So just what does a DNA test tell you about your heritage? You may have seen the Ancestry DNA commercial that’s been all over (at least my) TV lately. I tried to find it on YouTube, but couldn’t. It shows a young woman who has discovered a long-lost relative using their DNA testing service. It even goes so far as to imply that she not only found this ancestors name but that he had blue eyes as she does. All from a DNA test? Not likely. What it doesn’t tell you is that you need a lot of hard genealogy work to find these kinds of things out.
I have had my DNA tested by both Ancestry and Family Tree DNA. Surprisingly, the results were very similar. Both give my heritage as very “Scottish”. As a member of the Campbell group on Family Tree DNA, I have found that my DNA just might POSSIBLY point to a Pictish lineage. For those that don’t know who the Picts were, they are considered one the earliest inhabitants of Scotland. They are basically made up of the Celts that came across from what we would call Germany today, Vikings that come from the northern Scandinavian countries, and the people who came across from what we call Ireland and then north up to Scotland. This shows just how impossible it is to be of “pure stock”.
The image above somewhat supports the findings from Family Tree DNA. My main groups do point to the historical makeup of the ancient Picts. But, since the Picts did not leave any written records of us to study, we can’t be completely sure.
But what does it prove? In all honesty, it doesn’t “prove” a damn thing. Without some genealogy work, it will never tell you much. I have done a bit of work at Ancestry chasing down my family tree. I have managed to solidly confirm the Campbell line back to the 1860’s or so. I just may have a lead going back to the 1780’s or so, but have not been able to confirm it. Ancestry does have very fine resources such as US and UK census records. How much access you get depends on how much you’re willing to pay.
Unfortunately, all the matches I’ve found through DNA testing have not been on the Campbell side. I did have one gentleman who matched my DNA (up to 37 markers) exactly. But he will not answer my emails to see how we are related.
I would like to call your attention to this page; “Two Lies And The Truth About DNA Testing”. The big take-away for me from this blog post was;
I want to stress that DNA Testing is of little value to anyone except yourself if you don’t do the genealogy research to back it up and share it. A common complaint among testers is that the test result is wrong. That’s probably a misunderstanding. Genetic testing is pretty reliable. What isn’t so well-known is that people traveled, sometimes quite a lot, even back to ancient times. Our genes have been mixing through migrations, marriages, immigrations, wars, and conquests for as long as we have been here. If you believe it to be wrong, prove it. But don’t forget to study up on world history first.
And from this blog;
Alva Noë explains at NPR:
Shakespeare’s kid probably had 50 percent of his DNA; his kid in turn, on average, a quarter, and so on. Within 10 generations, Shakespeare’s DNA has spread out and recombined so many times that it doesn’t even really make sense to speak of a match. Putting the same point the other way, each of us has so many ancestors that we have no choice but to share them with each other… The truth is, you have your history and your genes have theirs.
So basically, trying to say some famous person is related to you without doing the genealogy work, and only relying on a simple DNA test, is impossible.
I’m not telling you NOT to do DNA testing. I just want you to know that the test alone will not answer most of your questions. Wifey’s® results from Ancestry gave her what she wanted. She wasn’t looking for a long-lost relative. She only wanted to see the “mix” of her heritage. But no, I will not post her results. That would be TMI. Hell, I don’t even use her name on this blog, why would I give you her DNA makeup???
One more consideration. What happens to your DNA test results? Family Tree DNA does not share your results without your consent. Can’t say the same for most of the others.
In the end, ask yourself why you want to do the test. Is it for health reasons? Trying to fill out, or start, your family tree? Just curious (as was Wifey®)? For whatever reason, read the fine print before you do the test.
And remember, your results may very well vary between companies. Take your results with a grain (or maybe a shaker) of salt.