Three companies, Three Errors And Six Different Results: True Story About Commercial DNA Tests

The thing about me is that I’m Jewish. It’s not the only thing about me. I’m also 5 feet 11 inches tall, a glasses wearer and into bicycling. But most people who know me probably wouldn’t be surprised to learn that most of my ancestors lived in shtetls in Eastern Europe.

So, it wasn’t too surprising when I sent off nine DNA samples to three different DNA companies under a variety of fake names, and the results indicated that I’m super-duper Ashkenazi Jewish. (Ashkenazim are Jews who trace their ancestry back to Yiddish-speaking populations inhabiting the region between France and Russia.)

Here’s what was a bit surprising, though: None of the companies — AncestryDNA, 23andMe and National Geographic, which works with a testing company called Helix — could agree on just how Ashkenazi I am.

AncestryDNA looked at the first DNA sample that us sent in for me and reported back that I’m 93 percent “European Jewish.” The rest of my ancestry, it suggested, is as follows: 2 percent traces back to the Iberian Peninsula (that’s Spain and Portugal); 1 percent traces back to the “European South”; 1 percent traces back to the Middle East; and the rest comes from elsewhere.

The second sample produced similar — though, interestingly, not identical — results. This bit of Rafi-spit-in-a-tube, it reported, was only 92 percent Ashkenazi, but a full 3 percent Iberian. The rest of the DNA, according to Ancestry, may have traced back to the Middle East and European South or other regions. But each of those sources accounted for, at most, less than 1 percent of my DNA, according to the site.

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