Can your genes tell your family story? They can, according to Kenny Freestone, Director of DNA Products at Ancestry.com, in “An inside Look at How Ancestry DNA Can Take Your Search Even Further”, a lecture given Thursday morning at the National Genealogical Society Conference.
The DNA Test
The DNA test is surprisingly easy. You simply: 1) Order a kit online, 2) Return a saliva sample, and 3) Receive results.
The test from Ancestry.com is an autosomal test. This test, unlike the more commonly known Y-DNA tests, looks at all chromosomes that aren’t related to sex (that aren’t x or y chromosomes). Anyone, male or female, can take the test. It isn’t just noting what has come through the female or the male lineage, but asks and answers “Who could I be related to?” “It’s looking for all possible cousins,” remarked Freestone.
Freestone stated there are 2 possible main benefits to taking the DNA test: 1) An ethnicity estimate, and 2) Family matches.
How It Works
From Mongolia to Morocco, DNA samples were gathered from native populations across the globe. When collecting samples, family history of participants was gathered to ensure they were descended from generations of natives. This provides a basis for comparing your DNA to native populations. How closely does your DNA match a group of Scandinavians versus a group of Pacific Islanders, for example?
Freestone stated the ethnicity estimate compares 26 regional population sets, covering area in the Americas, Asia, Europe, Africa and others. He noted a particular strength in DNA testing for ethnicity in European and West African regions.
What Do You Do With It?
There are separate measures of ethnicity: genetic ancestry and national ancestry. Your genes, for example, may lead to a result that states you’re Scandinavian, but you know through genealogical research that your ancestors have been British for generations. Keep in mind the issue of migration. Those Vikings that settled in Britain long ago may have given you a genetic ancestry different from your national ancestry.
Freestone recommended the following when you receive your ethnicity results:
- These are estimates. They have a probable range of accuracy.
- Share the results with family. You never know what you’ll learn.
- Keep an open mind. Future research may unveil new findings.
- Check out your DNA matches. (See the next section on Family Matching.)
How it Works
Your DNA sample is compared to other DNA samples. How much of your DNA is shared with another person?
Freestone summarized typical results for those submitting a DNA test. 90% of tests result in an average of 2 third-cousins being found. The average customer also receives results indicating 50 fourth-cousins found. An average of 5500 fifth-cousins are found, but Freestone noted a 50% false positive rate when you reach this level of distance in relation.
What Do You Do With It?
Freestone encouraged participants to “find a cousin and coordinate research.” Through Ancestry.com’s DNA results, you can share your family tree online. Your test results offer clues to your DNA matches, such as noting common surnames between the different family trees, or even identifying a common ancestor. You can also send messages through the website to your matches. “The communication rate for DNA [test] takers is double the rate for normal customers,” observed Freestone.
The End Result?
A DNA test can’t tell you all you need to know. Old-fashioned research and piecing together your family story and ancestral charts are still necessary. An autosomal test, such as that offered by Ancestry.com, can offer fascinating and fun insights and clues, and, though it may be a long shot, has the potential to break through a brick wall and open new branches on the family tree, or at least a clue to where you could be looking.
What do you think of new DNA technologies and their impact on family history research? Have you taken a DNA test yourself? Perhaps your “genetic” ancestry seems very different from your “national” or “familial” ancestry? Share your story in the comments section below or email them to firstname.lastname@example.org