Friday, 29 January 2021 19:00
Estonian Life No. 4 2021 - Vincent Teetsov
It was an unusual process to begin with. The packaging read “Exempt Human Specimen – Category C.” Without context, you might think your genetics were being harvested for some sinister purpose, but with the reassuring instructional leaflet and information about Ancestry.com's efforts, you're made to feel part of a larger global effort to understand our origins.
By putting your saliva sample into the plastic vial, securing the top, and shaking the sample up in the mysterious blue stabilizing solution, you may be unravelling genetic networks that extend far beyond that piece of paper with your family tree drawn on it. You'll learn what makes you, you
and how we're all connected.
That's one idea that links all of these genealogical companies together; the intention to bridge all of our knowledge into one common source so that we can map out where humans came from. How migrating tribes became nations. When I got my own Ancestry DNA results back, I was already expecting an assortment of different European regions to be shown. My maternal family are Brazilians who came from Austria and Portugal. My paternal family are from Viljandimaa and Saaremaa.
The other percentages of genetic material that appeared in my report helped to visualize the path of Estonian tribes to where they are now. 16% Finland. 21% Baltics. 26% Eastern Europe and Russia. That last one definitely played a part in my maternal genetics, because of how large the Austrian empire was. Nevertheless, this percentage could have to do with how of Finno-Ugric people, the early Estonians, migrated from the Ural Mountains in present-day Russia, to the Baltic Sea.
Of course, when a younger person takes one of these tests, their results can be less clear than if an older person takes that same test. Genetic information from seniors, or otherwise people whose family have lived in one place for longer, can target more specific places, with smaller regions of countries highlighted. Increased testing data has started to visualize immigrant communities abroad, too.
Other consumer ancestry services, such as 23andMe, even use DNA collection to tell you about your muscular composition, genetic likelihood of lactose intolerance, what health challenges you are more prone to face, and more. This has given genealogy more day-to-day implications.
The more people that use these kits, the more complete the world's genetic information is. Just like any scientific research, the larger the sample size the better. And for every person who receives “1% Irish” in their results, no matter how unexpected, it may just warrant a trip to the Emerald Isle!
Still, to verify the accuracy of this kind of information, it helps to piece together what we have in writing and pictures. Sites like Geni.com have also paired with DNA testing companies (for Geni, it's MyHeritage), but primarily focus on accumulating known dates, names, and data that we can glean from documents. Beyond having something to share with family down the line, inputting information like the name and date of birth of your grandparents unlocks potential family tree matches from other users, allowing you to find long-lost relatives.
Family record-keeping used to be less organized. If a family member was very keen, there might be notebooks and binders with information about people. There might be photo albums documenting special moments, like new babies and vacations. While there's still a lot of value in tangible memories, printed photos, and the like, these kind of sites can help us uncover more about our origins than we even thought was out there.
Written by Vincent Teetsov