My AncestryDNA experience… and results!
Big news, you guys. Are you ready for this?
OK, jokes aside. I recently took an AncestryDNA test after reading a mindblowing Washington Post story about a woman who had her entire life flipped upside down and her family history rewritten after she sent a vial of spit in for genetic testing.
I’m already a little bit of a hobby genealogist, so when I discovered the story it piqued a curiosity I already had. I started formulating question after question.
Could I possibly have a huge family secret? Do I have long-lost relatives that were switched at birth? Is there any possible way I have a a faint trail of lineage that can be traced back to somewhere really cool… like Africa or Asia or South America?! (A giant HAH! to the last question.)
Curiosity got the better of me, so I ordered my kit, spit profusely into a little plastic tube and shipped it away to the Ancestry headquarters for analysis.
I waited patiently (the kit told me it could take up to six weeks, but it actually took less than two!) and gleefully opened the email that contained my results when it arrived.
And… no surprises at all. I’m 100 percent European, with DNA from eastern Europe, Scandinavia, Great Britain, western Europe and Ireland.
It’s actually a little crazy how accurate parts of this test are. From what I’ve been told, my maternal grandmother Olga is 100 percent Ukrainian/ Russian. Her dad, a man named Stefan Stoianowski, immigrated to Michigan in the early 1900’s to farm — he’s the most recent immigrant my family knows of. My mom’s dad Don had a British surname, and (according to birth records I’ve found), a set of his grandparents were born in Ireland. So, that explains the Europe East and Ireland percentages scarily accurately, and probably accounts for (some of) my roots in Great Britain as well.
My last name — which comes from my dad — is staunchly German. So, I think it’s pretty safe to say that the “Europe West” part of my breakdown includes Germany, and I’ve been told I have Dutch blood as well, though I have yet to locate a Netherlands connection on my pedigree chart.
The fact that I’ve traced some ancestors back to the early 1700’s makes me wonder, also, if there’s a British line in my dad’s family as well… especially since Ancestry tagged my genetic community as possible settlers of Colonial New England. More on that later!
Anyway, the German last name is from my paternal grandfather’s side of the family. My paternal great-grandmother — June — was found on the front stairs of a church and adopted at birth… so we’ve never been able to fill out a pedigree chart for her lineage. My guess? That’s where my really high percentage of Scandinavian blood comes from, since it’s the only chunk of ethnicity I’m really unable to account for.
So… no surprise: I’m 100 percent white and my entire lineage can be traced back to Europe. It was pretty cool to learn, though, the region that my adopted great-grandmother likely hails from, and to know that everything I’ve been told — and researched — seems to check out. I also didn’t know I was as British as my results show, which was a pleasant surprise because I absolutely adore British culture. It’s also incredibly fascinating because (as we all know) the United States stems from the American Revolutionary War, so I’m really curious to know when and why my British ancestors decided to leave Great Britain for the colonies/ states, and whether they had any involvement in the historic events that created and shaped our country.
Anyway, onto the genetic community thing I mentioned earlier. We used to have an ongoing joke in my family. Growing up, I would ask where our family was from. My mom would say “Poland” (Grandma Olga spoke Polish) since that’s how she most strongly identified, and my dad would say “Pennsylvania.”
My paternal grandfather’s entire family is rooted in Pennsylvania. I’ve been trying to trace it back as far as I can on Ancestry, and I’ve traced certain lines of it back to the early 1700’s… so there’s probably a pretty good chance that I’m related to just about everyone in Pennsylvania. It’s a very good thing that I’ve never dated anyone from Pennsylvania.
As it turns out, my family’s Pennsylvanian roots were also explored as part of the AncestryDNA test with a feature called “Genetic Communities.” Essentially, Ancestry is working to compare the DNA of all test-takers against each other to find out when and where your relatives settled across the planet. So far, there are more than 300 (!!!) different communities that can be browsed across the Ancestry site. My test revealed that there’s a chance I can trace my genetics back to two different communities: The “Settlers of New England and the Eastern Great Lakes” community (60 percent chance), and the “Settlers of Colonial New England” community (20 percent chance).
I didn’t know that the Genetic Community feature existed, so it was a cool addition to finding out how white (very white) I am.
The Genetic Community tool works kind of like a timeline. Once Ancestry has taken the above steps to figure out where your genetic profile likely fits in, it takes you through an animated slideshow of sorts detailing how and when your potential ancestors made their moves across the globe. If you’ve filled out your pedigree chart, it also includes that information. It’s a little hard to explain, but it’s really cool. Supposedly, the Genetic Communities will increase in accuracy as more individuals submit DNA tests to Ancestry, so I’m hoping some of the ambiguity will clear up a bit down the road.
And, finally, in addition to genetic ancestry and Genetic Communities, AncestryDNA will connect you with any and all biological relatives in the system. I have about 230 fourth cousins or closer in the system, but — unsurprisingly — no secret relatives anywhere that I don’t know about.
Once I got my results back, a lot of people asked me whether I thought it was worth the $70 test cost. I still say yes. It was cool to get some confirmation that all the work I’ve been putting into my genealogy research over the last few years is on the right track, and it was cool to fill in the gaps that were left by my great-grandmother’s adoption. Plus, you never know if I have a long-lost family member somewhere that will end up benefitting from my information that’s now in the Ancestry system.
My AncestryDNA test was also an amazing reminder of what makes America great: Its ethnic and cultural diversity, so much of which comes from immigrants — like my ancestors.
Have you taken a DNA test? What was your experience like? Let me know in the comments!