Visiting the past: Tracing your ancestry through DNA testing

If your family is anything like mine, you’re not quite sure what part of the world your ancestors herald from. Sure, we have an idea stretching back to the late 1800’s but have never known beyond that – something fairly typical for many Americans whose ancestors came over on the boat sometime in the last 400 years.

And so, I remain jealous of those who journey across the world to their ancestral home to visit the village where long-dead relatives lived for generations before uprooting everything and moving to the New World. It must be a very wonderful feeling to stand in such a place and completely submerge oneself in family history and reconnect with the past.

I’ve thought often of hiring a genealogy specialist to help track down my family’s history so that one day I could knock on a door in Scotland, Ireland, Wales, or God knows where and introduce myself to some distant relative whose ancestors never caught the boat. How cool would that be?

There is another option, however, to researching my family history–one, that explores the family tree all the way to the roots.

DNA testing is something that was prohibitively expense even just a few years ago. Today, however, one can pay just $1000 for a partial genetic decoding that will not only reveal all sorts of things about inherited traits and predisposition towards certain diseases, but it will also trace back your ancestry.

Although a wonderful article in Wired Magazine focuses mostly on the “dozen or so diseases and conditions, from type 2 diabetes to Crohn’s disease” that can be identified through genomics, journalist Thomas Goetz does briefly discuss the ancestry angle thanks Jimmy Buffett. One day when Goetz was doing researching for the article, the singer stopped by a genomics lab to figure out if he was related to investor Warren Buffett (he wasn’t). In the process, however, he peeked into his ancestral genome to learn that his “maternal lineage showed a strong connection to the British Isles.” He also discovered “a strong link to the Basque region of Spain.” Very cool!

Sure, there are no addresses or even cities provided with such research, but at least it will point wanderlust travels such as myself in the right direction home.

And it’s simple. Just fill up a 2.5-milliliter vial with spit and mail it off to 23andMe, a genomics company run by the wife of one of the Google billionaires. The information will be securely posted online 4-6 weeks later, at which point you will know more about yourself than perhaps you’d ever like to know.