With prices lower than ever and curiosity about our genetic past at an all time high, DNA tests were some of the most popular gifts this holiday season.
If you treated yourself to a test, or unwrapped a kit over the holidays, here are some important things to keep in mind while you’re waiting for your results.
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1. Expect Some Delays
Unprecedented numbers of DNA kits were sold over the holiday season (we’re talking millions) and you can bet that will mean some slowdowns in processing time.
Although almost all of the top companies promise results in 6-8 weeks it is not uncommon for it to take longer even under normal circumstances. Although we cannot say with any certainty that delays are a definite, or how long they will be if they happen, it seems very likely that many will be waiting longer to see their results come in than expected.
2. Your Results Should Not Be Taken at Face Value
The excitement of seeing your results once they do come back is usually well worth the potentially long wait. But after scanning your ethnicity report and peeking at your genetic matches you might find yourself scratching your head trying to figure out what it all means.
Many people who have not tested before will be expecting to get a nice, simple report that tells them exactly where their ancestors come from. But, although companies like AncestryDNA, MyHeritage DNA and Family Tree DNA are always improving the accuracy of results (and the beauty and simplicity of their reports) what you will see in front of you should not be taken at face value – especially as it pertains to your admixture (ethnicity or ancestry breakdown).
The key to understanding your results is understanding how these tests work, and their limitations. Because your ethnicity report is created by comparing your unique DNA sample to specially selected populations in the database of your testing provider (some of which are broader and some more granular), and because many of these populations have overlaps and are limited in their scope, the ancestry report you receive is not a perfect look at your genetic past. Instead, it is a best guess created by advanced computer algorithms based on available data.
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It is not unusual for someone to show matches to regions or groups their ancestors were not actually part of (this is especially true for small percentages, but can be equally true for large ones).
And it is just as common that findings you expected simply don’t appear. This can mean that some of what you know about your past is incorrect or partially incorrect, or it can simply mean that what you are seeing is a different perspective on your past based on available information, or that your connection to that region or group is more distant than you expected.
Take some time to educate yourself about your chosen test before or after your results come in. Understand what populations are included and how they are defined, understand which ones are not available, learn about how genetic inheritance works and read articles and forum posts to help you sort through your findings.
To find helpful information check out your testing provider. Each provides help for understanding your results. You can also read our guide to choosing the right DNA test (which breaks down a lot of information about these tests and provides links to further reading), take a look at our walkthrough on MyHeritage DNA for genealogy and keep your eye on our site because we will be publishing new guides to understanding your results very soon.
3. DNA Research is Always Better When Combined With Genealogy Research
If you are not a family historian and have taken a DNA test anyway, this might be a great time to start diving into your family’s past. Any results you receive will be strengthened by understanding them in the context of genealogical research.
Knowing your ancestors’ names, origins and stories will help you make sense of potentially confusing ancestry reports and will guide you in connecting with genetic matches.
If you’re brand new to genealogy, keep it simple by interviewing your family members for some basic information and writing it down. Then you can enter those details into an online family tree when you’re ready. Keep an eye out next week for our new Family Tree Guide for help choosing one.
4. You Can Do More With Your Results Than You Probably Thought
Once you get your results and begin to make sense of them you might like to explore your genetic past even more. Luckily, you have some options. There are a number of places that you can upload your DNA to get new reports and discover more cousins. Read this article for where (and how) to upload your DNA and get safely more reports for free.
5. Privacy Settings are Not Set in Stone
Many people are (very rightly) concerned about their privacy when taking a DNA test. When you first scrape your cheek or spit into a tube, you will also have to sign or agree to some privacy policies in the process and you may have some options for opting in or out of certain types of sharing. When you get your results back (and sometimes before), these results will be associated with an online account and many times you can change settings associated with your privacy.
Perhaps you will change your mind about whether you would like to include your results in internal and 3rd party research (MyHeritage and Ancestry both offer this option when signing up but it can be changed in your account) or you might like to change settings to limit how others can see your genetic results or that of any associated genealogy information.
Take the time to read privacy and consent documents, know your options in your account settings and change them so that you feel comfortable. If you change your mind after sending your results in you can even request to have your sample destroyed. Every company will honor this.
Knowing what to expect, educating yourself until you truly understand your results, and feeling comfortable with your level of privacy are all integral parts of a positive DNA testing experience. We wish you a wonderful genetic journey!
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