This post is a follow on from yesterday’s post Can you really pinpoint DNA Ancestry in Africa to one tribe? and an earlier post Using the right DNA testing tool to answer the right ancestry question.
I took my first DNA test to answer one basic question: who in the world am I genetically connected to? I knew the question I wanted to have answered. This, in turn, helped me research a mind-bewildering option of DNA testing facilities to find one that I felt could best deliver the right answer.
Researching DNA testing facilities and companies took me around 6 months. When it comes to spending money, I am exceedingly cautious. I can’t tell you how many online reviews I read through. That’s all kind of a blur now. I wanted a service that was respected in the DNA/genetics community, scientifically robust and would stand up to close scrutiny. This was partly for personal reasons – I wanted to know that the information I was paying for would be accurate. It was also for professional reasons. After all, I planned to turn this adventure into a television series. That second point was (and remains) an important consideration.
When I had a shortlist of 5 companies, I asked DNA specialists for their thoughts and opinions. In the end, the list was narrowed down to two companies. To be honest, there wasn’t that much difference between them in terms of price, service, reputation and perceived quality. And I’ll admit it, in the end, the final choice came down to me flipping a 50 pence coin. It came up heads…so that’s the company I chose.
I am in no way plugging here, but the winner was a company called Genebase. This isn’t an advertorial. I don’t get a commission. I’m citing it and providing examples to illustrate my understanding of my own DNA results specifically. As well as how I gained an understanding of human genetics, admixtures and the human journey out of Africa and around the globe in general.
Genebase, as I’ve said previously, was an excellent choice for me. It’s not suitable for everyone. It doesn’t offer handy little pie charts or percentage breakdown overviews. You have to work those out for yourself. But what it did give me was the science behind the results it provided, which was (and remains) invaluable to me.
So let’s have a gander at how this particular service works using my YDNA test results.
So here we have my YDNA test result broken down into segments.
Users can analyse each segment in turn. So let’s look at my Option 12. In this option, my results are going to be compared to data sets for 19 specific populations. Here are the 19 populations this segment is being compared to and the number of YDNA samples each population contains:
- US African American 253 samples
- US Hispanic 139 samples
- US Caucasian 242 samples
- Jordan, Middle East 221 samples
- Iran, Middle East 80 samples
- Egypt, Middle East 84 samples
- Smyrna, Greece 45 samples
- Abkhaz, Caucasus 51 samples
- Avar, Caucasus 114 samples
- Chechen – Chechnya, Caucasus 108 samples
- Chechen – Dagestan, Caucasus 98 samples
- Chechen – Ingushetia, Caucasus 108 samples
- Dargins, Caucasus 100 samples
- Kaitak, Caucasus 33 samples
- Kubachi, Caucasus 65 samples
- Lezghins, Caucasus 80 samples
- Ossets-Digor, Caucasus 125 samples
- Ossets-Iron, Caucasus 226 samples
- Shapsug, Caucasus 97 samples
Running my analysis, these are the results. With a possibility of 19 matches, I match 14 of the populations in the list. The degrees of the matches vary wildly:
The report also generates various appendices, which provide additional information. I still marvel that there is an appendix which shows the number of genetic matches for this segment within the data sets used. You can see these appendices below (this is a series of images, click on each on to see the larger image).
Last, but not least, are the peer-reviewed journal articles that analyze the various populations. These articles are scientific/academic…which is a polite way of saying very, very, very dry. Nonetheless, they have helped shape my understanding of DNA transference among various populations, the migration patters out of Africa and, in some cases, illustrate how seemingly unconnected tribes are actually offshoots of an “umbrella” tribe which reached a migration crossroads – with different groups within that tribe going off in different directions.
These were the accompanying papers for the results within this analysis. They’re freely available online, if you’d like to have a look:
US African American , US Hispanic & US Caucasian (the same paper covers all 3 populations): http://www.cstl.nist.gov/biotech/strbase/pub_pres/Schoske2004.pdf
Egypt, Jordan & Iran (the same paper covers all 3 populations):
Smyrna (Greece) results:
Ossets-Iron , Ossets-Digor, Lezghins, Abkhaz, Chechen – Ingushetia, Avar & Shapsug populations in the Caucasus region: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21571925
With all of the different segments with their own analysis reports and reading, for my YDNA and mtDNA tests…you can imagine the level of reading that I’ve done. Which, in turn, led me to other journals and papers.
What I have is a better understanding of some of the more ‘out of the blue’ results I’ve had in my YDNA and mtDNA tests. As I’ve mentioned previously, this kind of test, the test that I was quite clear about wanting, stretches back millennia. I have a good grounding on how certain populations came to be present in these two forms of DNA. And, in some cases, some fairly sound hypothesis on when certain admixtures became part of my DNA (this will more than a little help from geneticists).
I will be the first to raise my hand and state that gaining this level of insight and understanding into my YDA and mtDNA wasn’t cheap. I didn’t want a quick fix answer and blimey, I didn’t get one. Yet, I’m thankful for the experience. It’s given me a glimpse and an understanding into the most intrinsic part of who I am. I’ve loved sharing what I’ve uncovered and discovered with my family. And, at the end of the day, it sent me down a remarkable road of discovery.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll sign off saying it again with some pointers about DNA testing.
- Before taking a DNA test (either autosomal or YDNA/mtDNA) – be ruthlessly clear in your own mind about what question you want to have answered. This will determine the best type of DNA test for you .
- Do your research on DNA testing companies and facilities. Read every comment and review. Ask family and friends or Facebook family history/genealogy groups for their opinions.
- Read the fine print. Find out all of the limitations for each and every DNA testing company you research. What information, exactly, can they provide. Don’t be afraid to email a company and ask for confirmation of this in writing.
- Understand that DNA testing is still in its relative infancy. This is a nice way of saying manage your expectations. DNA is still a relatively unknown country. If you approach your results as being indicative/relative – and not absolute truths – you won’t go too far wrong. Always be skeptical about ‘big’ claims.
- Keep an open mind about what you will discover. If you’ve ever been whisked away on a surprise magical mystery jaunt – think of DNA testing like that. Just sit back, buckle up and enjoy the journey without thinking too much about what the final destination is. Just know it’s going to be good/interesting.