Digital DNA

Who Do You Think You Are?  

Everyone has seen the commercials, and over the years you’ve heard my soft sell (yes, soft cell triple entendre intended) trying to convince you to participate in genetics testing.  Some are hesitant, possibly assuming that the process is overly complicated, time consuming, or just too expensive.  It seems that there are just as many interested to discover more about their heritage, as there are those that are curious if it’s as rewarding as the adverts portray.

You Know You Wanna…  

Some scientists have consider these dna tests to be Vanity Genetics or Recreational Genomics as there are areas that be can misconstrued based on the company’s algorithms.  Ancestry’s forums state the reliability can only be accurate up to a few hundred years, but 23andMe provides additional features that offer a broader scope of your prehistoric genetic markers.

Over a decade ago, Ancestry initially offered free dna testing as a mode to cultivate the foundation of a culturally diverse database.  This open beta period included a considerable caveat, that of which participants would agree to waive most of their data rights.

Likewise, 23andMe has also modified their services over the years as well.  Originally, the price point was much higher to reflect the amounts of medical reports included.  The medical portion had been both reduced and then recently added to again, this time without an inflation of cost.

Considering that there are dozens of new agencies competing with Ancestry and 23andMe, they continue to be the most recognized.  Although, the National Geographic Genographic Project is a strong contender, and offers similar prehistoric results spanning 200,000 years similar to data that 23andMe also provides.  With all these companies vying for your contribution, the main consideration is that the more popular the service, the more diversity in their database.  A wider influx of the populous prompts the  fine tuning of overlapping regions, and reduces percentages of low confidence regions.

I often receive alerts that there has been more features added that enrich the platform, or a notification that there are slight adjustments to the percentiles.  I believe the results will continue to shift towards a higher confidence rate overtime with advances in new metrics.  So, don’t get your results inked onto your body.  *smirks

But, Are You Ready?  

Perhaps you’ve seen the tv shows;’s “Who Do You Think You are“, “Genealogy Roadshow” & “Finding Your Roots” all from PBS, or NatGeo’s “The Human Family Tree“.  Maybe you have seen the dna segments on The Real, or you have watched George Lopez reveal dna results to his celebrity guests on his late night show.  If you’re still on the fence, I hope that watching any of those shows will prompt you to drop a kit in your cart.

Whenever I make a suggestion to purchase a kit, I also encourage a youtube search with the term “DNA results“.  You’ll gain a fair assessment from unbiased consumers, unlike the commercials that have been filtered through an editing.  There is a full range of videos from those that are confounded, to those that are ecstatic.  Some videos compare data from two or more companies, I suggest noting the upload date as some features may have been expanded upon since originally posted.  You’ll also find videos from adopted participants that have created videos documenting their journey of reuniting with family members.  Some participant’s videos share that their results have revealed that their fathers are not their biological fathers, this often prompts a follow up video of discovering and connecting to newly found familial matches.  The viral trend has also been trickling in on social media sites, where extended families are producing follow up videos whenever a new relative receives their results.  Even the virality phenomenon of TwinStrangers are getting into the dna trend.

Although, it’s expected that those taking a hereditary test would be pleasantly surprised to learn about their ancestral journey, the video comment section often contain contested threads.  Most of the conflict arises from critics that haven’t participated in the process themselves.  Overall, participants are pleased that they had an opportunity to discover their ancestral heritage.

Conversely, you will discover videos that to the participant’s dismay has produced unexpected results.  There can be a multitude of reasons why there is a sense of disappointment.  One’s dismay could be over the discovery of the absence of an anticipated nationality, or as alarming as discovering a higher disposition to a medical risk.

If you do opt in to share your results through AncestryDNA, there is a preassembled list that connects you to all of your dna relatives.  Whereas, 23andMe offers an invitational white-list system, that both parties must agree to share.  Keep in mind, this index will only consists of dna relatives that have 1. taken the test and 2. opted to share their results as well.  This does not include family members related through marriage, as there are no blood relations.  Therefore, your dna tree will appear vastly different than your conception of which members are in your family.  Your genetic tree will also include an enormous amount of strangers that are related to you through a shared ancestor’s dna.  There will be unexpected relative matches, and there could be relatives not aligned in designated roles as expected.

You should be aware that there is an aberrant issue regarding Ancestry’s structuring of a family tree.  Although uniquely rare, full siblings can be designated to a cousin position.  This is a known complaint and should be modified or explained in more detail.  The reasoning behind these circumstances are inadequately addressed in their faq.  Also, Ancestry displays half-siblings as cousins.  This may be surprisingly difficult to reconcile for some, but the analytics of the composition dictates the alignment of the structure.  You can however rectify this role restructuring on the Family Tree section, but the change will not be reflected in the DNA Match section.

Most of you know that I am an only child, so I can not give a personal account of participating along with a sibling.  However, in the most simplistic terms, think of each parent as having 100 jellybeans.  You and your sibling each obtain 50 jellybeans from each parent.  You will share similar characteristics but you will not have identical traits, this is expressed in a slight offset of percentages in your composition.  For this reason, you and your sibling will share a greater resemblance of components than you do amongst your parents.  Unless your sibling only shares one parent with you, which will then increase the variance accordingly.

Controversially, a small ratio of participants do vehemently reject the concept that one’s dna composition consists of more elements than a sum of physical characteristics, modern surnames, or current cultural identity.  The repudiation that distant ancestor’s migration led to the contribution to a family’s current social identity, creates a sense of cultural dissonance.

Moreover, a larger consensus of rejection is a result of social injustices, slavery, annexation, colonization, deportation, diaspora, exile and irredentism.  The cynicism can be explained in that the participant does not feel affiliated to a specific demographic in their tree.  Despite the rejection, the results may still be considered favorable as there is a profound sense of connection to the defined portion of demographics that one had inherently felt related to is proven to be fortified.

Another rejection concern, is that a nationality contradicts the origins of what has been relayed throughout family narration.  There could also be a sense of confusion that the most recent migration known to the family has a smaller percentile than assumed.  It is fair to say that the results surpasses the longevity of a family’s oral history, and this contributes to surprising conclusions.  Family accounts can be faulty to say the least, and at times intentionally misleading.

It’s not my position to refute nor validate these reactions, but instead I feel it’s important to mention that these paradigms have caused considerable conflict to participants and their family members.  Some of which may impact your choice to participate in the process, or may be factors that influence your opinion of how you accept your own results.

Personally, I feel that individuals have a right to receive and accept their results in a manner to which they choose, without concern of scrutiny from others interpretations or judgments. 

I believe that if the participant is aware that the source of the results consist of more than just the sum of one; themselves, then it lends a comprehensive understanding.  The reality is, that the extraction of just one directly related ancestor would not produce the participant as an end result.  This is not an inventory of who a person thinks they are independent of their ancestry, but an accumulation of all one’s bloodline.  In actuality, the results do not answer “Who am I?” but instead reveals “Who are we” which encompasses the whole.  The collection of data is what you amassed from your ancestors being presented on just one page on a website.  It does not negate the closeness of a family, no matter how your family is structured, or how your family chooses to identify itself.  This is your family’s odyssey, how you choose to bond with your past is your choice.

If there is some confusion that a specific ethnicity is missing from your results, having dna kits processed from both parents will yield a greater understanding of your composition.  Under most circumstances, your parents might be associated with a particular ethnic group that was not passed onto you.  This was evident in my own results, which did not display all the groups that my parents possess.  You do not receive exactly ½% of each ethnic group that one parent possesses.  Back to the jellybean analogy, your mother might have red jellybeans that were not pass along to you.

Having one or both parents contribute to the project allows you to extrapolate your genetics using combinatorics methods from both sides of your family lineages, giving you a broader comprehension of your geometric sequence.  If a parent is not available to take the test, any relative in your bloodline will also offer some findings.  Furthermore, when receiving your results from Ancestry, you will immediately see relatives in designated roles.  For instance, when my Mother’s results were processed, my page updated with an alert that a new relative was “either my mother or my daughter” which was a little comical.  But, that is how fast relatives are placed within the dna tree, along with thousand of other distant relatives.  23andMe does also offer the same mapping feature, but both parties must mutually opt-in to share match connections.

The dna evidence does not measure the accumulation of significant attributes such as cultural affinity and familial identity, nor does it discredit those factors.   The results are ethnically specific and not limited to one’s self-identity.  True, there are some homogeneous populations that have a strong ancestral homestead, but on average most will fall into a broadly mixed heritage.  Over the millenniums, our human nature has led us to migrate, which is why as a whole we do not consist of a static monocultural  population.  The landscape of our migration has been in constant motion, and in no time in history have we had access to such technologies in rapid transportation as we do now.  In like manner, the first usage of a train for migration was 200 years ago, this period could span perhaps 10 generations.  And more recent, the first transatlantic flight was 100 years ago, which may equate to a mere 5 or so generations.  Now consider how much more you can discover about your family’s migration prior to the impact of modern transportation.

23andMe & AncestryDNA  

So what are the differences, and which company provides the services that suits your needs.  Of the four companies, three offer 2-tiers of results.

Ancestry DNA – $99 Ancestry only (or at times as low as $49) 
Ancestry dna offers ethnic ancestry with an overview of a recent migration route, and when sharing is enabled there is dna family matching.  Ancestry also has the original family tree database plan, which for a monthly fee grants you access to official archives.  The document archives service is independent of their dna plan, but can also be used in conjunction of a dna account.  With Ancestry, many are surprised to discover that their family tree is already in the process of being assembled.  Family trees are open sourced, which in essence means that others can append documents or relatives to a lineage.

Those that prefer to reconnect with distant relatives tend to favor Ancestry, due to the abundance of active community members.  Remember, the more popular the service the more likely there will be members related to you.

23andMe – $99 (or as low as $49 per kit when ordering 2)
Ancestry plan & $199 Ancestry with Health 
There are two distinct plans, one which provides maternal and paternal haplogroups, percentage of Neanderthal ancestry, plus the option to share familial matches.  The deluxe plan offers an abundant list of genetic health risk reports, carrier status reports, wellness reports, and physical traits reports.

Those that prefer 23andMe are intrigued by the ancestral migratory trail, personalized medical detail, and physical trait research.  Male participants do obtain more information due to their XY chromosomes.  Often those that purchase a 23andMe kit do so after first purchasing an Ancestry kit.  I would also suggest viewing this video about the processing of data through LabCorp.

Both companies continuously calibrate the percentages, as well as offer new features, for no additional surcharge.

National Geographic – $99 (as low as $49)
Information coming soon… – $249 (as low as $50 for result positive first-degree relatives)
Information coming soon…

Order – Register – Privacy – Processing  

Each company does offer some type of discount, whether it’s a free shipping offer or up to a 40% off sale.  If cost is an issue, I would suggest waiting for a sale to purchase a kit, sometimes these companies will offer a discount if more than one kit is being purchased.  Cyber Monday, which falls after Black Friday is a great time to pick up a kit.  It makes for a perfect gift for those that are hard to buy for, or a family you want to honor.  Be mindful that some people may have reservations about exploring their family tree, it is best to be respectful and ask prior to offering a kit as a gift.  A kit will usually arrive within 3-5 business days, but processing of results during holiday seasons may encounter delays.

When the box arrives, there will be a barcode on the tube.  I suggest taking a photo of your assigned ident code with your phone to ensure you have a backup record.  Register your ident number prior to returning the box.

Both 23andMe and Ancestry do offer the option of displaying your ancestry results with those related to your dna, as well as allowing you to opt out of this feature.  You may also share a condensed summary of your percentages via an email weblink to non-members.

Opting in to share your results with others, may also grant 3rd parties access to your raw data, primarily towards research purposes you might not have otherwise consented to for contribution.  It’s been said that the blind studies exploit customer’s rights with vague terms of service agreements.  Over the years, most of these agencies have been exposed due to a lack of full disclosure.

Not many are aware that 23andMe’s was founded by Anne Wojcicki, and was financially backed by Google co-founder Sergey Brin, her now ex-husband.  Google’s Calico/Alphabet Inc. has also been linked to AncestryDNA as well.

While on the privacy issue, I realize that some do not feel comfortable with providing a company their dna.  In a way, keeping our dna out of databases can be our last bastion of privacy in a technological age where privacy is often infringed upon.  Recent news of a notorious criminal being identified through familial dna has prompted privacy concerns.  Specifically, if insurance companies or government agencies employ measures to exploit the results.  This does open a gray area regarding the ramifications of self-indictment and red-line exclusions.  Then again, your data is already at risk of acquisition through existing records from medical procedures.  Contracts online are subjected to laws based upon the participants place of residence, but are often complicated.  Terms of Service often lack the same stringency of standards due to the volatile nature of technology.  The worldwide web, is more like the wild wild west when it comes to online safety.  Dystopian fears aside, the protection of raw data and its storage is a valid concern.

If you so choose to extract a backup of your raw data from Ancestry & 23andMe servers you can store it onto your computer.  Some users harvest their raw data from a paid site and then later decide to upload it to a free site.  There are a number of free open source generators which hash detailed reports for distinct populations.  Most sites will offer you the ability to anonymously participate, but there may not be any safeguards to protect you (and inadvertently, your relatives) from unethical and discriminatory ramifications.  Please be aware that once you share your raw data with the general public, there is no way to opt out and prevent others from datamining it without your consent.  You can find more information about the selling of raw data here.

You will be provided a box to return your sample in, which you may track via your barcode.  The actual processing of dna can take anywhere from 3 weeks to 2 months, depending on how large of a batch they are processing.  When your results are ready, you will receive an email with a link that will direct you to log into your account.

My Bloodline  

I am of mixed ethnicities and cultures.  My Mother is an American, and my Father is Salvadoran.  I love both sides of my heritages equally, which is why I was so pleased to have the opportunity to partake in these genetic tests.  I felt that I was actually contributing the story of my family into the archive of modern civilization.  Even at a very young age, I understood the importance of being part of such a diverse heritage.  My world is immersed in cultures that are enriched by both international as well as domestic traditions.  I’m proud of my results, and I have my parents to thank. 

Having a multicultural perspective gave me an awareness of a mosaic world.  I consider myself lucky to have been born in the City of Angels, which also contributed to my exposure of a diverse society.  I value being exposed to such a great wealth of diversity throughout my life, and I have my family as well as my friends to thank.  My parents raised me to respect and appreciate cultures through their example.  My friends were children of my parents closest friends, some of which knew my Father before coming to the USA.  Our core circle of friends consists of those that recently immigrated, that are first generation Americans, or are descendants of other nationalities. 

I found my results to be pretty much as I expected, but there were a few small surprises.  Such as, discovering that my Mother’s results were 100% European.  My mother has family registered as Native American, but apparently they are not related through her bloodline.  And, although I knew that my Father had Iberian and African relatives, I was expecting Melanesian results as well.  Overall, I enjoyed discovering that my family has such a rich history.  It makes me curious to discover what new properties will be revealed as the analysis of genotype technology advances. 

There’s a sense of satisfaction in knowing that Walt was right, “It’s a small World after all”.

View My Results  

This is the current rendering of my results from all 4 companies as of 2019. The percentages have changed over the years. Some quantities have completely vanished, while other nondescript results such as “Low Confidence” or “Unassigned” regions have been reduced. Of course my dna itself hasn’t been altered to produce these changes, nor has the previous results been errors. Instead, the confidence levels of regions have been refined, and reassigned to new regions. These calibrations are generated by an abundance of new members contributing data. Improvements in technology also attributes to the accuracy of the analysis that define areas which were once considered broad regions.

You will notice a variance of the percentages between the two companies. I tend to think of this similar to the VHS vs. Beta format war. It really does come down to contribution and technology. Another factor is that both companies use different regional algorithms. Over time these discrepancies will dissipate, and will provide participants an in depth analysis of specific regions.

As of September 2018, AncestryDNA just made a major update which added 30 more regions. There is still a noticeable difference between the two companies, but it now appears that AncestryDNA results are starting to resemble (and now finally surpass) 23andMe percentages. Although, 23andMe does continue to have broadly less defined regions that should be assigned, their updates have not drastically removed regions as Ancestry has done to the shock of many participants.

The following two links will take you to my results:

  • AncestryDNA (Think more along the lines of Facebook)
  • 23andMe Extra Features (Similar to the Wiki)
  • NatGeo Helix Results – coming soon (Like Mapquest)
  • Results – coming soon (A bit like Youtube)

These pages includes a few screenshots and some rudimentary charts reconstructed in html.  This should provide a better understanding of what to expect and may assist you on determining which company would best suit your needs.