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Digging Into Your DNA

Are DNA tests really worth it? It depends on what you’re looking for.

dna test

(Photo: AMERICAN ANCESTORS AND NEW ENGLAND HISTORIC GENEALOGICAL SOCIETY)

Maybe you’re skeptical. Grandma has always bragged about your Irish heritage, but you want to see just how Irish you really are. Or maybe you’re wondering about potential health risks that may have been passed down genetically. Either way, taking a DNA test is one way to find out.

There are many brands on the market, and the most important part in deciding which test to take is knowing what kind of results you desire.

“There are two primary types of people that do DNA tests in the first place: those looking for ethnicity, wanting to know what their ancestry is, and those looking to do genealogical research,” said Tom Dreyer, a genealogist with the New England Historic Genealogical Society.

As far as the latter goes, he said the most important part is the ability to construct a family tree, and that depends on the matches you make through the DNA test.

“DNA tells you that you and someone else have a common ancestor,” he said. “Family trees are what make the connections.”

Ancestry DNA, the most popular test with over 10 million users thus far, can provide users with the most matches simply because more people have used it.

“That’s the strong reason to do it,” Dreyer said. “Plus, it has tools genealogists use to determine a common ancestor and the key to figuring out who that is might help find a new living relative.”

23andMe, on the other hand, allows users to screen for health concerns and check for links to certain diseases and health risks.

Of course, all DNA tests come with risks, including the potential for unexpected results, such as unknown diversions in the family tree.

“You have to be aware when you take a test that you don’t always know what the results are going to be,” Dreyer said.

If you take a DNA test and have questions or want to pursue the results further, you can always enlist the help of a genealogist like Dreyer.

“I help people understand what the results mean and how to use the tools available to help them find the ancestors and relatives they’re looking for,” he said.

Find more healthy living stories. AAA.com/LiveWell

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