Misconceptions of ancestry DNA tests

Many people have been using DNA tests to triangulate family histories or scant genealogical records as well as to discover ancient origins that go beyond any written records. I’ve been interested in DNA testing for genealogical purposes when I first heard about it in the late nineties. More recently I’ve enjoyed some of the ancestry tracing shows on TV that utilize DNA testing as well as the DNA ethnicity test result videos produced by some You Tubers which makes for great late night viewing.

What has surprised me about almost all the DNA results I saw announced on You Tube were the fundamental misconceptions and lack of understanding of what the DNA test can and will tell you. I’ve also read many reviews of different DNA testing products and was likewise surprised at how many negative reviews I saw for some based on the (unrealistic) expectations that some people had. That’s why I want to write this summary to correct some misunderstandings and help people to have the right expectations if they are planning to do a DNA ancestry test.

Misconception #1: DNA tests can tell you which country you come from

A country is a political unit. The borders of such an entity are determined by political realities. It could contain various ethnic groups or it may not encompass all of a particular group. An examination of most modern countries will reveal the composition of various ethnic groups in the population of that political entity. Sadly, the conflicts or disparities of different ethnic groups within political entities often have been the root causes of historic conflicts or dominate the current media headlines. One need only look at indigenous and immigrant Americans, Arabs and Kurds, Tibetans and Chinese as examples of this. In some cases a particular ethnic group may dominate the population of a country but that’s not always the case. Therefore when we identify as Indian, Russian, French etc., we are identifying with our citizenship to a political entity and not necessarily to an ethnic group. Most of the DNA tests will identify specific regions where you ancestors originate and some like National Geographic will also identify two reference populations which gets confusing as sometimes the population could be a political and ethnic group like German, Japanese or Lebanese.

If you found this interesting then please follow the blog. You can read Part 2, a follow up post on the topic, to continue where this one has left of here.

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