DNA Helpful Hints

Two Lies and the Truth — About DNA Testing

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Written by Jamie Drake

What do you know about DNA Testing for family history, personal curiosity, and genetic genealogy? Have you done it already? Maybe you’re just thinking about it, that’s ok too. There’s some important stuff you need to know about what to expect and what might happen when you get your results.

#1. – The big fat, ugly, lie:  Everything you need to know about yourself is in your “Ethnicity Report.” Certain testing companies call this report different things, but what it comes down to is that it breaks your genetics into pieces and matches them with groups of people who share the similar genetic markers.  This is great for someone curious about their family history. Not so great for anyone looking for a cultural or genetic reference.  The reason why family historians use this particular tool is to decide if they are looking in the right areas.  Other people want to identify “who” they are or “what are they made of”.  While the test will surely give you clues as to those questions, it is by far not definitive.  Many people are shocked when they get their results.  The truth is, ethnicity testing is fun, but not completely accurate.  A topic suitable for its own post.  

#2. – Truth for genealogists! As a genealogist, I understand the difficulty in knowing if you are on the right trail.  Genetic testing from the major companies is helpful for confirming what line you belong in.  The way this is done is through one-to-one and one-to-many matching.  First you identify a close relative and then you cross match other people against the two of you.  The matches get smaller and smaller, and if you match even a few people you can start to determine who you both come from (through traditional genealogy) and share information. Those brick walls chip away faster when ten people are pounding on them.  

#3. – Cold Hard Truth:  You are who you are.  No amount of information on your DNA is going to change that. There is a really great saying that is relevant here: “Secrets come out in the wash”.  Genetic testing has opened doors in unpredictable ways.  People are bringing to light old news of illegitimate children, incest, hidden families, multiracial lineage, and unknown parentage.  These are things that were taboo in older days but it’s all coming out now, in the wash of genetic testing.  I hope that, regardless of what you find, you will remember that you are more than DNA. Your culture, your person, your family history, are much richer than any amino acids can explain on a piece of paper.  

Finally, I want to stress that DNA Testing is of little value to anyone except yourself if you don’t do the genealogy research to back it up and share it.  A common complaint among testers is that the test result is wrong.  That’s probably a misunderstanding. Genetic testing is pretty reliable.  What isn’t so well known is that people traveled, sometimes quite a lot, even back to ancient times. Our genes have been mixing through migrations, marriages, immigrations, wars, and conquests for as long as we have been here.  If you believe it to be wrong, prove it. But don’t forget to study up on world history first.


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