Where Did All that DNA Come From?

I doubt if there is a person interested in genealogy who hasn’t wondered about all of this fascinating DNA stuff. It is an invisible substance that seems to live inside us linking our connection to different ethnic backgrounds in various regions all over the world.

Several companies are currently on the market that interpret DNA results. Of course, all for a price.

Family Tree DNA – Data is obtained mostly from those with genealogy interests.
23 and Me – Provides health and trait information.
Ancestry DNA – Ancestry.com will automatically compare DNA results to look for connections to other family trees uploaded in their system.
National Geographic – Focuses on ethnic backgrounds.

I have been very curious about DNA, since it has been marketed as a genealogy tool. I hoped it would explain my my daughter’s dark skin and her ethnic background. I couldn’t find anything in the family tree that would explain her skin tone. My theory was that it might have been African. Her father shared the same skin colouring, along with his mother and his mother’s father, who were all married to those who once were blue eyed blonde babies!  Two of four of  her father’s siblings, were also dark skinned with brown eyes, taking after their mother. Although there were also dark complexions on the maternal side, I believed her paternal line was a stronger source. After I mentioned DNA testing to her, she was interested in going through the process after I suggested it could be an upcoming birthday present from me. In November of that year, she agreed to go on this DNA adventure.

At that time, the only place that accepted Canadian DNA was at Family Tree DNA. The least expensive test kit available was the Autosomal. The Y-DNA test is for males, following sons, fathers, grandfathers, etc and the Mitochondrial (MT) DNA test would only follow my maternal line, which I thought would not answer my specific question. In December, I ordered the Autosomal kit. It took awhile to get here but testing was painless and I quickly sent off the safely packaged DNA by return mail. It was probably a bad time of year to send things through the mail but eventually she received her test results sometime after her late February birthday.

ethnicgraphWhat did the results tell us? Although my understanding is that it is rare for DNA tests to tell us something we don’t already expect to find, her results did give us a surprise. She is 2% Central/South Asian centred in Afghanistan. The remaining 99% is European. Although FTDNA has a problem with rounding off percentages, the 2% was most certainly a surprise. Another interesting find was that she is 53% Scandinavian. After I thought about the Scandinavian addition, I realized that the Vikings were all over Europe and the inclusion of their DNA should most certainly, after all, be expected.

From where did our ancestors come?  Research I have done on her father’s side and on my side leads us to England, Ireland, Scotland and the Holy Roman Empire encompassing Germany, Switzerland and France. None of central Europe is included in her genetic make up nor does her father and I have any genealogical ancestors from the Mediterranean area in the past 300-500 years that we can document, although that area is the source of 34% of her DNA.

What did I learn?  One thing that I did discover, is that any given person is not going to have DNA from each and everyone of their ancestors! There will always be missing links. Our genetic makeup is only a portion of our genealogical history. I also learned that we can follow a maternal line or a paternal line, depending on who does the test (male or female) and what type of test they do (Y-DNA or MT-DNA). I also understand that Y-DNA tests require a certain level of markers to isolate the exact branch. I was told that the magic number is at least testing 64 markers to confirm family tree origins. As of late in 2019, Family Tree DNA, no longer offer the 64 marker test, and instead, males must order at least a 111 marker test. After checking further into the Afghanistan connection, I discovered that Haplogroup G DNA is found in the Mediterranean region in areas including, Afghanistan, Iran, Southeastern Romania, Greece, Italy, Spain, Portugal and some Mediterranean islands. That thoroughly explains the Afghanistan DNA connection. It is important to realize that we will never be able to capture that type of genealogical history that is dated long before any documentation of existing records. You just can’t obtain what is not there.


What other information can be obtained from her DNA? FTDNA now shows demographics of the most distant maternal and paternal sources of DNA matches.That makes things a bit more interesting. The diagram above, shows her most distant DNA ancestors on my side, her maternal side. Locations include, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, the New England States, Midwest USA, Florida/Georgia USA, UK, Central Europe and Iran. On her father’s side,  the diagram below, includes Nova Scotia, the Eastern Coast of the USA, the UK, Northern Spain and a bit of central Europe. Neither maps have “pins” in the Mediterranean or Scandinavian areas and both those areas combined made up 87% of her DNA.


FTDNA also provides an ancient history of her matches. See diagram below. This goes well beyond any genealogy research that can be performed. Her DNA is listed as 43% Hunger-Gatherer, 43% Farmer and 14% Metal Age Invader. All European DNA as far north as Norway, south-west to Northern Spain and east to Russia. That’s quite the span of ancient DNA.


Who Owns the DNA? Of course the owner is the person who provided the biological DNA to be analyzed. The results are provided in a data file. It is recommended that a copy of the data file be downloaded and kept in a safe place. There is no guarantee that any company that was paid to analyze the DNA data will keep the DNA file “forever.” It could possibly be like health records, which after 30 years are often destroyed.

Can I Share my DNA results?  Of course you can. The results don’t mean much to anyone in their raw form but sites such as GedMatch.com permit you to upload the DNA file along with your gedcom file for free so you can search for relationships to other individuals who have done the same thing. It is another interesting way to find relatives. Proving the exact relationship can take up a lot of time and involve extensive research, but that is what it is all about!

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