A Few Surprises from My 23andMe Results

Do you know your genetic ancestry? I’m adopted, and my biological mother was also adopted, so I’ve only had a limited amount of information to go on.

So recently I signed up for a 23andMe ancestry test, and I added the health test as well, just in case. I’ve been eagerly awaiting the results, and they arrived yesterday. There were a number of surprises.

First, for some reason I’ve always thought I was Irish, Polish, and German. I was right about the first two–I’m 75% British and Irish and 18% Polish–but no German at all! I also have a touch of Ashkenazi Jewish, Iranian, and Northern Africa.

Second, I’m a Neanderthal! Specifically, I have more Neanderthal in me than 84% of people who have participated in 23andMe. I thought this might mean something cool, but all the traits seem subpar (like having a worse sense of direction than most people, which is true). Some also just aren’t accurate, like “more likely to sweat during a workout.” I sweat very little.

Third, I have a half brother! For a brief second I thought I was in for a big surprise, but then I recognized the initials (my biological mother has a few other kids).

Fourth, the only bad news is that I have two copies of a variant that can result in late-onset Alzheimer’s disease. I don’t have a good memory to begin with, though hopefully I’m keeping my brain active enough through board games to ward off this disease.

Have you tried a genetic test? Were there any surprises for you?

4 thoughts on “A Few Surprises from My 23andMe Results”

  1. I haven’t done it, but I’ve been wanting to because my mother was adopted. I’m kinda scared to do the health marker test – my dad was cancer-prone, and I take after him physically. I think it would give me way too much anxiety to know a thing like that for sure. I am interested in my lineage though. Mom was olive-skinned with dark hair and eyes. Dad was blonde and very fair. I take after Dad for sure – I have no physical traits of hers that I can see. My brother has brown hair, but we both still have Dad’s blue eyes. SO… I’ll probably do the lineage one and leave the other one out.

    • Sara,

      The health-marker test is exactly why I haven’t had the nerve to take it yet, too!

      Shari (below) is my wife, so I’ve not lacked for encouragement, either.

      Maybe I’ll have to cave and give it a go…… maybe…..

  2. (Oh no! Jamey is blogging about DNA tests which has just flipped all of my genetic genealogist levers to “maximum nerd-burst of excitement”! Deep breaths. Be cool, Shari, be cool.)

    So! “No German” doesn’t actually mean “no German”; it means “you didn’t inherit the specific genes that 23&Me is calling ‘German’ at this time”. When I first tested in 2012 (with what was called the “Big 3” then: 23&Me, FTDNA, Ancestry – family historians try to fish in all ponds), many of the “reference populations” that they used to determine ancestry were based on (sometimes rather small) groups of people stating where their grandparents were born. In those days, 23&Me played it safe and only reported on three geographical areas, but all of the companies have been improving and refining ever since. Don’t be surprised if X% of one group becomes Y% of a similar/adjacent group down the road as well as of course more specific subgroups emerging.

    If you upload your test results to GEDmatch, you can play with their “admixture” tools to see how different algorithms break down your ethnicity. You can also upload your 23&Me test to FTDNA and MyHeritage for a much “prettier” (but not free) experience. (GEDmatch allows law enforcement to upload DNA in the hope of identifying Jane/John Does and criminals. You can opt out of the law being able to see you in their matches if you wish, or maybe helping with that research is a selling point.)

    Or, as mentioned, you simply might not have inherited those genes but still have German ancestry. In genealogy, we sometimes talk about the genetic tree (DNA), the historic tree (paper records/traditional research), and the cultural tree (where you might look at the ancestry of a parent – not necessarily a biological one – to examine the generational factors influencing your life via them). I thought my Louisiana French ancestry was suspect when I tested because I had nothing French in the pie chart and no matches to indicate any connection to those alleged ancestors. This was a bit of a let-down as I felt particularly close to those lines. Then my dad tested and – boom! – Louisiana French matches everywhere and plenty of France/NW Europe on the map. It seems that I simply didn’t get many of my grandmother’s genes on her paternal side in the inheritance lottery. (While we receive 50% of our DNA from each parent, all bets are off after that. In my case it has worked out to 23-27% inherited from each grandparent, but sometimes I have entire chromosomes from one instead of a mix, and great-grandparent inheritance is all over the place. This isn’t unusual at all.) When siblings test, one might have results that the other doesn’t have at all.

    A terrific genetic genealogy blogger is Judy Russell, aka “The Legal Genealogist”; she has a post called something like “Not Soup Yet” that talks about the limits and ‘work in progress” nature of the ethnicity results (which has spawned a few follow-up posts over the years).

    Anyway, DNA tests and surprises – yes! One ancestor that we all presumed died on the road in the 1890s actually had a second family (then died right after). Lots of stuff like that where the paper trail went nowhere, but DNA has revealed layers to stories thought lost forever. (I suppose such examples may seem rather distant to sane people who don’t block out their calendars when a new census is released or beg third cousins they’ve never met to please drool in a vial.)

    Still, DNA testing is only getting more and more interesting. I definitely recommend that people poke around their results now and again to see what new discoveries have been made as all of the companies do keep adding more features.

    (This concludes Unsolicited Gushing About Genetic Genealogy with Shari!)

    • Thanks so much for sharing this wealth of information, Shari! That’s fascinating to here about how one person’s results can have a butterfly effect on so many other people. And that’s quite a surprise about your 1890s relative!


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