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Family Histories Are Rewritten

Widespread DNA testing has shed light on the ancestry of millions of Americans.

But these services have limitations, and the results can be uncertain.


Bob Hutchinson’s mother told him and his siblings almost nothing about her family, no matter how often they asked.

“She was good at brushing people off,” said Mr. Hutchinson, 60.

Growing up, there were no photos of his mother as a child in the home, or of her own parents.

She said that she was an only child, that her parents were dead.


Her heritage, she claimed, was Italian and Swedish.


Mr. Hutchinson suspected there was more to the story.


Then his sister-in-law, digging into the family past, found his mother’s childhood home listed in a 1930 census.


The family had lived in Montclair, N.J., and was described as “black person.”


Mr. Hutchinson, who runs an advertising agency and lives in Pacifica, Calif., had never been told he had African-American heritage.

Before DNA testing, as I was a teenager learning about genealogy in school I decided it would be fun to do my family tree. Questioning...

I was originally semi-curious about having one of these tests done but to be honest, after reading the story and some of these comments, I...
Hummingbird 5 hours ago

It was a big tradition in my family that we were part Native-American. I've been tested by Ancestry, 23andme, and FTDNA.

These days, family secrets like this one are becoming harder to keep.

A growing number of companies now offer DNA tests that promise to pinpoint a customer’s heritage and, with permission, to identify genetic relatives.

The firms include generalists like 23andMe and Ancestry.com and specialty companies like African Ancestry.


Millions of people have signed up for the tests, sending saliva samples to laboratories and paying $100 to $350 or more for an analysis.


The customers are eager to know where they came from, to find a familial context that may be lacking.

The answers hidden in DNA can be revelatory, shedding light on hidden events occurring decades earlier and forever changing the family narrative.

But a new analysis of DNA test kits by The Wirecutter, a review site owned by The New York Times, finds that the services also have limitations that the providers do not always fully acknowledge.


Mr. Hutchinson decided to have his DNA analyzed by 23andMe. The report revealed he is one-eighth sub-Saharan African, which means that his mother was of mixed race.

There was some Italian and Swedish heritage.


Ethnicity, race, and DNA

As a society we make fundamental decisions based on notions of ethnicity and race.

The fact remains however, that 99.9 percent of our genetic makeup is identical for all humans. And of the remaining 0.1 percent that actually is different, 85 percent of those distinctions are unrelated to characteristics we relate to ethnicity or race.

So when you submit a DNA sample to trace your ethnicity, you should keep in mind that we’re dealing with a really small amount of genes that could possibly be different between human beings, 0.015 percent, to be exact. ...






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I know my d.n.a. and where it came from, it consists of, Jewish Italian, French Canadia (including Red Indian/ Native American), Welsh, Irish, Indian and bibs and bobs of other European.


I am British by nationality and English by birth, so that's all I care about.


I am not bothered about where my ancestors originated from.


I don't care about what they did for a living or what interested them.


I look to the future and make sure my prodginy are highly educated and happy.

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