After spending the last few years backpacking around the world & integrating to new cultures, I had become more curious about my personal background as I have gotten older. I had been tracing my gamily line for the last few years, but I did not get genetically tested for ancestry lineage until recently.
I chose to get tested through 23andMe, an ancestry genetic testing company, in February 2017. It was difficult for me to find many resources or detailed reviews on this type of genetic testing kit so I wanted to share my experiences along with some unusual results.
A Little About Me
I appear to be an average non-Kosher Ashkenazic from Chicago. I have been tracing my genealogy for the past three years. Both sides of my family have recent immigration patterns to the USA so my family has been easier to trace than others since I have not had to deal with crude Ellis Island records, it was not difficult to trace most of my family lines back to the mid-1700’s.
My father’s family is from Southern Germany with recent immigration in the United Kingdom from Nazi persecution, my entire paternal lineage is Jewish & we practiced Ashkenazi rituals for as many generations as I know, though I found some unconfirmed paper trails that a few members may have been Sephardic.
My mother’s family is from Northeastern Germany on the Polish border, one maternal grandparent is Ashkenazic Jewish & the other is Germanic descent. My mum’s lineage has been the most difficult to trace, but it appears they have immigration patterns from Poland & further Eastern Europe.
Choosing a Genetic Testing Kit
There are a few different reasons I chose the 23andMe kit over others.
I have friends that had done 23andMe kits previously so I was familiar with the process. The 23andMe site is the most user-friendly of all the genetic testing sites I researched, the interface is sleek & simple. While aesthetic appeal is not the most important factor for DNA kits, it does make finding your results & accessing your genetic profile easier.
Also, it is important to remember that not all genetic testing companies are created equal. Each company has a limited DNA database where they compare your extracted genetic material against, which may interfere with the ancestry results provided by the company. 23andMe has been critiqued for not having enough East Asian & African samples in their database.
However, 23andMe has one of the largest databases for Ashkenazi Jews of genetic testing companies, which is the main reason I chose this kit. You do not have to have extensive knowledge of your family background, but you might be better off choosing a different company if one of your parents is Korean as an example.
I ordered my 23andMe kit during an extended family visit in Chicago, I ordered mine through Amazon Prime & I received the kit in two business days.
The reason I waited to do a genetic testing kit in the USA is it is significantly easier to have the testing done there than most European countries. This type of genetic testing is still banned in many countries, it was illegal to ship & receive this kit in early February 2017 for my current residency of France. If you are interested in ordering a 23andMe kit, make sure to check if your country allows it.
The test is very simple to do & the kit comes with very simple directions. The test tube is a plastic vile with a black line indicating the amount of saliva you need to spit into the tube. Sounds attractive, right? It is even more attractive when I was doing it on the CTA blue line on my way to the O’Hare airport, but I doubt that is the strangest thing to ever happen on that line.
The instructions indicate not to put anything into your mouth within a half hour of executing the test. This includes no eating, drinking or brushing your teeth. This is not a major hindrance, but it was not an easy task to spit so much into the tube with a dry mouth. I got the job done, but do not be surprised if it is slightly uncomfortable.
Once you close the the tube containing your genetic material, place it back into the box you received it in. The kit comes with a return mailing label so this will be sent directly to the lab once you drop it off at the post.
I ordered my kit on February 9th through Amazon & I received the package on February 11th. Before you mail your kit back to the labs for genetic testing, you have to register your kit online. The registration is a basic procedure, it just verifies the serial number on the test tube is associated with your name so you will not receive someone else’s results. This registration will set up your 23andMe account where you genetic results will be uploaded, you can check the testing progress on your kit on this account as well.
I registered my kit on February 12th & I placed it in the mail on the same day. 23andMe notified me on February 18th that my sample was received by their lab. The results on my genetic testing were uploaded to my account on March 29th, it took total of 21 days to process my DNA sample before I received my results.
My Initial Results
23andMe will notify the customer via email when the results are ready to be viewed. The results are categorized under Reports, there are three main reports generated based upon your genetic analysis: Neanderthal, Haplogroup & Ancestry.
I will expand on each report & my results below, but the picture immediately below displays a basic summary of all three of my reports.
While I enjoy reading about the sciences, I will not pretend I am a scientist or studied the subject extensively. Keep this in mind during my brief & non-inclusive summary of neanderthals: They was a species of archaic humans that were broader & stronger than modern humans we know today, neanderthals are thought to have become extinct at the beginning to the Ice age [~40,000 years ago] through absorption by inter-breeding with humans & may have become extinct due to the large amount of nutrients their bodies required during a time of food scarcity.
Neanderthals descended from isolated areas in Northern Europe, most notably is Neanderthal Valley in Germany. My 23andMe Neanderthal results make sense because I am German so it is unsurprising I would have higher than average Neanderthal DNA. I do not have any common Neanderthal physical traits like large eyes, straight or light hair because I have other dominant traits that play a bigger role in my physical appearance.
While this 23andMe result is interesting, it does not provide extensive background information on Neanderthals & does not provide any genealogy or ancestry background. If you are interested in archaic DNA then you may be enthusiastic about this report, but it was irrelevant to me.
This result provides you with information about your ancestor’s archaic origin. People from certain parts of the world share a common ancestral line, which can be identified through genetic testing. When taking this test, men will receive more information than women. The very basic genetic explanation is women have double X chromosomes so genetics tests will only be able to identify the matriline, while the Y chromosome in male DNA will provide a more refined genetic narrative of both patrilineal & matrilineal ancestry.
I was born female so I only have my maternal haplogroup, which is known as V. People with this haplogrouping tend to be from far northern Europe, commonly Scandinavian. While this is not out of the realm of possibility for my ancestry, it does seem odd & this is part of the reason I began wondering if there was an issue with my testing. My family is largely Jewish, descending from Eastern Europe & Middle East.
This is the most extensive 23andMe result of all three reports. It will provide you with both generic & country-specific overviews of your descendant ancestry. You can alter the confidence level 23andMe has at interpreting your genetic test for more precise results.
The confidence level is one of the more complicated aspects of understanding genetic results. Your raw genetic results or DNA extracted from your genetic material is always accurate, barring any lab contamination. However, the ancestry results provided by 23andMe are based upon a computer algorithm, which technology will always be imperfect. If the algorithm does not know how to interpret DNA or 23andMe does not have DNA similar to your DNA in their databases, then it will assign your DNA to the closest result they have in their databases. One of the most common assignment errors with the 23andMe ancestry algorithm is it assigns German & Dutch DNA to British / Irish.
It is not surprising that I am nearly 100% European, but my regional results were confusing for an Eastern European Jew to say the least: 44% British / Irish, 39% Scandinavian / Northwestern European, 11% French / German, 2% Eastern European & 1% Ashkenazic.
I will disclaim I never anticipated to be 100% Ashkenazi or even Jewish, but these results did not seem right. I have a Norwegian friend that did the 23andMe kit as well so I compared our results since I had such high Northwestern European results, we had nearly identical results. I figured there had to be some sort of issue either with cross-contamination in the lab or algorithm flaw.
One of my favorite features of 23andMe is you can evaluate how confident their software is at interpreting your genetic results.
This is where I began to identify 23andMe likely had an algorithm flaw instead of contamination issues with my kit. The images below represent the 23andMe software confidence level at interpreting my DNA at low, middle & high levels. While there will always be slight percentage variation in your results as you increase the confidence level, the percentages should not increase or decrease greatly. However, this is where my result anomaly begins:
Low Confidence: 44% British, 39% Scandinavian / Broadly NW European, 11% German & 2% Broadly European
Mid Confidence: 56% Broadly NW European Only, 26% British, 13% Broadly European & 1% German
High Confidence: 51% Broadly European, 42% Broadly NW European Only, 7% British & 0% German
I obviously had some follow up questions for 23andMe after this. The next part in the series will include some lackluster 23andMe customer service, independent genetic research through geneticist professors, and other academic resources & a few insights to my ancestry results blunder.