I have spent the majority of my life wondering who I am, and where my family came from. I heard stories and rumors growing up about our heritage, but they never really seemed to connect to a person who I could point back to as proof of these claims. Finally, a couple of months ago, I decided to see for myself. I started with a family tree, and used information from my grandparents, parents, and other relatives to piece together what I could. I spent weeks researching them, from where they were born, to where they were buried. I had other family members also confirm, and got proof in old diaries, tax records, social security records, and firsthand stories from anyone who would sit down with me. It was a huge team effort(though, of course some branches stopped due to lack of information).
I started with Myheritage. From what my family has told me my whole life, I expected to see some Native American blood. From the family tree that I built, I expected to see some Irish, Swedish, English and possibly a little Dutch.
These were my results from MyHeritage.
As you can see, the results were a bit shocking. So shocking that I started to do my own research. Now, in my family tree that I built on MyHeritage, I found a lot of English, Irish, and Scandinavian names. So, the large percentage of English and Irish didn’t surprise me. What surprised me was the Iberian, Middle Eastern, and Sierra Leonean. I have nothing documented which could account for this. Through my research, I found that these small percentages were likely statistical noise. However, I didn’t want to rule these results out yet. I thought, if I am Sierra Leonean or Middle Eastern, that’s pretty cool!
In my research, I found that MyHeritage had actually lied to a lot of its early users, promising them free tests with an upload of their DNA, then reneging once the time came to pay up. That made me question their business practices and so I gave everything another thorough look. If you didn’t check the fine print, you would have probably missed that their testing methods are still in beta. Meaning, they are still testing the test itself, and using you to work out the kinks. They also have one of the smallest databases of the larger DNA testing companies. Meaning, they have less of a pool to get data from, and therefore, a lot of their ethnicity guesses are just that. Guesses at best(not to say they did a terrible job).
Again though, I didn’t really know my heritage before the start of this journey, so MyHeritage really helped open my eyes to a few possibilities of who I am, and sort of paved the way for me on this path.
The next thing I did, was go to GEDmatch. I would put screens here, but honestly, it’s complicated and really just complimentary to any test that you’ve already taken. For my GEDMatch tests(they have like a million options), they all came back as Scandinavian, English, and Middle Eastern. I was actually surprised to see Middle Eastern come up again.
Then, I went to DNA.LAND and received close to the same results, with a couple pointing to a couple of other areas, but they were in the statistical noise range(it mentioned Finnish in a very low percentage, but that can be attributed to the scandinavian results).
So, I decided to then upload to FamilyTreeDNA on the wise advice of the fine people of Reddit. They for the most part recommend getting a test through Ancestry, and uploading to FamilyTreeDNA, since Ancestry doesn’t allow for DNA transfers. While I waited for my results to come back from FTDNA, I hopped over to impute.me to see if I could get any new information from them. They actually do something a little different with their results…
They seem to have five groups of ethnicities, and they put you somewhere in the middle of where they think you belong.
Based on my position, I belong in the heavily white side of the world(I am surrounded by England, Utah residents, Italians, etc in this group, and it seems like the pool here is very small).
So, I didn’t get much from that test other than what I can see in the mirror. I’m white. It was a shocking revelation. What was really cool about this website, was that it allowed you to test for genetic traits, susceptibility to diseases, and so on. Really cool stuff if you have the time.
From all of this, I gathered that I am largely Scandinavian, English, Irish and Middle Eastern so far. At least the tests seem to point that way consistently.
Now, because I wasn’t convinced of MyHeritage’s practices, I decided to do a little test for myself. You know, to mess with the system. MyHeritage will actually take transfers from several other companies, which is something redeeming about them. They’ll take from 23andme, Ancestry, and FTDNA. So, I manipulated the file I got back from them and put it into the Ancestry format, along with downloading the format of FTDNA. Keep in mind that this is the exact same copy of my DNA twice. I uploaded them to MyHeritage under different, very convincing, names.
It showed different percentages of some of the results they gave me before, but with Finnish mixed in.
Again, the percentages are all off, even though these are exact copies of my DNA. So, MyHeritage got information on my identical DNA three times, but delivered different results. This is how I confirmed that if something isn’t showing up strongly, they just sort of wing it. Now, I understand the limits of these sorts of tests, but when you pay for someone to investigate your DNA, you would think that the scientific method would be used(achieving the same results through the same testing methods).
At this point I have lost all confidence in MyHeritage.
Then, I get my grandma and my uncle’s results(her son).
My grandma, she has some pretty standard white woman genes, right? Her son’s should be pretty similar.
WRONG. Somehow, his own mother, who is 60% English, failed to pass even a single percentage on. Not even any of the Italian. In its place, now is Iberian. I did some reading and found that an overwhelming amount of white people seem to get Iberian through their testing, and it seems to be just a placeholder for “we don’t know.” I understand that with grandparents, you may only get 10% of something from one, and 30% from another, but with parents, you get nearly 50% evenly. This testing method did not reflect that.
I realized at this point that I’d accept nothing about my heritage from MyHeritage(heh, get it?).
Then after waiting an excruciating few days, I got my results back from FamilyTreeDNA, and they were spot on for what my family tree shows(even though I never uploaded my tree to their site for them to gather info from).
Now this is more like it. It shows the Dutch that my family spoke of, the English and Irish, the Swedish that is reflected in my family tree. This site(with its much larger database to pull from), was able to pick everything up, and also showed the Middle Eastern that other tests seemed to hint at. So, at the end of the day, it turns out that I do in fact have Middle Eastern blood, and not a trace of the Native American that my family was convinced that we had.
It’s been a really eye opening experience, and some of my family tree hasn’t been completed yet(due to not having information on some parties), but I assume if I do get that information, it will lead me to some of my Middle Eastern family, which is pretty dope. FamilyTreeDNA has also matched me to thousands of people who share my DNA, compared to the couple hundred on MyHeritage. One person has even reached out to me all the way from Australia! What I also like about this site, is that they tell you what is just background noise. The Finnish, West African, and West Middle East are all labeled as statistical noise, and can pretty much be ignored. That leaves me being mostly Scandinavian, English/Irish, Dutch, and Middle Eastern.
So, if I were to recommend anything, it would be to take the Ancestry test, then upload it to the other sites, and cross reference with what you know from your own family tree. That way you can get the full scope of who you are, and fact check for yourself. If possible, also do the same for your parents. It will give you more insight into the results, and can confirm what you already know.
I hope you enjoyed reading, and if you have any questions, or want to share your own genealogy/testing stories, let me know in the comments below!