Just how accurate are those home DNA tests?
In our family, much of our history has been passed down by word of mouth or it could be found on the pages of the family Bible. But what if our genes told a little different story?
I've always wondered about mail-in DNA kits, so when I saw one on sale over the holidays, I got one.
As soon as my Ancestry DNA kit arrived, I headed over to my parents' house. My question to them: What do you think we are?
"I've been told that your grandfather is Czechoslovakian and your grandmother, your maternal grandmother is French, Irish and Scotch," my mom Linda Jones said. As for my dad, Sam, "Welch, Scotch and English on my Mother's side and Native American and Outlaw on my dad's side."
Since I bought my dad the test for Christmas, I decided to go through the process with them so they'd know what to do with his kit.
First, I registered the kit online using the code provided on the collection tube. Next, I used the funnel provided to collect saliva in the tube.
Then finally, I remove the funnel, put the cap on the tube and shake before putting the tube in the collection bag and mailing the sample to Ancestry.
Not long after, I got an email telling me my results were in. We contacted the media team at Ancestry and they connected me with their DNA expert Anna Swayne.
The results showed my family was 43 percent Scandinavian, 15 percent Irish, Scottish and Welsh and so much more. It also showed 12 percent Iberian Peninsula, such as Spain and Portugal.
The results also show what are called the 'low Confidence Areas' for me, which includes the Caucasus.
Swayne explained how Ancestry's process works.
"We've taken your saliva sample and we've compared it to the 150 regions we have around the world," Swayne said. "And then there's this other portion that's a little more recent ancestry, and that's called those migrations."
'Migrations' help show you who moved where and when. According to Swayne, "You're able to see not only what your DNA is telling you, but the historical moments that are happening to your history. And then your own personal family tree, the people in your tree and their migrations through history as well. And so, it's really a comprehensive view into your past."
But just how accurate is all this information? I contacted Dr. Robert Allen at Oklahoma State University, the chairman ff The School Of Forensic Sciences, who told us, "Most definitely take it with a grain of salt." Turns out, even he's used the Ancestry DNA test.
"It's kind of fun," Allen said. "It's almost as entertaining, just for participation in the process, as it is getting the results because by and large, I think getting the results tend to underscore what you've heard your whole life."
And sometimes there can be surprises like long, lost siblings. Allen also says there can be inconsistencies, meaning if you took a DNA test from another group like 23AndMe, those results could differ from your Ancestry results.
"It could just be an error on faulty technology on the part of the laboratory," Allen said. "It can also very realistically be due to the fact that 23andMe looks at a completely different collection of addresses than does Ancestry.com."
Swayne says Ancestry has collected its own data for the process.
"Every company is going to have a slightly different set of reference samples that they are then comparing your DNA to so, yeah, you could potentially get slightly different results depending on the company," Swayne said.
Allen says you should just keep this in the back of your mind: "It's probably not as historically accurate as the family bible that's been written in, you know, for three or four generations that tells you a little bit about your roots. But it's fun. Its a topic for conversation at the cocktail party or over the Thanksgiving table. And it's not a bad return for $79.00 when you think about it."
That brings me back to my parents' house and the big reveal with my folks. When I told them about the variety of my results, my mother said, "You couldn't be more eclectic." My dad laughed and said, "It's like that song, 'I've been everywhere man.'"