By Lisa Golden
When I first heard about ancestry testing, I was very skeptical. The idea that a simple DNA test could tell you anything of worth sounded dubious. Even if it could really tell you where your ancestors came from, I wasn’t sure that it mattered. I know enough about my heritage.
I learned from plenty of articles and vlogs online that these tests really do work. They’re accurate, at least to a large degree. They can pinpoint where your ancestors were in the world and where they moved to. Of course, they can also reliably bring up some unexpected gems.
But these articles didn’t answer my question of what value these results provided. Rather than getting left behind by new scientific innovations, I decided to look into some of the leading DNA testing companies. I tried one of them out and waited for my results.
Here’s what I learned about my heritage that was actually worthwhile.
Difference between heritage and DNA
There was a lot that I didn’t expect in my test results. My ancestry mostly goes back to the Middle East, as I expected. However, there was more of an African presence than I imagined. What was strange was that it was West African genetics, and not North African which would have seemed more likely.
But does this matter to me? Well, the surprising answer is yes. A part of me wanted to put my results back in the envelope and forget about them. I wanted to defend my heritage. But another, stronger part of me was excited to learn more about my ancestors.
You see, there’s a difference between heritage and what you can learn from DNA. While DNA testing companies do mention heritage, that is not quite how I see it. For me, my heritage is something that can’t be quantified. It is the culture and religion I was brought up with as a child. It is what connects me with my people.
United but different
DNA testing told me something related but different. It told me that, while my heritage connects me to one particular people, I’m still part of the human race as a whole. Heritage is what I uphold – I could let it slip if I don’t put enough care into it. Ancestry, on the other hand, is more of a fact. My DNA isn’t going to change depending on how I think or who I relate to or the way I raise my children.
This is an idea we tend to forget much of the time. We start to believe that our differences are built into our DNA. But when it comes down to it, the most significant differences are based on upbringing and choice. It is important to recognise that we can see humankind as one big family, while still remaining true to who we are.
Finally, I want to mention the other important lesson I learned from DNA testing. One of the more practical applications of DNA testing is for finding out whether you are at risk or a carrier of specific health conditions. My DNA testing, along with information from the company’s database, gave me the knowledge I needed to look out for certain illnesses.
I can’t prevent the particular conditions I’m at risk of, but early diagnosis can be the difference between recovery and death. I now know to check for these conditions on a regular basis, and never to let my awareness of them lapse.