It was a fateful day walking around the mall while Christmas shopping with my sister when the idea came to fruition. Looking at a 23andMe sign, I mentioned how I’ve always wanted to do a DNA test. Our dad was adopted, so we’ve never really known what’s been lurking in the other half of our heritage.
She was curious too—and BAM one more Christmas present on my list was picked out. We decided to go with AncestryDNA because they were running the best sale at the time compared to other DNA kits for just $79.
Instead of only taking one test to determine the heritage for both of us, we also wanted to know if our DNA differed slightly. Although we’re very much biologically related, in family photos there’s a clear distinction that I look more like my father while my sister looks more like my mother. Would this show up in our DNA results?
Taking the test
Testing my DNA was pretty simple. I spit into a small tube, shook it up, and sent it off in the mail. The only mildly annoying thing was that I had to make sure I didn’t eat or drink (including water) for 30 minutes before I took the test, so I couldn’t do it as soon as I opened it.
Unfortunately for me, I sent my test back right after Christmas, which I assume to be a busy time of the year for DNA tests thanks to all the Black Friday and holiday sales that were running. So it took more than a month before I actually got my results back. But usually, they should only take two or three weeks.
When I finally got the email that my results were in, I immediately logged onto Ancestry.com to see what I actually am. When you first log in, you get three options to explore: DNA Story, which shows your ethnicity; DNA Matches, which shows you potential distant relatives; and DNA Circle, which shows you how you're related to other Ancestry members through shared ancestors.
Finding out my heritage
The first thing I wanted to look at was my DNA Story (naturally). The results weren’t too surprising other than the fact that I come from basically everywhere in Europe. The regions Ancestry identified in my DNA include Europe East (25%), Scandinavia (20%), Great Britain (15%), Europe West (12%), Europe Jewish (12%), Europe South (9%), and other trace regions they call "Low Confidence Regions" that made up the rest of my profile. So, I apparently have a lot of homelands to visit in the near future.
Ancestry doesn’t list the specific countries you're from but rather identifies larger regions. Depending on what you know of your family history, you can figure out the specifics. For example, my mom is mostly Czechoslovakian (with some German and English thrown in there), so I can assume the 25% Europe East is probably the Czech Republic or Slovakia.
Knowing my maternal ancestry, I can semi break down my father's influence, which is most likely the regions Scandinavia, Europe Jewish, and Europe South. My best guess is that my ancestors hailed from Sweden, Poland, and (hopefully) Greece, not Ireland or Wales like my dad has always assumed.
You’re also able to break down each region further for a better understanding of your ancestry. For the sake of time, I’ll only dig into my chunk from Europe East. After clicking on the region, it goes more in-depth on the potential countries in the region my ancestors are from and a wider range of my true percentage (12-36%). I’m also able to read a little bit of the history of the region to learn more about its influence and groups that traveled there. Pretty neat, huh?
Additionally, Ancestry showed me Low Confidence Regions that show where less than 3% of my heritage comes from. This includes the Iberian Peninsula, the Middle East, Ireland, and North Africa, which all seem like cool places to be from, even if it's only a small part of my genetic makeup.
AncestryDNA is also able to guess the migration patterns of your ancestors based on historical data (though this is only the case for certain migration patterns). For me, that means between 1700 and 1725, some of my ancestors traveled to New York for tolerance while other traveled to Pennsylvania in search of a new life. Although DNA alone isn't enough to go into the specifics, Ancestry provides you with more historical information about the time period that you're able to look into on your own.
Exploring my DNA matches
With more than 7 million people in the AncestryDNA database, you’re more likely to find potential DNA matches second Ancestry than with any other DNA testing kit on the market. Ancestry will match you with immediate family members, 2nd cousins, third cousins, and so on, by determining the number of centimorgans, a unit for measuring genetic linkage, shared across various DNA segments.
Scrolling through my DNA matches, my sister Emily is listed as my immediate match—no surprise there—because we share 2,565 centimorgans across 59 DNA segments. Guess we’re even closer than we thought.
I can also see a few users listed as my second cousins as well as members who have the same maiden name as my grandmother, which suggests we could be related somehow. I have the option to contact my potential matches, but I probably won’t reach out these people because I don’t want to be a total creep. Nonetheless, it’s cool to see this shared DNA and it could be worth digging into later.
I highly recommend trying AncestryDNA, or any DNA kit. There can be a ton of information to sift through depending on how many regions you get, but even if you don't want to dig into the data, it’s neat to know where your family comes. In the end though, DNA kits really only provide you with the basic information on your ancestry. It’s really up to you to dig deeper and research these regions, build a family tree, or reach out to potential DNA matches to really get even more out of this experience.
Prices are accurate at the time this article was published, but may change over time.