One of the most popular reasons people have their DNA tested is to determine their family’s ethnicity. You’ve probably seen television commercials of people making surprise discoveries after taking a DNA test. Most people connect their ethnicity to family folklore that has been passed down for generations. DNA testing provides proof of where your family originated from and often their migration pattern.
My father and his family celebrated their Irish heritage with great pride. As a kid, I remember holiday parties around the piano singing songs and celebrating every St. Patrick’s Day with other Irish families in town. My great-great grandparents on my father’s side were from County Kerry in Ireland, so I was not surprised when my DNA results revealed that I was 66% Irish. However; my mother’s side was a mix that we never really knew. We knew it included German, English and Dutch with rumors of French and Italian.
With 66% of my DNA being Irish, did I really inherit that much from my father? My mother had always identified herself as German being her dominant trait. We decided to test my mother’s DNA as well and although the rumored mix was true, to everyone’s surprise her dominate trait (38%) was Irish. She was thrilled to find out she is part of a heritage that our family still celebrates.
So, how does a DNA test determine your ethnicity? Testing companies compare your DNA to the DNA of thousands of people whose genealogies have proven are native to certain regions. For example, Ancestry.com creates a DNA reference panel made up of individuals representing 26 global regions. Your DNA is compared to the reference panel to calculate your estimate for each region, which is presented in a final analysis report, your DNA report.
What your DNA test reveals is the percentage of your DNA related to that region. The report may identify that X% of your DNA is related to Ireland, or Great Britain, or maybe Europe West. What it can’t do right now is pinpoint a more specific area. So, if you were hoping your DNA test would reveal that your family came from County Cork in Ireland, you’re out of luck.
Above are my DNA test results through Ancestry.com. As you can see, the major regions are highlighted on the map and the percentage of each trait is listed on the left. Ancestry.com allows you to also view the “trace regions” that show even your smallest traces of DNA. Below is the map including my trace regions.
This is where the relationship between DNA and genealogy connects. The benefit of working with a genealogist is that your DNA will be used to potentially connect with distant relatives that you never knew existed. Your genealogist will use your DNA results along with information from other sources to map your family history and trace your family to a more specific location. Once that’s accomplished, pack your bags because you will have some new vacation destinations. Tracing the steps of your ancestors, visiting the towns they lived in and their homes is a great way to connect to your roots.
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