Have you ever wondered what your ancestors were doing a hundred years ago? For Europeans, whose continent’s historical destiny was determined by two world wars and series of conflicts between and inside nations, the possibility to find out where one’s relatives lived and worked in previous ages is not only satisfaction of curiosity, thinks E&M‘s Kamile Baubinaite.
Knowledge of one’s ancestry can change the way we think – it can demolish some of the questionable stereotypes we believe in. Ancestry has always been a black box, but in the 21st century, the possibility of opening it up is finally becoming reality.
Since 2007 different companies have started to offer various DNA tests, stating that they can not only help you to communicate with relatives you never knew existed, but also to find out your true origin. In 2008, retail DNA test, created by 23andme was named “Best Invention of the Year” by the Time Magazine. In 2019, you can easily buy such a test online and get your genes analyzed in various ways – to find out your origin, your possible health issues or personal traits, as one of the companies suggests. There’s even a DNA test created for dogs which helps to find out a dog’s actual breed by percentage and it helps to know more about its health risks.
DNA Tests reveal unknown family history
“Beyond words”: that’s how Tomas Astrauskas, 45-year-old Lithuanian man, described the feeling of getting to know something about your ancestry you’ve never heard before. He’s a member of a Facebook group where people share knowledge or questions about genealogy. Tomas made a DNA test to find out more about his ancestry and agreed to share his impressions about it with E&M. As he told the magazine, the decision to do a DNA test was inspired by his long-standing interest in genealogy.
“I did DNA tests primarily for the curiosity of exploring new scientific ways of studying human origin, as well as to use this for my favorite type of inquiry – genealogy. In recent years, DNA tests have become very popular in the Western world among those seeking their oribecauegins, especially in the US. Some are looking for answers about health, hereditary diseases, others have been adopted and are looking for relatives to discover new relations. Numerous companies offer DNA tests, so in the face of stiff competition, these tests have become more accessible to everyone,” Tomas explained.
Numerous companies offer DNA tests, so in the face of stiff competition, these tests have become more accessible to everyone.
According to him, the results of the DNA test he made were not unexpected – it showed that there was a strong link between already-known relatives. Tests also confirmed some further connections. Tomas was particularly surprised and delighted to find out about a strong ancestry link (measured between 3-4 generations) between his father and a Polish woman from Olsztyn, a town near Gdansk.
“They were both associated with the same surname, but it was not clear how,” says Tomas. “It turned out that the Polish relatives lived in the Zarasai district in Lithuania until the end of the Second World War, later, they returned to Poland, and my father’s relatives lived in the town of Vydžiai, what is now in Belarus. The places were only about 20-30 km from each other. We then spent a few days with a Polish guest at the Lithuanian State Historical Archives and we were able to find our common ancestor,” he told E&M.
If you tried to seek people’s stories related to DNA testing on the internet, you could find some unpleasant ones. Some people were shocked about family secrets the test had revealed. However, Tomas is not one of them – he would recommend doing the test, especially to those who share his interest in genealogy.
“Of course, these tests should not be used as a primary tool, but as an additional tool in your genealogy research. DNA tests for further kinship relationships do not indicate the sequence of relatives from person to person. However, I would recommend doing these tests to those who are less interested in genealogy, too. Genealogy often becomes interesting when you’re older, and DNA test results persist for decades. The DNA results of their great-grandparents, grandparents, parents may be interesting to future generations.”
How does a DNA test work?
If you decide that you would like to get to know more about your origin there are the four basic steps:
1. Choose the company you want to buy the kit from
You can do that based on a few factors. First one – price.
You can get a test for approximately 60 to 200 dollars. The price depends on how much you want to find out, only your ancestry or also your possible health issues. However, you should not get your hopes up – it is possible that you won’t be able to buy the kit, which if you live in Europe, as some companies don’t ship to the European Union.
Also, it is worth reading the reviews of people who already did the test. In this way, you’ll be able to better understand what accuracy and information you can expect. There are some suggestions to use one test or another due to a bigger DNA database a company has, or to what extent it focuses on analyzing European family trees.
2. Buy the test, get the kit and send it back
After buying a DNA test, you will get the kit and will need to get a DNA sampling. Depending on the company, you’ll need to spit in the tube or, for example, rub the cotton swab on the inside of your mouth.
3. Wait for the results
It can take from two to eight weeks to get the result depending on the company which has provided the test – you’ll need to be patient to get the results!
4. Get to know your relatives
After test results are ready, what you need to do is to understand them. Carefully inspect the website of the company to investigate the information which your DNA had revealed.
Be prepared – according to some discussions on the internet these tests can reveal a lot or even too much for some people. On Reddit, some users have shared stories of family legends regarding ethnic belonging being crashed. One man claimed that his girlfriend did not find any trace of Native American ancestry which her father bragged about. Another member of Reddit joked about his family boasting being very Irish. As it turned out, they were actually of Scandinavian origin.
Additionally, there are a lot of stories shared about tests revealing that supposed-to-be relatives were actually not related by blood and vice-versa. One of the discussion’s participants wrote that a DNA test helped to prove that his grandfather’s brother, who was always through to be his half brother, in fact, had the same parents. This brought the man to tears.
So, should you do a DNA test?
Some people criticise DNA tests along the lines of the popular gossip that companies can sell your data to third parties, such as pharmacy or insurance companies. Others, and some scientists too say they could be not accurate or informative enough. Experiments were done by curious people sending the same sample to different DNA companies and getting different results.
Also, you could be in trouble if in the past you were a confidential sperm donor or a criminal – DNA tests could reveal your secrets. They have helped investigators to solve cases, as has happened in the famous story about Golden State killer. The criminal was found through one of the websites where DNA data could be compared with other people. It is important to stress that DNA test results were shared by his relatives. As a New York Times headline ran, sooner or later, your cousin’s DNA is going to solve a murder.
For more on DNA testing, read our Pro&Con in Brain.