Like many people, I have always had an interest in where I came from and what my ancestry was like. Growing up I knew some of the basics, such as that my entire Dad’s side of the family was Jewish and from Eastern Europe and that my Mom’s family was a mix of English and Norwegian. However I also knew that there was quite a bit else that was mixed in. When I got to college, I felt myself pulling away from the religious aspect of my Jewish heritage, and that didn’t leave me much left to identify with. My girlfriend (now wife) is 100% Portuguese, as she is actually a First generation. My best friend is Middle Easter as he was actually born in Iran. Me? I was born in Tucson Arizona, to parents born in the US, who were born to parents born in the US to parents who may or may not have been born here… we simply did not have good records of it.
With such great technology and advancements in DNA research, there are now a lot of great options for learning more about your ancestry and where you come from. So I decided to look into a few options and learn more about myself. I decided on 23andMe as I like the information they were providing and what they were looking to build with their own findings. In hindsight, Ancestry.com DNA may have been a better option as I have heard it is slightly more accurate, and I also have a lot of family that did it, and they will link you together. Either way, I wanted to share my experience with you and the whole process.
When I signed up for 23andMe, it was quite simple. I chose to pay a little extra and get the Health and Ancestry service, to not only know about my ancestors, but to also see if I have any genetic markers for things such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s, etc. When my package arrived, the instructions were very simple to follow: essentially you spit in a tube and put it int he mail (that’s in a nutshell, as there are a few other steps). Once that is complete I also set up my online profile which consists of many optional surveys to provide the 23andMe company with information they can use to help enhance their database and provide more accurate findings of yourself. The questions are simple in regards to race and gender, to more interesting questions such as sleep patterns, anxiety and other health related items. Again, this is all used to help build profiles based on DNA submitted in hopes of learning more about what our DNA does and to better identify people through these means.
Once everything is sent in, the process takes about 6-8 weeks before you get your results. Once those results come in, you get an email that links you to all the reports they provide on you. I received my results last week and I could not wait to dive in. The reports were a very cool mixture of ancestry markers, health screenings as well as other markers (many of which I know already and of those, some they got right and some they got wrong). For me, the first thing I looked at was the Health markers. I am a bit of a hypochondriac so I had to make sure right away that I was ok. And thankfully, there was nothing that showed I would be at a higher risk for anything they would test for. After that, I had to dive into my ancestry.
Unsurprisingly, I was shown to be 99.9% European, with less than .1% being a mixture of East Asian and Yakut. of my European Ancestry, I was shown to be 47.3% Ashkenazi Jewish, which makes sense since I know my Jewish family came from Germany, Poland and Austria. The biggest category on my list however was Northwestern European, at 50.5%. This was a mixture of British and Irish (21.6%), Scandinavian (9.5%), French and German (7.7%), Finnish (<0.1%) and what was categorized as ‘Broadly Northwestern European’ (11.6% – which is likely my Norwegian heritage I know of). To me this was all very fascinating and gave me a better sense of belonging! Another cool part of this, is of all other users who use 23andMe, it shows me those who are related to me. Only one name I recognized (1st cousin once removed), but it found 1,233 DNA Relatives. It also was able to determine how many markers I have in common with Neanderthal Ancestry, which was surprisingly higher at 281 markers, which is more than 54% of all 23andMe users, and 1st among relatives I am connected to.
Beyond the Health and the Ancestry, 23andMe also provides a list of other features as well. Features they determine based on the surveys I answered as well as what other people have answered as well. They are not meant to be a diagnosis or even be accurate. But to tell you things that are likely to be true. From this information they did get a few things right: I am likely to not have red hair (I do not), I am likely to be average or below average weight (I am below average), likely to have darker eyes (this one is close, but mine are hazel, so I will confirm this) and likely to have straight hair (mine could not be any straighter).
However, for all the items this predicted accurately, I felt there were far more discrepancies that were not accurate. Again, this is based on people similar to me with my genetic makeup and is not meant to be 100% accurate. But my concern was with just how much they got wrong (makes me think what else is not accurate). According to this report I am unlikely to have dimples (I do), a widows peak (I have that too) and I am likely to have detached earlobes (sorry, wrong again).
Aside from these items, I found it all very interesting. The ancestry part felt very accurate to me, and that was ultimately what I was looking for. I am sure over time some of my other reports may change as more people provide information and the database for 23andMe grows. Until then, I will be satisfied with what I found.
Have any of you ever tried 23andMe, or perhaps another service such as Ancestry.com? I would love to hear about your experience! Please share your experience below or please let me know if you have any questions and I would be happy to share more!
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