DNA changes

3 years ago

I recently was notified that my DNA origins had changed. If you’ve opted to have your own DNA tested for your ethnic origins, you may be surprised by a similar email someday, and your first reaction will probably be something like, “How can this be?”

Obviously, your DNA hasn’t changed. So how can your origins change?

The answer is simple. Your DNA hasn’t changed — your ancestors are still your ancestors — but the testing company has received more data. That is, more people have taken the DNA test since their report was first sent to you. Now your DNA is showing new or stronger matches and eliminating others. 

When I first got my DNA origins (autosomal) report I was mostly comfortable with what was found. Most of my research confirmed the connections I’d researched. I was surprised that my Baltic states matches were so weak and it appeared that my paternal ancestry was Ukrainian and Polish. I also had a puzzling small percentage of matches with people in Afghanistan. The strong hit in England and Scotland was from my Mom’s side and then there were those Vikings from southern Norway and Sweden who seem to have been everywhere, leaving their genes behind them.

Now, my ancestral DNA shows I’m 100 percent European. I have matches in all of Western Europe, and not so much in northern England and Scotland but in southern England and Ireland. Ireland is a puzzle. My only connection to Ireland is some Anglo-Irish who were in the Pale in the 17th century. The Pale was in Dublin, and “beyond the Pale,” the rest of Ireland, was unsafe for the English. The Pale was Protestant, the rest of Ireland Catholic.

I now have a strong hit in the Baltic states and still Ukraine and Poland, as well as the Balkans. And I lost Norway but strengthened in southern Sweden and Denmark. The Vikings appear to still be present in my genes.

What all this means is that when you take a DNA test for ethnic origins, don’t be surprised if you get updates from time to time. Be sure to read the history of the migration of peoples into the area you are told your ancestors lived. Remember, our ancestors moved around over thousands of years and they often left their genetic heritage wherever they lived. Most of us in Maine will have European ancestry. Our ancestors came into Europe from the Middle East, the Asian Steppes, and some from North Africa into the Iberian Peninsula. 

PBS recently ran a “Nova” program on DNA, which I heartily recommend if you can find it online or as a rerun. In an hour it took the viewer through the testing process, results, mutations, surprises in the genes and other issues. 

In the meantime I can see the paths my ancestors took on their journey, which eventually led to the voyage to the Americas. I’ll watch my results over time to see how they finetune and if something else unexpected pops up. 

Columnist Nancy Battick of Dover-Foxcroft has researched genealogy for over 30 years. She is past president of the Maine Genealogical Society, author of several genealogical articles and co-transcribed the Vital Records of Dover-Foxcroft. Nancy holds an MA in History from UM and lives in DF with her husband, Jack, another avid genealogist. Reader emails are welcome at nbattick@roadrunner.com.