The suspense of my results developed into a deep conspiracy as to my origins.
It started with a very simple account
I started building my family tree in 2003 when the Ancestry service was only available in the U.S. Back then, George Bush Junior was president of the U.S., the Boxing Day 2004 Tsunami was at least a year away, and it was MSN Messenger that ruled social media. Facebook wasn’t even around.
Ten years later I decided I would become serious building the family tree. I meticulously pieced together information about both sides of my family, gathering records and building timelines of events. I signed up for a paid membership account so that I could add new records appearing as hints against names on my iPad.
Then in 2017, I drooled into the plastic tube, swished it around with a blue solution and mailed back the AncestryDNA kit in a prepaid box.
It would be shipped back to the labs in the U.S. This, I had reckoned would add a new dimension to my results beyond records, cross-referencing names from immigration papers, census details and electoral rolls. I would identify long-lost relatives and find family secrets. As a person of Filipino descent, I had wondered whether I really had Spanish or Chinese descent or European descent, or if the generations preceding myself had been told lies.
The suspense of my results developed into a deep conspiracy as to my origins. Was there a possibility that I was Ashkenazi Jewish (also known as Sephardic Jews) or European Jewish? After all, the Spanish Inquisition beginning in 1478 (and lasting until 1834, some 356 years) forced millions to convert to Christianity to prevent expulsion from Spain. Was I even of Spanish descent at all? Not all those with Filipino heritage who have Spanish-sounding surnames are truly European. Spain ruled over the Philippines for over 400 years and in 1849, issued a decree standardising names and surnames so that Spanish subjects in the Philippines could be readily identified.
There were other questions. Yes, we had Chinese ancestry but from where? And too, European descent, I had already found certificates noting birthplaces in Germany and France. I was expecting results showing French, German, Spanish, Filipino and Chinese, disregarding what that actually would manifest in a report.
It took about six weeks to get my results
AncestryDNA updated me at each stage: that the purchased kit was on its way, that the kit had been activated, the sample was received and in the queue for processing. At the six-week mark, after what seemed an eternity, I received an email at 3 am announcing that my results were ready.
Were there any surprises?
I found my results to be surprising at first. I found it unwelcome because it did not make immediate sense that I was 5% Finnish/Northwest Russian. Another surprise was my 25% Polynesian result. This isn’t uncommon if the YouTube videos about an individual’s results is an indication.
In the search for more definitive results about my Asian ancestry, I downloaded my Ancestry DNA raw data and uploaded it to another website, DNA.Land. DNA.Land are geneticists from Columbia University and the New York Genome Center who rely on genomes uploaded to their database to contribute to scientific research into genomes. DNA.Land are not-for-profit and as such are unlike consumer sites like 23andMe and AncestryDNA.
Unsurprisingly, the AncestryDNA results showed that I am mostly Asian (49-54%) but don't tell me where. There were surprising results: a "Finnish/Northwest Russian" component (5%) and a large "Polynesian" component (25%). There were trace regions "Great Britain" (0-7%), and "Italy/Greece" (0-11%). How did I feel? Confused. With results like these, I could make a YouTube video and announce I am 1% British!
For Filipinos, the "Polynesia" result is probably common. The simple explanation is that anyone with Filipino ancestry will show up in two categories in AncestryDNA, namely "East Asia" and "Polynesia". Some scientific research does indicate that Polynesia and Oceania were colonised from the Philippine islands over a period of about 3000 years. But my result is not a true indication of an unknown Fijian ancestor.
DNA.Land results shows more nuanced results
For a free admixture analysis, DNA.Land is pretty impressive. It confirms that I am Southeast Asian, but confirms distinct patterns from indigenous Taiwanese (35% Taiwanese ancestry i.e. the Ami and Atayal indigenous people from Taiwan) before mainland Chinese Han migration commenced in the 17th century and countries today that border the South China Sea. Only a strait separates Southern Taiwan from the Northern Philippines. According to geneticists, indigenous Taiwanese share linguistic and genetic ties to Austronesian ethnic groups including the Philippines and Oceania.)
Why do people gush at their AncestryDNA results?
It's convenient. But AncestryDNA explains that their analysis is an estimate or a heat map of where your ancestors originated. (This is quite telling with AncestryDNA’s grand grouping of Asians.) The DNA.Land analysis shows results that appear more consistent with my own family research. Our family does indeed have Chinese ancestry, but the DNA.Land analysis suggests it is as clear as 11% Central Chinese and 29% Southeast Asian.
The Northwest Russia, Finnish and British/Scottish results are detailed somewhat in the Ancestry DNA results. They explain that the decline of Roman empire led to Rome's withdrawal from Britannia in 410 A.D. Tribes from northern Germany and Denmark i.e. the Germanic Angles and Saxons eventually controlled much of the British Isles.
But my Finnish/Northwest Russian result may also be explained by Europe's political history: from the formation of the German Confederation to the German Empire. These regions extended "Germany" further west and north than in Germany today. The Great Famine of 1866-68 in Finland and Sweden might also have forced the migration of many people south into Germany (though the most common migration from Europe to the United States occurred during the 1800s).
Comparing Ancestry DNA with DNA.Land is just the start
A genetic profile is an incredible tool. It is powerful in understanding your identity. Used strategically the possibilities are endless.
I discovered my ethnic origins with AncestryDNA. Now you can too! Save 10%, learn your ethnic mix, and maybe even find new relatives. Use the link below and save 10% on your own DNA kit: https://refer.dna.ancestry.com/s/i2t6k