DNA tests give you an educated estimate of your ethnic makeup and help inform genealogical research by verifying existing family trees and informing future avenues of investigation. Additionally, there's a possibility you'll find living DNA matches - distant cousins and other relations - who could share their family history with you to build a bigger picture of your family tree.
In addition to showing geographic ancestry percentages, some direct-to-consumer DNA tests also include insights about physical traits like hair and eye color. With 23andMe, this trait information is mostly available in the upgraded Ancestry + Health kit, but some interesting tidbits can be found in the Your DNA Family report, which is available if you opt to participate in the DNA Relatives service.
All this comes into sharp focus with the comprehensive kits such as the one provided by 23andMe: the one I drool into a tube for (incidentally, 23andMe doesn’t test for Huntington’s disease). Most people, like myself, have a low understanding of genetic variants, what phrases such as “higher risk” or “probability” actually mean or how to interpret our results correctly. Is it right that ordinary members of the public must navigate potentially frightening and/or misleading results alone?
There is one really, really important thing to know about this estimate, however. Each child inherits 50% of their DNA from each parent. That means that 50% of their parents’ DNA does NOT get passed down to the child. This can mean that a child of a 100% Eastern European person will only show 50% Eastern European DNA, and their grandchild will only show 25%, and their great-grandchild 12.5% – in a perfect scenario.
What we would expect to find then in this example is that the two descendants of John show a very close match, and the two descendants of James also show a very close match (because we know from conventional paper based research that they are related). If all four match very closely, then that’s further evidence to add to our theory that John and James were really brothers. Not conclusive proof- but pretty solid evidence.
23andMe is a bit different in that many people have tested with their company for the health results and are not necessarily interested in genealogy or matching with relatives, even if they opted into this feature. That doesn’t mean you won’t get a good response when reaching out, but it may be less common than with the other testing companies. Recently 23andMe has been placing more focus on genealogical testing, however, so this is may be shifting.
Genes make up the blueprint for our bodies, governing factors such as growth, development and functioning. Almost every cell in the human body contains a copy of the blueprint, stored inside a special sac called the nucleus. The estimated 23,000 genes are beaded along tightly bundled strands of a chemical substance called deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA). These strands are known as chromosomes. Humans have 46 paired chromosomes (half inherited from each parent), with two sex chromosomes that decide gender and 44 chromosomes that dictate other factors. Certain portions of DNA are unique to each individual. DNA profiling is a way of establishing identity and is used in a variety of ways, such as finding out whether twins are fraternal or identical. DNA samples are usually obtained from blood.
Each DNA processing company divides the world into regions. One company has divided the world into 24 regions while another company has divided the same world into over 350 regions. This is why there is a noted disparity in the results that people are getting who have happened to use more than one company. results you have received are not necessarily wrong, just perhaps are not as finely sorted as you were maybe expecting.
If you opt in to 23andMe’s family matching feature, you can connect with other 23andMe users with similar genes. This feature lets you view your matched relative’s display name, sex, profile photo, percent of DNA shared, number of DNA segments shared, relatives in common and haplogroups. The interface also estimates how closely you are related to each match. It’s very easy to connect with your matches on the website, and you can request more information by inviting them to share DNA reports.
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23andMe tests autosomal and mitochondrial DNA for all users, as well as Y-DNA for males. These different types of DNA play into the service’s different ancestry reports. Your geographical ancestry report stems from the autosomal DNA, which is a combination of both of your parents’ DNA. Your maternal and paternal haplogroups are derived from mitochondrial DNA and Y-DNA respectively. These show the migration of your direct parental line through thousands of years. 23andMe also identifies your Neanderthal ancestry.
Many DNA databases, including Ancestry, 23andMe and MyHeritage DNA, have family search features, which match your DNA with that of potential relatives. These features help users searching for family, including adoptees and children conceived through sperm donations. Almost every DNA testing service we interviewed for this article had a story ready about how its service facilitated a heartwarming family reunion. Like these from Ancestry, this one from MyHeritage and this one from 23andMe. Because many DNA services also have resources like family tree builders, the tests work in tandem with genealogical research.
The introduction of home DNA testing means that anyone who wants to can now order their own DNA profiling kit online, and one common reason is for DNA identification. This is often important for those who work in high risk jobs, in case there is an accident that means their body would need to be identified. For example, the US army requires all active service personnel to submit a DNA sample upon enrolment, primarily for the purpose of identification if they are killed in service. Not everyone who works in a high-risk profession is given this option by their employer, but individuals with dangerous jobs are free to buy their own DNA profile from a private testing company.