I remember sitting in a classroom when I was pretty young – second grade, maybe – and learning about how the United States was a giant melting pot. I always loved this idea that people from all over the world ended up in this one country that’s unlike anywhere else in the world because, ultimately, we are all immigrants. However, I didn’t have a full sense of just how unique a concept this is until I started traveling out of the country.
When I was in graduate school I took a two-week course in Ireland, where I became good friends with one of my Irish classmates. We spent a lot of time chatting about our two countries, as she had never known any other Americans and I didn’t know any other Irish people. One of the biggest differences we talked about was how in Ireland, pretty much everyone is Irish and they can easily trace their ancestors back for generations. All of the families know one another and have a very shared history. While I knew that the “melting pot” concept was distinctly American, it hadn’t really occurred to me until that moment just how lucky we are to live in a country filled with so much diversity where our own genetic histories aren’t so cut and dry.
When it comes to my own personal lineage, there are quite a few holes. My husband can trace his own heritage back pretty far (he’s mostly British and Swedish), but I don’t have that same luxury. My full heritage is somewhat of a mystery and people have never been able to place me solely on appearance, which means that I often get mistaken for a local, for lack of a better word. For instance, there were a couple of times in Chicago where people started speaking to me in Spanish and were surprised to learn I wasn’t Mexican. In Italy, people would speak to me like I was Italian and I frequently had to stop people to explain that my Italian knowledge consists of three words. People we encountered in Costa Rica would try speaking to me in Spanish and were surprised when my husband responded instead of me. Most recently, a phlebotomist who was taking my blood during my pregnancy told me that he was convinced I was Greek.
Honestly, I’m happy to accept whatever background people want to bestow upon me, and I usually take it as an honor when people accept me as their own. That said, I was beyond excited when I was presented with an opportunity to partner with 23andme to submit a DNA testing kit that would potentially yield some answers about my genetic history.
23andMe: Start Here
Considering the fact that you are ordering an online DNA test, which seems incredibly complex, I thought the process leading up to getting my 23andMe results would be quite lengthy but the process actually couldn’t have been easier.
All you need to do is head online to order a genetic testing kit from 23andMe and then sit back and wait for it to be delivered. A colorful little box will arrive at your door just a few days later.
Once the box arrives, the first thing you’ll want to do is register your kit! This will enable them to tie that specific kit to your results, and then contact you once your results are ready. I’m not sure you will get your 23andMe results if you don’t register your kit.
How does 23andMe work?
All you need to begin your genetic testing with 23andMe is a small sample of saliva. The saliva sample contains cells from your mouth that will provide the company with all of the DNA they need to put together your genetic profile. I was happy to hear there was nothing invasive about the testing!
23andMe provides you with a small vial and all you need to do is fill it with saliva. This part may take a few minutes! Once you’ve finished filling the vial you just replace the cap then send the test off in the mail. Everything you need to return the kit is included. You won’t even need to pay shipping. Seriously, this couldn’t be any easier!
The hard part is waiting for the results to arrive…
I mailed back my 23andMe DNA testing kit in on June 13 and received my results on July 6, so the turnaround was relatively quick. Once I received the email that my results were ready I dug right in!
23andMe provides information in five different categories:
- Ancestry Composition
- Maternal Haplogroup
- Paternal Haplogroup
- Neanderthal Ancestry
- Your DNA Family
I’m going to talk about two of them, ancestry composition and DNA family.
Of most interest to me was the ancestry composition, where I learned that I am 73.9% European and 24.9% Sub-Saharan African. That’s pretty specific!
Here’s a more detailed peek at my chromosomes and genetic makeup:
The largest percentage of my heritage is broadly European, with strong ties specifically to the UK and Ireland, which jives with what I know of my heritage. I was excited to see the 1% Italian sneaking in there. Perhaps that 1% accounts for my extreme love for that country?! The second largest percentage was Sub-Saharan African, which is described as expanding from Senegal to Nigeria. I’m guessing it’s this part of my heritage that makes it difficult for people to place my appearance.
The Ancestry Timeline provided by 23andMe makes it easier to see approximately how many generations ago your ancestors for each population came into play. Obviously, my own history has been steadily British and Irish for a long while now, which is actually very timely information to have as our next family vacation will likely be to Scotland. I don’t know if Scotland falls under British or “broadly Northwestern European” but regardless, it will be fun visiting the country and knowing that some part of my lineage – and my children’s – came from that general region at some point in time.
Your DNA Family
I am nothing if not a cynic. While the ancestry composition portion of my 23andMe genetic testing was neat, part of me was still questioning whether or not I could trust the information. I mean, the United States is a melting pot but many, if not most, of us have European ancestry! How could I be CERTAIN this information was unique to me?
The “Your DNA Family” portion of the results compares your own genetic results with other 23andMe users and allows you to see if there are other people with whom you share DNA. Honestly, I almost skipped this portion because you needed to answer a couple more questions and I didn’t want to open up my profile to strangers on the internet. I got over this though – and also realized that strangers on the internet can only see the information you allow them to see – and I’m so glad I did!
Throughout the entire 23andMe universe, there are 1,246 people with whom I share DNA. That’s kind of crazy! I was most interested in those 3 “close family to second cousins,” though, and took a look at them. If you open up your profile and answer some questions, people can find out more about you. I did not provide any additional information beyond a couple of required (non-public) questions, but I could still browse the profiles of others who were more open to sharing.
I didn’t recognize the names of any of my “close” family members, but the person who was potentially my second cousin had taken the time to fill out her profile. What I saw made my jaw drop.
I don’t know anything about my paternal grandfather EXCEPT that his last name was Turnbull.
This is not information I provided to 23andMe. This is, simply, genetics. Both of us took the same 23andMe test and we were connected because of the close match in our DNA!
This woman is most likely my mom’s cousin, I believe. It’s hard to say without knowing anything about that side of the family, but our genes are closely connected and she shared my mother’s maiden name. I also know this woman is a bit older – approximately the age of my mom – because her profile lists that she has a grandchild, and one of my other close family members (per 23andMe) is her daughter.
I wanted to find out I was related to Gwen Stefani or Prince William or something totally random and awesome like that, but it’s actually so much cooler finding extended family members I never knew existed!
How much does 23andMe cost?
23andMe costs $99 for the ancestry test, which is what I did. Or, you can upgrade to the health + ancestry test, which costs $199. The extended DNA analysis not only includes the ancestry data, but more genetic health information such as carrier status for specific genes, diseases, and syndromes, wellness reports that include information like your genetic weight, and genetic health risk reports.
Would I recommend 23andMe?
As I was going through my 23andMe results, I was intrigued by the ancestry composition but it was the DNA family that made a believer out of me. I honestly could have fallen out of my chair when the name “Turnbull” popped up. I’d say, “what are the odds?!” except that the odds are pretty good since I was getting the data from a genetic testing website. 23andMe definitely answered some questions about some holes in my genetic knowledge and gave me a potential path to find other family members that I never knew existed. My potential second cousin indicated that she would like to be contacted by extended family members and so I might do just that.
23andMe is, all things considered, relatively new. As more and more people take the time to order genetic testing kits and do DNA testing, the number of people you’re related to based on DNA is only going to rise. If you’re at all interested in learning more about the individual genetic melting pot that makes you YOU, then I highly recommend 23andMe. I’ve loved poring over my results and piecing together some of my own history.
23andMe’s Golden23SM Sweepstakes
Buckle your seatbelts, folks, because 23andMe has an AMAZING contest going right now and I want one of you to win!
To bring excitement to the idea of traveling based on your DNA, 23andMe is giving away 23 trips to 23 winners between July 12 and August 3. Destinations will be based on a winner’s 23andMe Ancestry Composition results.
The 23 trips will each have a total value of up to $20,000 (taxes and fees included). $20,000 is one heck of a trip! The trip includes:
- Includes winner + guest
- Round trip airfare
- Hotel accommodations for 5 nights
- Custom itineraries by Journy to explore the local life
- Daily spending money
There are two ways to enter: Buy a genetic testing kit or enter for free online
One person will win each day through August 3, 2017. No purchase necessary. Visit page for rules.
If you are considering ordering a 23andMe genetic testing kit, THIS would be a great time to do so. Can you imagine not only finding out some answers to your own genetic makeup but also winning a trip where you could explore some aspect of your heritage?! Seriously, that would be a dream come true! Good luck!
Disclosure: I received a 23andMe genetic testing kit for free in exchange for this post but all opinions expressed above are my own. I especially hope one of you (or 23 of you) wins the Golden23SM Sweepstakes!