PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — For a $100, Ancestry.com promises to find your ethnicity and maybe distant relatives, but you may not get exactly what you think you’re paying for.
“It gives you some clues, it gives you direction, some things to try out and look at, but it isn’t the final answer,” says Carol Sheaffer with the Genological Society of Pennsylvania.
“When you get the results, you get two major things,” she says. “The first is your ethnicity report, telling you where all your DNA came from all around the world, and the other are hits, and those are people who actually share some part of your DNA and to whom you are related.”
In other words: it’s not a guarantee.
As the company explains, the ethnicity report is based on common DNA profiles from one of Ancestry’s 26 different “regions,” but not necessarily a specific country.
“It’s very hard to pinpoint an exact place,” says Sheaffer. “People moved around, people lived in different countries, they became involved and married to people in those countries, and left the area but created descendants that had part of their DNA.”
For children who were adopted, and may have no family records, it’s even harder to find an exact heritage. For example, babies adopted from East Asia, she says:
“It’s a real mix, and it’s a pretty wide area they don’t specifically help you pin it down to a village.”
Scheaffer says that’s where the list of possible relatives come in.
“If you find someone in your list of matches that you can connect with, and you have a common ancestor you both know about, you can begin to go back in time to find a specific place.”
When you get the test, the information is stored in Ancestry’s DNA database, and if someone with a common genetic profile also gets tested, they will you an update about that person, or possible relative.
Ancestry.com says they base the results off other DNA profiles in the database, but cannot precisely narrow in on exact locations. They say they hope the technology will become more accurate as it develops.
Full Statement from Ancestry.com:
Tests that reveal someone’s genetic ethnicity do so by comparing a person’s DNA signature to those of test panels around the world to find similarities in the genetic code that can point to ethnic origins. One of the challenges genetic testing struggles with is the fact that there are fewer samples from some areas of the world which makes it more challenging to offer granular results. The scientific community is actively addressing this issue to improve the representation of all populations in scientific studies.
As more people take the DNA tests like ours, the science underlying the estimates of genetic ethnicity will evolve and results can become more refined.