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Comparing 3 Different Genetic Ancestry DNA Services

I guess it’s just human curiosity that propels us to buy DNA tests that tell us where are ancestors are from. After thinking about it for years (because they’re so pricey), I actually decided to brave the cost and get some DNA tests! There’s a saying that goes along the lines of, “the truth is in between both sides” – so that’s why I got 3 DNA tests instead of one.

According to my family, what am I? I have a professional historian for a father and my mother’s family is fairly into history too, so we have a lot of family records and stories. We can trace our family history back generations and centuries, which is the cool part. The not cool part? My family has lived in Pennsylvania for a very, very, very long time. From before the revolutionary war until my dad moved out and raised me one state over, my family has been in Pennsylvania. My mother’s family is the same way, but with different states in the South.

We have stories of when my ancestors came to the USA, but they’re really just stories. A lot of times, they don’t make sense chronologically, or my great-grandma who was born in Poland apparently was also born in Mississippi. No names, no hometowns, no reasons for immigrating. Moreover, nothing about their ancestry. But these stories have told me I have ancestors coming from Scotland, England, Wales, Ireland, Sweden, Germany, Poland, Austria, Switzerland, and Hungary. And at some point of time, my family was Jewish. So when I purchased my DNA tests, I was hoping for something a bit more concrete than my elders could give me.

(Just FYI – Ancestry.com is not a good resource for finding your heritage since anyone can access it and post their own incorrect family trees. Always rely on records alone.)

A little about genetic testing: Each test has its own breakdown of how it reaches its results, but the general idea is that certain genetic markers – which usually appear as traits – can be associated with living in a specific area. Someone living in that area may (or may not) pick up that genetic marker. So just because you have an ancestor from Italy doesn’t mean you’ll necessarily have an Italian genetic marker. Additionally, as your biological siblings and parents have different genetic markers, they may have a different DNA heritage than you – even though you obviously have the same exact heritage as your siblings. DNA tests aren’t definitive answers of where each of your ancestors is from, but markers of where your genetic code originates.

23andMe

French & German: 36.4% (probably Switzerland)
British & Irish: 33.3%
Scandinavian: 2.5%
Eastern European: 1.0%
Ashkenazi Jewish: 0.7%
Iberian: 0.1%
Senegambian & Guinean: 0.1%
Broadly Northwestern European: 19.0%
Broadly Southern European: 3.0%
Broadly European: 3.8%

If I remember correctly, 23andMe actually had the fastest turnaround time, and it also has an optional health report you can opt into (though I chose not to). I was very surprised to get western African heritage (though my grandma got some with her Ancestry.com DNA test) but was also disappointed that such a large percentage of my DNA is “broadly European.” However the report also includes Material Haplogroups and Neanderthal ancestry, and I was surprised to find out I’m less Neanderthal than 71% of people who take the DNA test.

Areas tested in 23andMe (32 – probably more): African Hunter-Gatherer, Ashkenazi Jewish, Balkan, British & Irish, Broadly East Asian, Broadly East Asian & Native American, Broadly European, Broadly Northwestern European, Broadly Southern European, Broadly Sub-Saharan African, Broadly Western Asian & North African, Chinese, East African, Eastern European, Finnish, French & German, Iberian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Manchurian & Mongolian, Melanesian, Native American, North African & Arabian, Sardinian, Scandinavian, Siberian, South Asian, Southeast Asian, Unassigned, West African, Western Asian

Ancestry DNA

Ancestry DNA changes the estimates based on new data so the number in parenthesis is the old estimate.

England, Wales and Northwestern Europe: 38% (<1%)
Germanic Europe: 32%
Ireland & Scotland: 26% (21%)
Eastern Europe & Russia: 3%
European Jewish: 1% (1%)
Europe West: (67%)
Europe East: (3%)
Europe South: (2%)
Scandinavia: (2%)
Iberian Peninsula: (1%)
Finland/Northwest Russia: (1%)
Caucus: (<1%)

Ancestry DNA is probably the most popular DNA test out there, but let me be blunt: <1% went to 38%? Also, isn't England, Wales and Northwestern Europe really huge? Ancestry also provides a traits section of their website, which says I have dark hair and medium-tone skin. LOL. I'm a pale blonde. Plus they thought my grandma was my first cousin. I hope they don't do forensics for criminal investigations.

However, Ancestry does map my Irish heritage to western Ireland and accurately tells me my ancestors moved to western Pennsylvania. They also have a timeline of my ancestry that says my ancestors moved to the US in the early 1700s, which is probably accurate as well. That’s more of the content I was looking for.

Areas tested in Ancestry DNA: They have over 350 regions to test, so click here to see the list

Family Tree DNA

West and Central Europe: 67%
Scandinavia: 23%
British Isles: 6%
South America: <1%
Asia Minor: <2%
West Middle East: <2%

Probably the least known of the three tests is Family Tree DNA, but they also don’t have in-depth information about origins as the other two do, so it’s easy to see why. It’s nice that the other two said things like “Your ancestors most likely came from Switzerland” and “Your ancestors migrated to Pennsylvania,” but FTDNA doesn’t say anything like that. However it was fascinating to see some unexpected results like South America and Asia Minor.

They also have a cool “Ancient Origins” section of the website but my map looks exactly like the sample map so I’m not completely sure I trust it.

Areas tested in FTDNA (24): Ashkenazi, Asia Minor, British Isles, Central Asia, East Central Africa, East Europe, East Middle East, Finland, Iberia, North Africa, North and Central America, Northeast Asia, Oceania, Scandinavia, Sephardic, Siberia, South America, South Central Africa, South Central Asia, Southeast Asia, Southeast Europe, West Africa, West Middle East, West and Central Europe

So what now?

I’m going to be completely blunt: the whole ancestry heritage thing is probably a bunch of BS just because of the nature of the subject. Tracing DNA is a tricky science, if not impossible. It’s more interesting to get multiple tests done and see what’s similar between them, but would probably only benefit people who are uncertain of their ancestry or have mixed-origin ancestry. If you don’t want to have multiple tests, I’d recommend Ancestry the most with 23andMe behind, and wouldn’t recommend FTDNA.

Though it’s been fun seeing my results but now all I know is I’m of British Isle and Germanic ancestry, probably, which doesn’t include what was actually more important to me all along: my family stories (even if they are just stories). This DNA test journey has actually taught me that DNA doesn’t matter to me at all. I don’t know what my ancestors looked like; what they were like in personality; what they enjoyed and accomplished with their lives. I’d like to know, but some things sadly disappear with time.

Unlike some people, I’m not close to my heritage at all and it has no place in my identity. I have a Jewish name. Growing up, my family made homemade pierogi and golabki like our Polish ancestors, and we put rocks on peoples’ graves despite not being Jewish. Polish ancestry is the closest I’ve had in my life but it didn’t come up on the DNA results. I thought maybe learning about my ancestral heritage would answer some questions, but it posed more, and then I just didn’t really care to answer those questions.

But at least now when people ask me what I am, I have three different maps to show them!

Have you ever gotten a DNA test done before? Do you identify with your heritage?

Posted on Thursday, February 14, 2019 in Uncategorized

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Highlight: Pachacamac

There are so many archaeological sites in Peru but while we stayed in Lima, we decided to take the short excursion over to Pachacamac. Even though the Sacred Valley and the Incas take Peru’s limelight, there’s so much more to this gorgeous country, past and present. Part of that is Lima and its several surrounding archaeological sites – one of which being Pachacamac.

Pachacamac

This ancient site dates to 200 AD and was created for Pachacamac, the most important god of pre-colonial times. Up through the Incas, the site was modified to meet standards of the times. The Incas were the ones to built the Temple of the Sun, which is one of the most prominent parts of the complex. This site thrived for about 1300 years before the Spanish came. Isn’t that amazing?

There’s so much to see at this very large and important site. You start off at a museum that has a decent amount of artefacts and a wealth of information. It’s in chronological order so very easy to understand. It was really cool that they had well-preserved textiles dating back hundreds of years, as well as wooden and other objects. Those types of things don’t usually last. After touring the museum, you then exit and head out to the site itself with a guide, who will drive you around.

Pachacamac

Pachacamac

There are several pyramids in Pachacamac, not like those in Egypt but pyramids nonetheless. Peru is actually filled with them! You can see the ruins quite clearly and the guides will tell you all about how the buildings were used and what they may have been like in their heyday. You can also walk on a major ancient road that used to run several miles. It’s cool to walk in the footsteps on ancient Peruvians, and there’s also so much known about the archaeological site. It’s fascinating to see a structure and know what it was once used for, rather than wonder.

Pachacamac

You’ll also get to see the Acllahuasi, which is one of the most preserved and thus photographed parts of the site. It’s another Incan building. Women were chosen to live there and perform domestic duties. You can only see it from afar but its grandeur can still be noticed.

Pachacamac

Pachacamac

While you’re there, you’ll probably make your way up to the Temple of the Sun. Again, the temple is an Incan structure and it’s on the top of a hill on the site, making it the most prominent part. You can still walk up to the temple though you can’t go in, you can see it much closer than other buildings. I also didn’t find the walk up to be as strenuous as some other sites out there. There’s also some red paint still on the walls that you can see, which I always find fascinating. You can see a reconstructed version with the paint intact in the museum.

Pachacamac

If you’re in Lima, I highly recommend not only getting to know the city more but making your way out to some of the Lima area’s best archaeological splendors. Pachacamac was one of the highlights of our trip and it’s certainly worth a visit.

Posted on Saturday, February 9, 2019 in Destinations
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51+ Things to Do in Kyoto

Kyoto is famous for being one of the older, more traditional cities of Japan that survived the war, and real talk: there is so much to see in Kyoto. It was actually quite overwhelming to be there, to love everything we saw, and to want to see more when there was so much! However, good planning and narrowing down what you want to see can be a big help in curating your trip.

Here are 51+ things to do in Kyoto to get the most out of your time in Japan’s ancient capital.

Places to See

Museums

Activities

Neighbourhoods

The Gion District is the most popular because it’s known as old town Kyoto. It’s quite a bit more touristy than the rest of the city but you do get to see a lot of old buildings and come across a lot of nice shrines.

That’s not to say that the rest of the city isn’t charming in its own way. It’s more modern but more laid back.

Some Things to Know

Kyoto is huge huge, huge – so I definitely recommend public transit. Buses are the way to go. There is a JR bus that goes around parts of the city that’s included in your JR Pass, but I could not for the life of me find a map of where it goes. I do know it goes down one of the main roads, Road #1 on a map, but that’s about it. However taking a bus is a flat fare of about 230 yen, which is not much considering the time and foot pain you save.

Have you ever been to Kyoto? What was your favourite thing to do? What was your favourite temple/shrine?

Posted on Sunday, February 3, 2019 in Destinations
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