Throughout my life, l have been asked about my green/blue eyes and where my parents are from and questions such as are you German, Italian, Jewish, etc. These questions have never had an impact on me in any serious aspects until most recently when l was having a family discussion with my children and they started to asking me questions which l had no answers for, so l went on a mission to find out more and here is what l found.
The first thing that l did was try to chronologically put together my own thoughts and knowledge that l had regarding my family by asking relatives and close friends of my father and mother. This only took me so far and this process had me thirsting for more and how l would be able to get it, about where l came from and who were my ancestors.
I checked out genetic ancestry testing whereby genetic data is used to estimate the geographic origins of a person’s recent ancestors. A recent estimate indicates that more than 26 million people worldwide have undergone genetic ancestry testing by direct-to-consumer companies. These tests provide information about an individual’s ancestral roots, and they can help to connect people with their relatives, sometimes as distantly related as fourth or fifth cousins. Such information can be particularly useful when a person does not know their genealogical ancestry, as an example that many adoptees and the descendants of forced migrants. Increasingly and not without controversy, genetic ancestry testing is being used beyond its original purpose, for example, to help identify or exclude criminal suspects. In the clinical setting, persons may share their ancestry test results with their clinician with the expectation that the results will inform health care decisions.
Genetic ancestry testing involves the comparison of a large number of DNA variants measured in an individual with frequencies of these variants in reference populations sampled from across the world. The geographic region in which an individual variant has its highest frequency is assumed to be the most likely location of an ancestor who transmitted the variant to the person being tested. Ancestry testing is traditionally done for mitochondrial DNA transmitted only by females and reflecting the origin of one maternal ancestor and for Y chromosome DNA transmitted only from father to son and reflecting the origin of one paternal ancestor.
On a more comprehensive assessment of ancestry can be conducted by assaying a half million or more autosomal variants single nucleotide and other genes that give you some trail as to where you may stand on the food chain. Most commonly, these genes are assayed using a DNA microarray, but DNA sequence data can also be used. For autosomal testing, it is common to portray the most likely geographic origin of a group of SNV’s located within a chromosome segment. By counting the percentage of SNV’s originating from each geographic region, the percentage of an individual’s ancestry derived from each region can be estimated.
Knowledge of a person’s ancestry can be important because of genetic risk variants sometimes vary with ancestry, although most such risk variants are not assayed directly by ancestry tests.
However, some ancestry testing companies provide health reports in which they directly test a limited number of DNA variants associated with conditions such as breast cancer and Alzheimer disease or less common genetic conditions such as cystic fibrosis, polycystic kidney disease, and various inborn errors of metabolism and much more.
On a more personal front, l purchased one of these tests to get some background on my own personal history…. but l have to say that for some reason, even though l wanted more information about my family history, l had some hesitation with going through this process.
Why, l really can’t say…but l went through with it. You buy this kit on amazon and its quite simple, where you put some saliva and fill out some paperwork and sent it in and a summary of results get sent back to you. However, the one common theme that l kept hearing from folks that had done it, was that there was no surprise of their results.
Well, about six weeks after my submission, l got my family history and l was pleasantly surprised with my personal results. I received some background information that totally blew me away….my heritage was split down the middle with heritage that was not on my radar.
I mAy, I have the answer to my green/blue eyes with the Baltics influencing my heritage with a mix of Germany and South Africa. Italian had just under 50%, but the other percentage was an eye-opener and left me asking myself even more questions about my family lineage.
When it was all said and done…. l had more questions than answers, with this process opening up a whole pandora’s box of questions with no answers. My instincts were correct with this one where less is better, and in the end, if l had to do it over, l would not.
Some things are best left to our imagination…