Discovering your lineage through DNA services

Updated: Feb. 27, 2019 at 5:32 PM CST
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CAPE GIRARDEAU, MO (KFVS) - Tracking family history back many generations is no easy thing to do. However, 23andMe and Ancestry are two services that try to give you an idea of where your family may have come from.

How box testing boxes look when delivered.
How box testing boxes look when delivered.(Rob Foote | KFVS)

After ordering a testing box from either service you will see several important pieces, all of which are clearly displayed with picture directions.

The directions to submit the DNA sample, clearly displayed on the 23andMe box
The directions to submit the DNA sample, clearly displayed on the 23andMe box(Rob Footee)

Among the items you will find a form reminding you to write down the bar code on the side of the sample vial. This is important, so that you may register your sample with the service. Do not forget this step!

Next, you will see a vial to collect saliva. Pay special attention to the directions to ensure a proper sample.

After following the remainder of the directions, seal the sample in the box and ship it off.

We sent off both boxes on December 20, 2018. 23andMe got the box on December 24, 2018, AncestryDNA on December 26, 2018.

23andMe first notified us that the results were ready on January 6, 2019, with Ancestry’s on January 19, 2019. That is a difference of 11 days.

The results were fairly different. For example, 23andMe says I am 35.6 percent German, AncestryDNA says I am 13 percent German. There are several difference between the two, and it can be a little confusing.

Dr. Karen Hales, Ph.D. with SIU School of Medicine, said everyone shares roughly 99 percent of DNA. However, there are variants, or markers, called snips.

“You can analyze many people’s DNA’s and look for all of these different snips in their DNA, and you can use that to determine how related people are," Dr. Hales said. “Because if they have many snips that are in common, then they are probably more closely related to people who have fewer.”

Dr. Hales said these DNA companies take that information and compare it to a database. The database is comprised of DNA from people who have several generations of their family who have lived in the same area. This is something Dr. Hales says is not an exact science.

“People move around a lot, and so there’s no real, there’s no like Spanish person or Spanish genome, or English genome or that sort of thing," Dr. Hales said. “So, they’re looking for trends that are probably strong in this region, versus other regions. And so that’s why they can say you kind of share some identity to this part of the world and you might have had some people who came from this other part of the world.”

Dr. Hales said she is not surprised by differences between the two results

”I just think that they’re separate. Two different companies. Their databases are different, their algorithms are different. They’re going to come up with interpretations of what those snips really mean," Dr. Hales said.

And, if you are hoping these tests will tell you if you’re related to a famous person in history? Dr. Hales said it does not quite work that way.

“You’d really have to actually have that persons DNA to be able to do that,” Dr. Hales said.

We reached out to each company to see what they do with your DNA if law enforcement asks them for it.

“Ancestry does not support 3rd party DNA data uploads and does not voluntarily cooperate with law enforcement. Any attempt by law enforcement to access our data base with a third-party sample would be a violation of our company’s terms and conditions. Ancestry will only turn over DNA data when compelled by court. We will always advocate for our customers’ privacy and seek to narrow the scope of any compelled disclosure. In addition to our Privacy Statement, Ancestry has committed to abide by the Future of Privacy Forum’s Best Practices for Consumer Genetic Testing Services, which sets out a frame work for protecting the privacy of genetic information, including from law enforcement.”

“23andMe’s policies prohibit the company from voluntarily working with law enforcement. 23andMe has never given customer information to law enforcement officials, and we do not share information with employers or insurance companies. We do not share customer data with any public databases, or with entities that may increase the risk of law enforcement access. Furthermore, we publish information on the law enforcement inquiries we receive in our Transparency Report, which we update regularly and make available online for anyone to read:”

Each of these tests cost about $100 each. You just have to decide if it’s worth the time and money.

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