ancestry dna

Ancestry DNA Test

Looking in to your past, to find out who you are and where you have come from has always fascinated people. The advent of more accurate and cheaper Ancestry DNA test kits means you can do it from home, without it costing you a fortune.

DNA Tests and Ancestry

The market for home DNA tests has seen a boom in recent years with the market now full of different test providers. This is maybe due to the ease of testing, usually a simple cheek swab but also due to the relatively cheap cost of such tests. DNA testing has now moved on from its use with elite athletes to become something anyone can access.

The range of tests has also broadened to include everything from ancestry to health, fitness and diet and you can also now even test your dog to determine its breed, traits and disease risk. But it is ancestry testing that was the real pioneer with home DNA tests. Finding out more about our ancestry is now very well established with one company Ancestry DNA, claiming to have sold 14 million test kits by November 2018. It seems we continue to be fascinated with who we are and where we came from. This fact is supported by the continued success of the BBC’s Who Do You Think You Are? now in its 10th year.

But modern tests don’t just reveal where we came from, some also help us establish family trees, even find long lost relatives. Many also offer additional services in the form of genealogists and researchers to help answer questions relating to family trees. DNA tests have also become popular as gifts, particularly in the field of ancestry. In short DNA testing has become increasingly popular and broad with the science behind it evolving all the time.


What Can An Ancestry Test Tell You?

An ancestry test is able to tell you which area of the world your DNA can be traced back to. Whilst ancestry DNA tests differ, they will all aim to give you an estimate of your ethnicity highlighting which regions of the world you originated from. It is important to understand that these are based on estimates. Essentially the purpose of an ancestry test is to tell you where your ancestors came from.

In addition, some tests allow you the opportunity to find lost relatives. This will only be possible if those related to you have also carried out a DNA test. Furthermore, some test providers will help you build an online family tree and can even offer additional genealogy services.

So, in summary if you have ever wondered where your ancestors came from then this is the test for you. Or you may be adopted and want to know more about your family history and even find long lost family.


How Do Ancestry Tests Work?

Before you purchase an ancestry, test do remember that they will test your DNA differently which will give you different information. In essence there are three different procedures. Here we will assess what they are and what information they will give you.

Probably the most popular ancestry test to do is the autosomal DNA test. Each of us inherit 23 chromosomes from each parent, which sit as pairs. One pair is the sex chromosomes which determine our gender. The other chromosomes are known as ‘autosomes’. This type of test looks at your entire genome, which means it looks at all 22 pairs of chromosomes, that aren’t x or y. This means that you will find out information from both your maternal and paternal line. This will give you information that is fairly recent, in that it will look at all your ancestors who share your DNA over the past few hundred years.

The second test is called the y chromosome test which only looks at the male line in your ancestral history. Due to the nature of the test women cannot take it, although they could ask a male relative to take the test. It will give you results that go back thousands of years but again only looks at the male line. You will end up with your male y chromosome haplogroup.

This test will be less helpful in finding loving relatives, but it can be useful in genealogy if you are specifically looking at male ancestors.

The final test is called the mitochondrial test. Both men and women can take this test as mitochondria is passed from a mother to her sons and daughters. However, it only looks at maternal ancestry and will go back thousands of years. The key thing here is that male descendants will not be in the result. As with the y chromosome test this is less useful to find living relatives but is important in genealogy in finding female ancestors.


Can You Find Lost Relatives?

Some tests providers will allow you to find lost relatives. The key here is that you need to take an autosomal DNA test, currently there are four test providers you can choose from. The way it works is that your DNA is compared to others on the database and if there is a match and consent is given then you will be notified. The most common family members to find are second and third cousins. Remember that second cousins share great grandparents.


What Should You Consider When Selecting a Test Provider?

There are a number of considerations you should make before buying an ancestry DNA test. 

  • The first and probably most obvious is to consider what exactly you want to find out. If you want to find lost relatives for example, then you need to do an autosomal test.
  • You should also consider the size of the database held by the test provider. They do vary from 15 million to 1 million. This may be important to you if you want to find relatives as the larger the database then the more chances you have to find a match.
  • Consider all privacy issues. This is the one purchase you make where you must read the small print. Questions to consider are, what happens to your sample after you submit it and get your results? Can you delete your test results and does your test provider sell your DNA on to pharmaceutical companies? How is your DNA stored and how is your identity protected?
  • Be clear about what an ancestry test can and cannot tell you. So, for example you will not be able to find out where each member of your family tree lived, the language they spoke and how they lived.
  • Be clear about the difference between ‘region’ and ‘country’. Most test providers will give you an estimate of the region your ancestors came from. This is because if you look at world history countries change their status many times over, are split up and change. So, it is better to give region than country.
  • Finally, do consider some of the implications of doing a DNA test. Sometimes the news can confirm a suspicion and could introduce you to family you never knew you had but it can also spring up surprises you may not be ready for and even reveal secrets in your family. So do go into this with your eyes open.


How Is Your Data Stored?

Depending on which test you take the procedures may vary slightly. It is however true to say that this field is still fairly unregulated so do read all the small print before you take a test. Your DNA after all contains your personal code and is of huge interest to various organizations.

Most test providers will tell you that your sample results are stored in a secure database with your personal details separated from the sample. In other words, it would be difficult to identify the sample as yours.

The questions remains however whether your DNA results could find their way to a potential employer, health insurance and even law enforcement agencies. There was the recent famous case of FamilyTreeDNA who allowed the FBI to access their database. They did later apologize but this has alerted consumers to potential dangers. Other providers have also been criticized for sharing DNA with third parties. So, what should you be looking for?

First of all read carefully the company’s privacy policy and be very clear what happens to your sample and results post test. Check if you can opt out of any future research. Many test providers want to keep your results and sample so they can retest if more advances in science come available but again you need to know this up front. Do find out if your sample will be shared with third parties.


How Accurate Are Ancestry Tests?

There has been much press interest here when people take different tests and get different results.  As such this is difficult to answer so you are quite right to be skeptical around accuracy. This is because each test provider will use common genetic variations and will compare your DNA with their database. So, each test providers database which holds ancestry information markers on America, Asia, Europe and Africa will be different. So, it makes sense that the more people a company has on its database the more information they will be able to give you. This is why if you really want to look into your ancestry you may want to check the size of the database and even consider being tested by more than one provider.