In June 2016 I decided to partake in the Genographic Project, which was where National Geographic organised a global, affordable and appealing way to have your DNA analysed, to give insight into your ethnic background. Ostensibly, it was set up to show people how we’re all much more related than you’d think (perhaps most shockingy for those who consider themselves of a pure race). All you had to do was collect some saliva and mail it off to be processed, after which you’d find out where you fit on the huge patchwork quilt of human ethnicity.
My urge was mostly triggered by regular curiosity, but also because one of my grandparents (my late mother’s father) is unknown. My maternal grandma had been, let’s so, fruitful with several partners before she got legitimately married. My mother used to say her biological father was probably a German soldier (her having been conceived in World War II), but there was no telling whether that was actually true. She had distanced herself from that past, at any rate, by legally changing her surname from her biological mother’s to her adopting family’s the moment she became of age.
I had always known about these circumstances, roughly, except for the actual dates and later marriage, which my dad found out about when he did family tree research around the turn of the century. In fact, my mother turned out to have had two half-siblings from before her mother’s marriage, plus two more that were conceived in wedlock. Except for one of her pre-marital half-siblings, whom I had known as an uncle, I did (and do) not know where the others (who happen to be aunts) live. My dad said that my maternal grandma’s pre-marriage history was also unknown (and, indeed, upon my dad revealing it, initially denied) by her grandchildren.
Anyway, back to the ethnicities revealed by my DNA results, which I received after a few months:
20% Southern Europe
12% Western and Central Europe
7% Great Britain and Ireland
6% Eastern Europe
Because I had primarily known about my family being from the Dutch province of North Brabant (granted, that’s mostly from the Karsmakers side), I was a bit surprised by the analysis. Had my mother’s genes instilled a lot of Scandinavian heritage? I didn’t know. I also didn’t really know how to interpret the results, so my initial enthusiasm petered away. I got back to my daily life and didn’t heed the DNA stuff much. Somewhere in 2019, National Geographics discontinued their Genographic Project, too.
Early this year I stumbled onto another site, 23andme.com, where you could order DNA collection kits as well. More or less on a whim, I ordered three (one to use for myself as a re-start, one for my wife, and one for her son – my stepson). By the end of March I received the results again. They were a little different, and perhaps more logical considering the German soldier anecdote:
85,6% French & German (which for some reason includes Belgium and the Netherlands)
12,3% Great Britain and Ireland
1,6% broadly Northwestern Europe
Part of the results on 23andme.com also showed so-called “DNA Relatives”, i.e. people with whom you have a certain part of your genetic material in common. The closest turned out to be a 3rd cousin, which is a person with whom I very likely have 2nd great-grandparents in common (see picture).
Someone on 23andme.com advised me to check out a pretty good site to build your family tree, ancestry.com. I started converting some of my father’s family tree research (for which he had used a powerful but not very visual Dutch program called Aldfaer). This was rather a lot of work, initially, especially because I discovered that his research had been woefully Karsmakers-name-centric and unfortunately riddled with typos and even wrongly typed dates. After having added one or two generations to my family tree on the site, though, I noticed that ancestry.com started giving me Ancestry Hints, which are suggestions on who might be related to a person you have already added to your family tree. The algorithm is quite reliable, as it retrieves information from their vast database that has (parts of) names and specific dates in common with people in your tree. They take this information from a large variety of reputable (indeed, often official) online genealogical sources, as well as other ancestry.com member family trees. In fact, their database is so enormous that you end up with more hints than you have time to handle (to wit, my current tree has 2363 people with nearly 5000 of these hints I should still check out). And every person you add gives you more new hints.
To give you an indication on how user-friendly ancestry.com is: I started on April 13 and today, May 8, I have added the abovementioned number of people, and managed to find all my direct ancestors that ancestry.com knew about.
Like I explained above, I only know 3 of my grandparents. This means I have 6 potentially known great-grandparents, 12 2nd great-grandparents, 24 3rd great-grandparents, 48 4th great-grandparents, and so on and so forth. Using the ancestry.com site, I even managed to find 8 (of my possible 98,304 😉 15th great-grandparents, dating back to the second half of the 15th century. I found all potentially known 12 2nd great-grandparents, which provided me with the information I needed to contact that 3rd cousin I found on 23andme.com.
A total of 2 parents (50% DNA in common) were found of a possible maximum of 2 (100%)
A total of 3 grandparents (25% DNA in common) were found of a possible maximum of 3 (100%)
A total of 6 great-grandparents (12,5% DNA in common) were found of a possible maximum of 6 (100%)
A total of 12 2nd great-grandparents (6,25% DNA in common) were found of a possible maximum of 12 (100%)
A total of 20 3rd great-grandparents (3,13% DNA in common) were found of a possible maximum of 24 (83%)
A total of 29 4th great-grandparents (1,56% DNA in common) were found of a possible maximum of 48 (60%)
A total of 50 5th great-grandparents (0,78% DNA in common) were found of a possible maximum of 96 (52%)
A total of 71 6th great-grandparents (0,39% DNA in common) were found of a possible maximum of 192 (37%)
A total of 89 7th great-grandparents (0,20% DNA in common) were found of a possible maximum of 384 (23%)
A total of 88 8th great-grandparents (0,10% DNA in common) were found of a possible maximum of 768 (11.5%)
A total of 69 9th great-grandparents (0,05% DNA in common) were found of a possible maximum of 1536 (4.5%)
A total of 64 10th great-grandparents (0,02% DNA in common) were found of a possible maximum of 3072 (2%)
A total of 58 11th great-grandparents (0,01% DNA in common) were found of a possible maximum of 6144 (1%)
A total of 54 12th great-grandparents were found of a possible maximum of 12288 (0.44%)
A total of 43 13th great-grandparents were found of a possible maximum of 24576 (0.17%)
A total of 30 14th great-grandparents were found of a possible maximum of 49152 (0.06%)
A total of 8 15th great-grandparents were found of a possible maximum of 98304 (0.01%)
Except for these arguably sterile statistics, ancestry.com also allows you to unearth information of a non-genealogical type. I found out, for example, that one of my granduncles was put to work in Germany during World War II (because ancestry.com has access to the files the Germans kept about these things), and that several of my more distant ancestors (10th great-grandparents and up) are from Belgium, Denmark or, indeed, Norway. I have the feeling that I am only just at the beginning of this road of discovery!
For those of you who have reason to find out whether they are related to me (and, if so, from whom exactly), here’s the Excel file with my direct ancestors as far as I know them: Direct Ancestors.
For those who want to actually compare their DNA with other people’s, or have it analysed in a variety of ways, you can upload your raw DNA data to Gedmatch (if you want to compare it to mine, my kit number is UY9604721). The Gedmatch site will accept raw DNA data exports from 23andme.com as well as other popular DNA analysis providers. It will also allow you to do much more DNA-related exploration that has so far turned out to be too complicated for me to explore.
The ancestry.com site also offers their own DNA analysis kit, but they unfortunately do not allow for raw third-party DNA data to be imported. Also, in case you want access to their whole Ancestry Hints database when building your family tree, you need to pay a fee.