it composes only 10 percent of my ethnicity but it lines up with some things we know about a couple of my lines.  Located in the subsets of these ethnicities is the possibility of European Jewish and even Native American heritage (although only a slight bit of one percent).  Could this be the background to the Melungeon ancestry that some of my lines seem to come from?  Perhaps.  I’ll have to dig some more into this.  The result is definitely inconclusive.

Another byproduct of this test is that Ancestry.com will match your results with the results of others who have taken the test.  Then you are given a list to go through and explore.  My closest connections were people who are connected in the “third cousin” relationship.  Some of these happen to be folks with whom I’ve corresponded and shared information already.  Others are new to me and some individuals seem to have no connection at all, as we share no surnames in our family trees.  So again, I’m skeptical of results.  There are connections, but there are unanswered questions as well.

At the end of the test results is a strong plea to get other family members to take the test, including siblings.  They explain that male and female siblings may show different traits in their DNA and those would link up differently even though they share the same ancestry.  I guess any company needs a good profitable business plan, but this seems a little pushy when I really wasn’t sold on the whole thing to begin with.  I bet 70 bucks on it and got something out of it, but I’m not sure I would recommend it to anyone else.  I think you really have to reflect on whether this is for you.

I have an indication of native American ancestry in one part of my family which is accompanied by a strong word-of-mouth story that has been passed down and even documented in era-contemporary historical writing.  I’m concerned to know why that didn’t show up the way I expected it to.  Is it hidden in that “Trace Region” report?  Is it fiction?

The ethnic regions are writ large in the report, so it is difficult to narrow the results down to anything resembling localities, family groups, clans, or tribes.  In that, it isn’t too unlike a Zodiac reading.  “You’re from this corner of the earth, and over here and over here, and in case we’re wrong, there are traces of this place,” the report seems to say.  I heard a woman from Kentucky report to me that her results showed ethnicity from Japan and eastern Asia, which puzzled her since she was a multi-generational Appalachian.  Who knows, maybe her mother had a thing for the guy at the Chinese Buffet?

My bottom line take-away point is this:  You can spend the money (Ancestry’s product usually costs in a range of 70-100 dollars).  You’ll learn some things.  But you could live a long life in peace and prosperity without doing it.  After all, we all come from the same ancestors, don’t we?

If you want to try it, Ancestry’s site is found here

About Brad Scott

An Appalachian CrossFitter who loves Jesus and is happily married to Tammie. I have a son and a fine little grandson. In the peak of middle age, trying to figure out the rest of this journey.
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2 Responses to What Do You Do with a DNA Test?

  1. In your tags, you should have added one word: “cuckoldry.” It is the primary reason DNA tests don’t match expectations based on genealogical research. It’s also the basis of The Jerry Springer Show, I believe.

  2. John Shoemaker says:

    When I did mine, It came back as 94 percent British and 6 percent other. I seem to agree as My Grandparents were Haynes, Arnold,Shoemaker and last Peltier, which I know were French.

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