People have always been curious. We discovered fossils, explored outer space, and have traversed as much of the face of the earth as is currently physically possible. More recently, though, people have become a little more curious about something closer to them. In fact, they’re looking at something that’s right inside of them, part of them. They are looking at their DNA. And through DNA testing, people have been able to learn incredible things about their pasts.
However, with exciting, new technology comes questions. Tons of questions. Questions that people want answers to before they start investing money, hopes, feelings, and, quite literally, themselves, into a DNA test.
1. How does it work?
The person in question gives their DNA, generally by a saliva sample acquired by a cheek swab, to the DNA testing company. The company then compares that DNA with other samples from around the world to find similarities in certain markers that give indications to that person’s background. Although it still takes the work of geneticists, anthropologists, and other scientists to work on these analyses, the development of software that helps analyze the samples has made the process more accurate and faster.
2. How safe is my personal information?
To protect the identities of their clients, DNA testing companies generally give each person a number or other identifying codename. Then, the company labels anything related to the client with that specific codename. This allows the person’s identity to be completely protected, no matter what might happen to their DNA. Were it to be stolen or compromised in any way, the person involved would remain anonymous.
If a person were to want to be deleted from the company’s database, they can choose this as an option as well, for privacy and security reasons.
3. How accurate are the results?
By observing patterns and similarities between DNA, the results are pretty accurate. They are not, however, 100% accurate. Any company claiming to provide 100% accurate DNA tests for ancestry purposes is lying. The results can give a fairly good idea of a person’s ancestry. There may be some errors on occasion, but for the most part, these tests are able to connect the dots from multiple generations in the past all the way up into the present day.
4. Will the results show both sides of my family?
Yes! DNA testing uses autosomal testing which can be used by both men and women, unlike Y-chromosome DNA testing which can only be used on men. This test allows for other chromosomes to be analyzed, and is able to analyze information about the DNA the client would have received from both their mother and their father – unlike mitochondrial testing which tests only the mitochondrial DNA received from the mother.
5. Can the results be used for legal purposes?
Because ancestry DNA tests cannot be confirmed as 100% accurate, they are not meant to be used as legal documents confirming race or ancestry. For legal purposes, one would likely need additional proof showing undeniably what the person in question was hoping to prove. Even though the accuracy of the results is likely very close to being true, because of this margin of doubt, the company would be unlikely to back up their results in the event that someone was trying to use them as undeniable proof.
6. How far back do the tests go?
DNA tests can reach back to about five generations with a good number of matches. It is possible to reach even further back to six or even seven generations, but the further back the tests try to go, the fewer matches the DNA will get and they may become less accurate.