How useful are at-home DNA tests?

Column here.

Those AncestryDNA TV commercials irk me. One lady kept saying the test determined she was from all nations, so now she didn’t know what nation to put down on forms. What the …? I am unaware of any DNA test that would show you to be, say, Canadian or American or even Singaporean. When my wife gains US citizenship in a couple years’ time, will that result in a dramatic DNA shift?

And really galling is the lady whose son secretly shipped her DNA sample off – one shudders to think how he obtained it – and ultimately found someone who thought she might be the mother’s sister. This lady said when she spoke on the phone with her alleged sister, the moment the sister said “Hello,” she just knew they were related. Again, what the …? One spoken word on the telephone is proof positive of blood relations? Really? My scamdar would be pinging like crazy.

So is this a rant about the commercials? Or what?

I got my DNA tested, because of my interest in genealogy. And the results have served me well, in that they confirmed a lot of what I’d suspected, provided some clues about some other suspicions, and put me in touch with a few 3rd cousins I didn’t know I had, and they were able to tell me more about some shared family lines that I’d drawn a blank on. That was fun. And continues to be fun, as they add more people to the data base.

It also revealed I have some Ashkenazi genes, which was fun to discover.

It confirmed I have one copy of the gene for CF, which I sadly already knew.

In short, it fulfilled and even exceeded my expectation, which weren’t that high to begin with. I consider it a good investment of my resources.

Partially a rant about that particular series of commercials, because DNA is not going to tell nationality such as Canadian or American and you cannot be assured of blood relations due to a single word spoken over the phone, so that company I am highly dubious of. That’s just stupid. The Dope column made me think of it. Glad to know the tests are not as useless as one may imagine though.

I screwed up that one commercial slightly though. Just saw it again – they’re on every five minutes it seems like – and the son did not send off his mother’s DNA sample but of course his own.

Bro was the sucker who paid for it. We assume that, despite not looking alike, it wasn’t because of multiple milkmen, so I’m also 6% Neanderthal. Anthro degree, always thought that [del]they[/del] we got the bum’s rush off the family tree, so I’m good.

It’s very useful for genealogy. The ethnicity stuff is a bit more gimmicky, but lures in a lot more testers, and the more reference samples, the more useful it is to the hardcore genealogists who are using it to further their research. The marketing targets people who will use it in the most superficial way, but having a large DNA database will attract and assist the people who’ll maintain an ongoing subscription to the site.

DNA testing has helped me over a brick wall in my research. My maternal great great great grandfather left no record of his parent’s names, and knowing his year and place of birth was no help in identifying them. Having had several closer family members test, I can identify matches we share that come from that family line, which allows me to isolate it. I have plotted 25 of those matches from around the world as being the descendents of a single couple, and that couple had a son with the same name and birth year as my ancestor. Plotting a tree, if that son was my ancestor then these people would mostly be my fourth cousins, fourth cousins once removed and fifth cousins, and the amount of DNA we share falls into the predicted range for those relationships. I have three other weaker matches who trace their ancestry back a generation earlier - they’re descended from the grandparents of the man I have tentatively identified as my great great great grandfather. I feel I’ve made a solid case for my great great great grandfather being the son of that couple.

DNA shows I have dozens of matches to my paternal great great grandmother’s family - to her descendants through her other children, to descendants of her brothers. But funnily enough, not a single relative of her husband has a match to me or any of my close relations… not even people who are, on paper, closely enough related that there’s theoretically zero chance that we wouldn’t match. There is, however, a mysterious clump of people we’re all related to who all have the same surname in their tree and come from villages within about nine mile of each other in Yorkshire. I’m looking for an agreeable descendant of a particular gentleman to test and prove the relationship so I can rewrite history.

In short: DNA good, ads kinda dodgy.

minor point, they are not “at home DNA tests.” They are tested in laboratories elsewhere. They just let you gather your samples at home. Do a sloppy job, and you’ll no doubt get a sloppy answer.

THIS is why I keep hanging out here! I was disappointed that my G[sup]5[/sup] grandfather probably hanged himself because his ship sank, making him bankrupt, and not as a pirate, the family lore, but here we have a member, “probably” descended from a “convict” (correct me if I’m wrong; I usually am) still looking into her background instead of sweeping it under the rug.

Back in 1982 I was a sperm donor to two couples with an infertile husband. I don’t know for certain if either one took but I could have a couple of biological offspring in their mid-30s. In retrospect, I wish that I hadn’t have done it. I was 18 and didn’t know any better.

Anyway, my Mom signed up for one of those things and put her info in the database. She is having fun with it. She found a couple of verified second or third cousins and actually met and befriended one of them.

My absolute fucking nightmare is her matching with one of those kids. She has it set up so that any matches can email her through the system. I want nothing to do with meeting them. She will really want to meet them. It will be an epic fiasco.

Descended from two convicts, but that’s done a 180 degree swing from being the shame of Australian families to being a point of pride these days. With 25% of the population having at least one parent born overseas, not every family has a history stretching back far enough to claim convict ancestors.

That sounds like fun to this Yank, as we are all about that! I may still have three gravesites 35 feet from gunfighter Wild Bill Hickok. My other ancestors were boring, so I take the fun where I can. My late Wife had Founding Fathers. I have gunfighters. I win!

Jesse James is in a direct line from my grandmother ( she was a James). I am not particularly thrilled about it, altho’ I named my middle child Jamie (female). We have a gold coin that was supposedly Jesse’s. No way to prove it though.

What’s a Slanket?

Recently I stumbled (via SDMB?) on this amazing story. A woman, just pursuing genealogy as a recreation, deduced that her father was an accidentally-switched-at-birth baby and eventually tracked down his real identity.

The Ancestry test checks hundreds of thousands of markers, and reports matches up to about 5th cousins from its extensive database. Large sections of our family tree are now confirmed to have no cuckolding. I also do Y-chromosome testing via FTDNA and am in a specific Nordic subclade. (I conjecture that the trajectory was Viking–>Brittany–>Scotland.)

I view all this genealogy as just pure hobby, akin to stamp collecting.

If I were trying to cajole a female sort of person to come visit me in my apartment, I would certainly invite her up to see my chromosome collection.

ETA: But then, of course, I would presumably invite her to have some Madera, m’dear.

I’ve speculated that I was separated at birth. I’m in many ways not like my family. They are selfish people and I’m very generous. My mom has even said that she has no idea where I got that trait. They are all very vanilla and conventional and I’m a bit of a freak. I also have a dominant genetic condition that neither of my parents have but it’s a fairly common mutation. Of course the odds of a switched birth in 1963 in Los Angeles is extremely remote.

Or at least, if there was cuckolding, it was by close family members.

The Late Show with Stephen Colbert did a segment on these home DNA tests the other day. The segment humorously criticized these companies for dubious claims. (Wines selected based on your genetic makeup? A DNA test to tell you more about your kid’s potential as a soccer player?) But most importantly, the segment pointed out the privacy concerns in these companies’ policies. Many of them reserve the right to resell the data and some have done so.

The best bit, though? Some white supremacists have taken these tests only to find African ancestry.

I called a guy named Younger. Wasn’t there, but I idly asked the gatekeeper, “Any relation?” Yep. I often ask, though slowed down when I asked a woman named Autry. “His family used to own my husband’s family.” Ooops!

Have I told you that you’ve become my favorite person here? Married and in Arkansas, yeah, but you are still fun and I’m overly public about everything. Wife hated that. Odd, being a One-D Adams (her mom looks like John, but with somewhat more hair) and related to Nixon. They were all in the public eye.

I dunno, having criminals in your family is weird. My great-grandfather was in+out of prison, even spent time in the famous San Quentin. My great-grandmother moved her family around to follow where he was incarcerated.

Apropos of the DNA question, I found out that that I’m just Ashkenazi enough for a Nazi to care. The percentage isn’t really important, as those were the genes they’ve found to be prominent in the Ashkenazi population. There’s a large portion of my genes that don’t point to any particular ancestry. They could have all come from a Jewish line, or other Europeans, or just not been special enough to even point out a continent. I may be betraying my ignorance of genetics, but I don’t think they name areas/groups unless they can point to that gene having an unusual concentration in that population.

Oh, and I’m related to Ötzi, the ice man, who apparently was killed violently. So, by the rules of the age, I might have a very old mystery/blood feud to solve/avenge. Ugh, family is work. Good luck, everybody!

Let’s not forget that the moustached man himself is known to have Y-haplogroup E-M35, the same haplogroup as that of Zinedine Zidane (a non-practicing Muslim of Berber descent) and Albert Einstein (non-observant Ashkenazi Jew).