Doing genetic testing to determine ancestry is one of the most exciting ways to learn about your own family’s history and the history that undoubtedly goes along with it. You will almost definitely have trace amounts of an ethnicity that will surprise you.
If you ask most Americans (or anyone else for that matter) where their family is from, you’ll probably just get a vague answer: We’re Polish. My grandparents were Italian. I’m Dutch. Some people know a little bit more about their heritage and might answer that they are a little of this and a little of that. But if you think about it, do you really, really know your ancestry?
Is it Possible to do DNA Testing for Ancestry Lineage?
Yes! Absolutely. A DNA to trace ancestry is a perfect way to help you understand where your ancestors likely came from in the past 300-500 years. It’s a very easy process, you usually do a cheek swab or spit into a tube, and put it in your mailbox. Results usually take 1-2 months from the time you order your kit to the time that you get your results.
Is an Ethnic Background DNA Test Accurate?
Yes, these DNA tests are generally fairly accurate – if you are willing to understand the history of the way that people have historically moved and mingled/mixed with each other. You also have to know that you might be surprised by what you will find.
Even if you know that all four of your grandparents were born in Ireland, can you say, with absolute certainty, that you don’t have any Scandinavian Viking DNA? Did you know that the Vikings traveled all over Europe warring, trading, and spreading their genes?
There are thousands of examples of how genes from one population ended up mixed with those of another – sometimes even thousands of miles away. Many Native Americans or First Nations peoples from North and South American have small amounts of Polynesian DNA. The Polynesians were great explorers, and their adventures took them to lands very, very far away.
Millions of Mexicans have Irish ancestry. Before I learned the history, I would not have expected to learn this! It turns out that there have been several waves of Irish immigration to Mexico. In addition, many Irish Mexicans fled to Mexico after the Mexican-American war, since they had sided with the Catholic Church (and thus, Mexico) during the war. One other way that Irish genes ended up in Mexico was because back during the 1600’s, many Irish fled Ireland to live in Spain, which was more friendly to their Catholic religion.
Do You Want to See an Example of Ethnicity Results?
As an example of how your DNA could surprise you, let’s take a look at my family member’s ethnicity results to see if what we know of her family tree matches her DNA ethnicity results.
My family member’s ancestry, as far as we now know – based on her family tree – not her DNA results:
- Maternal grandfather: Polish
- Maternal grandmother: German
- Paternal grandfather: Slovak
- Paternal grandmother: English/Scottish/Irish/Unknown
Based on her family tree, we should see the following percentages in her ethnicity results:
- Polish/Eastern European: 50%
- Western European: 25%
- British/Scottish: 12.50%
- Irish: 6.25%
- Unknown (wild card!): 6.25%
Now, let’s compare her DNA ethnicity results to what I (think that I) know about her family tree:
Interesting! African? Specifically, Southeastern Bantu! South Asian? European Jewish? Scandinavian? My family member’s ethnicity results were largely as I expected them to be, but there were some definitely surprises.
Here is a table showing the expect results vs. the actual results:
Some of the discrepancy in my family member’s expected results vs. actual results can be attributed to movements by people back and forth in Europe for many centuries. For example, I expected to find more Western European – or at least some Western European. My family member has a lot of German heritage, and typically Germans have either Western European or Eastern European ethnicity. In my family member’s case, I think a small amount of her German showed up as Eastern European, and the rest presented in the British/Scottish. The UK is close to Germany, and they have been economically and politically connected for a long time – a simple enough explanation.
I’m also not surprised to find some European Jewish, really. She has a ton of Eastern European, and this is the geographic area where European Jews historically lived.
The biggest mystery to me, especially knowing our US history, is the Southeastern Bantu. I still haven’t been able to find the ancestor who contributed that DNA to my family member’s genes. I am determined to find him/her, however.
I hope that this demonstration helped illustrate to you how interesting it can be to have an Ancestry DNA test done to learn about your ethnicity. In another post, I’ll write how and why two siblings can have strikingly different ethnicity results.
Do you have any questions or comments? I’d love to hear from you – leave me a note in comments!