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Are My DNA Results Boring?

Back in June, I sent a vial of my spit off to in order to have my DNA tested. This is an autosomal DNA test that crosses both paternal and maternal lines. It's often called "the cousin finder" test. It also specifies one's ethnicity. In their promotions, the website showed colorful pie charts displaying various percentages of geographical lineage. Their video below would have seemed like something from a science fiction movie just a few short years ago:

I was pretty excited. I knew I'd have British ancestry, but a lot of people with British ancestry also have a certain percentage of Scandinavian ancestors as well because of all the raids from the North over the centuries. My grandmother always said there was Cherokee in our lineage although no one could point to any particular person who was Native American. My grandfather, John Mansfield, stated on his Social Security Application that he was of French and Indian descent. Was this true, or was he just blowing smoke? My great great grandmother Josie Kilzer certainly had a German-sounding last name.

As I said, I was really stoked to see the results of the test. I was hoping for great diversity in my lineage. I would have embraced any race or geographical region that appeared on my pie chart. I even hoped I'd get a few new holidays to celebrate.

Then a few days ago, I got my results:

Okay, seriously--are these not the most boring results you've ever seen? 97% British Isles? Where's my multicolored pie chart? Don't get me wrong--I'm not ashamed to be a descendent of British folks, but 97%? Not even a small Scandinavian pie piece to indicate that I'm also descended from Viking warlords? Evidently when the raiders were invading, my family members were hiding the women!

I've looked at a lot of these ethnicity charts, and I honestly can't recall seeing a percentage for one group this high. I'm probably more British than the royal family and more "white" than the average bowl of rice.

Tuesday night, I was sharing my surprise at these results with a couple of my students; and one young woman, an African American, asked me, "Weren't you hoping for at least one percentage African?"

"Yes!" I said. "I've always felt a little bit of soul deep down!"

I mean, here it is the 21st century. Shouldn't we all be individual melting pots at some level?

The only real question remaining, I suppose, relates to that unknown 3%. I have no strong evidence for anything, except a gut-level hunch that it's probably a direct line of descent from the Prometheus Engineers.

Your questions, thoughts, comments and rebuttals are welcome below.

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Reader Comments (1)

Everybody I know (EVERYBODY) claims to have a great-great grandmother who was Cherokee. Same in my own family. My Ancestry DNA results just came back: 95% British Isles, 5% undetermined.

I think the pervasive family stories about Cherokee blood were developed over time to help ease the collective national conscience over the genocide of the Native American peoples. But I also notice that it is invariably a great-great grandmother in every family who is the Native American -- never a male and never any closer than would yield 1/16th Indian blood. Any less than 1/16th seems to be too little to count for much; any more than 1/16th somehow seems to be too much Indian blood.

I would say that unless someone can name names with certainty, don't believe your family's stories about Cherokee blood (especially if they claim it was a nameless great-great grandmother).

September 19, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAlan

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