What DNA actually means (Do Not Assume)
I hate to tell you this, but DNA actually means "Do Not Assume." I concluded that this is the real meaning of deoxyribonucleic acid when I saw the TV ad starring a somewhat elderly gentleman named Kyle appearing in lederhosen. He had spent his entire life thinking that he was German, but it turns out the poor man was living a lie. After he got his DNA test results from Ancestry, a family history resource, he discovered that he was actually Scottish.
In the ad's next frame, he is dressed in a fetching kilt, but he is also looking a little unsure of himself. You might be interested to know that DNA is defined as "The fundamental and distinctive characteristics or qualities of someone or something, especially when regarded as unchangeable." Oh really? Kyle exists in real life. He grew up wearing lederhosen and dancing in a German dance troop. But his DNA is unchangeable, so there can be no doubt as to his Scottish origins. Right? It's only right if you can believe what the DNA tells you. Or maybe, what Ancestry tells you about the DNA.
I recently sent in my own DNA kit and received the results fairly quickly. From what I know of my family tree, I am mostly Swiss/German with a healthy splash of Irish thrown in. My results, however, showed me at only 32 percent German. The rest of the breakdown was 36 percent Irish, 8 percent English-Scottish-Welsh, and—wait for it—12 percent Iberian Peninsula! That means that I have 12 percent Spanish and/or Portuguese blood. What???? This was a complete and total mystery.
I had many questions. My family tree goes back pretty far, and it shows that I have many more German ancestors than Irish, so why is German a measly 32 percent and conversely, why is Irish 36 percent? And if I have Iberian ancestors, why is there no trace of them in the branches of the tree?
Intrigued that I could somehow have Spanish blood, I embarked on a search for a great-great something Uncle Zorro. I even enlisted help from a friend who is an amateur genealogist. Disappointingly, we couldn't find a hint of a Zorro anywhere.
While all this was going on, I received notification from Ancestry.com informing me that my DNA results had been updated. Suddenly, I was deemed to be only 28 percent German (not 32 percent), 17 percent Irish (not 36 percent) and English, Scottish and Welsh weighed in at a whopping 54 percent (not 8%). AND, to further muddy the waters, my Spanish DNA had totally disappeared!
First of all, what happened to Zorro? Secondly, what about the large percentage of English, Scottish and Welsh? As far as I know, there
isn't a single representative of any
of those nationalities in the family tree, at least as far back as the
When I mentioned Ancestry's conclusions to my genealogist friend, her response was "What are those people smoking?" When I queried Ancestry about all this, they said that new cutting-edge technology in DNA research is the reason they were able to more accurately update my information. As to a lack of verifying information from my tree, they suggested that my DNA could have come from before records were kept; that the DNA is often hundreds, sometimes even a thousand years old.
So is this all a sophisticated scam, or should I exchange my castanets for a kilt? I know one thing: the moral to this story is DNA—-Do Not Assume!