A look at my genes, Part 2

I haven’t done one of these in a couple of weeks, and I’ve been meaning to write a little about my latest round of genetic testing, so, why not?

Mama Kat’s third prompt for this week is this:

Tell us about something new you learned last month.

You might remember at the end of September that I talked about the genetic testing from Ancestry.com that Mary and I participated in, and how I really didn’t learn anything new. I’ve been told all my life that I was Irish, although my last name is Welsh and you’re more likely to see the name in England rather than Ireland, and that testing simply confirmed it: according to my DNA, I’m 93% Irish, 6% English, and less than 1% Polynesian. Mary learned that she’s 95% Eastern European (it didn’t tell her whether that was Polish or Lithuanian), with the remaining 5% a mix of Finnish and northwestern Russian.

That was fine as far as it went, but we were expecting more than that. We decided that we would continue the genetic testing using the site 23andMe.com, the site used by the PBS program Finding Your Roots With Henry Louis Gates. So we sent away for their kits early last month, and mailed in our spit. And, late last week, we both received our results.

23andMe handles the whole ancestry thing a little differently from the way Ancestry does. With 23andMe, they assign ancestry using three confidence levels, speculative (51% certain), standard (75% certain), and conservative (90% certain).

  • Using the speculative criteria, I’m 97.3% British and Irish (they didn’t break it down any further than that), 2.9% broadly Northern European, and 0.1% broadly European.
  • Using the standard criteria, I’m 81.7% British and Irish, 15% broadly Northern European, and 3.3% broadly European.
  • Using the conservative criteria, I’m 46.1% British and Irish, 37% broadly Northern European, 16.2% broadly European, and 0.8% “unassigned” (presumably Polynesian).

But 23andMe doesn’t stop there. Since all DNA is half from Mom and half from Dad, they “unzip” the two strands of nucleotides and give you a breakdown of your mother’s and father’s side. (How they figure out which is which, I have no idea; maybe the strand that holds Dad’s DNA is blue and Mom’s is pink.)

  • My father’s DNA belongs to the haplogroup R1b1b2a1a2f*, a subgroup of R1b1b2. According to the site, “R1b1b2 is the most common haplogroup in western Europe, where its branches are clustered in various national populations. R1b1b2a1a2b is characteristic of the Basque, while R1b1b2a1a2f2 reaches its peak in Ireland and R1b1b2a1a1 is most commonly found on the fringes of the North Sea.” The history of the haplogroup informs me that we are descended from an Irish king, Niall of the Nine Hostages (!).
  • Mom’s DNA is in the H3g haplogroup. “Haplogroup H, the parent of H3, originated in the Near East and then expanded throughout Europe toward the end of the Ice Age. H3 likely branched off the rest of H in Iberia and expanded across most of western Europe after the glaciers receded. Today, H3 is distributed across much of Europe and is rare elsewhere.” They also tell me that Jimmy Buffet is a distant relative of my mother’s.
  • I’m also 2.9% Neanderthal, putting me in the 85th percentile amongst European members of the site. And, evidently, based on their members, my DNA is similar to members of the site from the UK, Ireland, Finland, Norway, and Colombia (!).

To quote Mr. Spock, “Fascinating!” Kind of like drinking from a fire hose.

I’ve been in contact with a nice gentleman from Ireland who’s been comparing my DNA with his own and that of his sisters. I have no idea what I’m looking at, which means I have a lot to learn about genetics and about my own ancestry, but evidently I have some distant cousins. 903, to be exact, among those on the site. On the one hand, it’s a little intimidating. On the other, it’s really cool.

If you’ve ever wondered whether you have any relatives you might not know, or been curious about your actual ethnic heritage, it’s worth the time and the money to find out. You might really be surprised by what you learn.

Have you ever had your DNA analyzed? Any surprises? What did you think of your results?

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Author: John Holton

I'm a writer and blogger who writes and blogs about things that interest me.

11 thoughts on “A look at my genes, Part 2”

  1. I’ve never had the testing done but it’s certainly interesting to know how much they can find out. We “know” a certain number of close family members but we’re all so much more connected than we realize.

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  2. This is fascinating!! I dove into Ancestry.com a little last year, but I’d be super curious to learn more! Is it expensive to do?

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    1. The going rate, wherever you have it done, is $99. Ancestry ran a special ($20 off) a couple of months ago, but I didn’t feel like their analysis was as complete as 23andMe. The users at 23andMe are more active, too; no one has contacted me through Ancestry, but I’ve had a number of people contact me through 23andMe, and they are asking questions that indicate they know what they’re talking about. It’s definitely worth the money, particularly if you are intersted in taking a deep dive into your family tree.

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  3. That is really interesting! I’d love to do this, and it would also be pretty cool to give this sort of analysis as a gift to someone — provided you can get their spit unobtrusively. 😉

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