October 2, 2018 — Your Editor’s children gave him a very thoughtful gift for Fathers Day this year – DNA testing from Ancestry.com. This article will explore why genetic testing might be useful, its pros and cons, a list of the various providers of these services, and some comments from a Facebook post on the topic. We also hope that all of you with experience on the subject will chip in on the Comments section, so we can all learn from one another.
Like most every family, mine is interested in and proud of our ethnic heritage. We know from our parents that we are largely Scotch-Irish, have quite a bit of German/Sudetenland, along with a dash of Native American blood. Our relatives from that line were part of the infamous Trail of Tears into Oklahoma. We looked forward to confirmation of all of that heritage.
Common DNA tests cost about $99, but there are many different levels of plans, along with occasional deals. To give the company your genetic makeup you usually put a tiny amount of your saliva into a small vial, or swab your cheek. Then you mail it to the company via a postage prepaid box. Along the way the company will ask you a barrage of questions about what you think your heritage is, your health history and your family members, lifestyle and exercise habits, etc. We are sure the information might be useful, but in the case of 23andme.com they asked so many questions we finally quit answering them. They analyze it and compare results with their huge database of other people that have done the test. Some months later (the service is so popular there is a huge backlog) you get an email telling you the results are in, with links to charts and graphs, plus a lot more, depending on the company and what you want to see (and pay for).
In our case
The results from ancestry.com were puzzling on both maternal and paternal sides. Almost to the point of ordering an FBI investigation of our old milkman (just kidding). The Scotch Irish in both lines was apparent. So was the migration within the U.S. to the Southeast and from there to Oklahoma and Texas (Trail of Tears). But there was no mention of us being Native American, nor any sign of the German/Sudetenland branch we know is there. We were baffled enough that we decided to do it again, using a different service.
This time we used 23andme.com, a rival company. The results took over a month to come back, but this time they were closer to what we expected. It showed us predominantly Scotch/Irish, and the small percentage Native American line showed up, along with the German. Both ancestry.com and 23andme showed an unexpected percentage of our DNA coming in from Northern Europe, which we are going to attribute to those frisky Norsemen and their coastal raids.
What people use genetic testing for
Family history. Many baby boomers are interested in exploring their family genealogy, particularly now that they have the time in retirement to pursue it. There are different ways to explore your family tree; most involve having to pay something extra.
Medical and health. The most valuable use of DNA testing is the information you might get about your health. Companies are developing huge databases of medical and health related information. You can use them to find out if you have any genetic traits that might predispose you to some diseases or conditions. Likewise, you can find out the likelihood of the risk that you might pass on a genetic flaw to your children.
Find your relatives. At least on ancestry.com you can access a list of possible relatives. Our results showed several potential second (and higher) cousins. One of those cousins we recognized, and in fact he sent us an email when he noticed our results. In the case of people who are adopted or do not know who they are related to, this can be very useful. Several people in a recent Facebook chat reported they found their birth parents this way.
Two terms you need to know about are a “haplogroup” and a “haplotype”. (From Wikipedia) A haplotype is a group of genes in an organism that are inherited together from a single parent. A haplogroup is a group of similar haplotypes that share a common ancestor with a single-nucleotide polymorphism mutation. Any set of individuals who share a mother (that is, siblings or maternal half-siblings) have the same maternal haplogroup.
A big question about DNA testing is your privacy. In 2018 a serial killer was potentially identified because he had his DNA tested. The companies will ask you to choose from a bewildering array of privacy choices. It is hard to know how to answer. For example, perhaps you gave up a child for adoption, or committed a crime – do you want that to be public knowledge? Do you want distant relatives to be able to contact you? Are you worried about hacking? Could an insurance company deny you coverage because of your genetic makeup? On the other hand, your DNA and answers to questions might help lead to an important scientific discovery (although you probably won’t profit from it). Our advice is to study the privacy questions carefully and only permit or answer what you feel comfortable with. See “5 Biggest Risks of Sharing Your DNA With Genetic Testing Companies“.
A Facebook Chat about genetic testing: “Which company would you use for DNA testing?
We saw a recent Facebook chat with the question posed above. Here is a summary of some of the Comments that came in:
– Some people have had their DNA tested with both services, and got better results with one or the other
– One person said the ancestry.com database was bigger, and they found more cousins with it
– familytreedna.com found more family members, but was expensive
– I wouldn’t use any of them. None of them have good privacy practices on what they will or will not do with it
– Used 23andme because they thought the genetic disposition info was better. in same vein, which company did your relatives use.
– Will insurance companies deny coverage in future because of your genetics?
– What happens if the company goes out of business or the data is hacked?
– Used Helix because they got a groupon, but were not happy with the results
– Found haplo group data both interesting on national geographic and ancestry
– “Loved ancestry, exploring the family tree a wonderful project”
– Results right on, found some unknown cousins
– ancestry has a huge database and responses more focused
– I also linked or uploaded my Ancesty DNA results to MyHeritage and GEDcom/match which can further match me based in specific chromosomes and/or share other people who share the same people I have in my family tree.
– Paid extra for newsletter databases which were interesting
– Be aware the whole privacy issue with DNA is not regulated
– Used livingdna.com which has more detail for y dash dna, autosomnal dna, mt dna
– At least 5 people found birth mothers. Some are sharing stories with them and plan to meet.
– My cousin’s wife did hers through Ancestry and discovered her birth father which she never knew about. That was interesting!
– i did Ancestry to try to do my tree. It was $69. THe breakdown of my ancestry was somewhat offf thought. They said 53% European, and then 23% Jewish! We arent Jewish and isnt that a religion? very weird. I still have to do the tree part. For Jo, they said some of his ancestors were from Egypt! He is sooo Czech!
Which company should you use for DNA testing?
The big two names in DNA testing right now are ancestry.com and 23andme.com. But there are others with less name recognition that might be better. Geneticsdigest.com recommends three others (in its order of preference):
CRIGenetics, FamilyTreeDNA, and LivingDNA.
National Geographic apparently also offers DNA testing.
One thing to consider is what company others in your extended family have used. If someone has already created an extensive family tree with one company, you might save yourself a lot of work by using the same one. In the end you might do what many people do, and use a couple of different testing companies to get a more extensive picture. Results do differ, for whatever reason.
If you do decide to get your DNA tested realize that you have many options to choose from. Consider the privacy options carefully. And realize that the results might not be perfectly accurate – or could contain an unpleasant surprise!
Comments? Have you had your DNA tested? If so, who did you use and what was your reaction to the results? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the Comments section below.