Last Christmas my brother-in-law’s twenty something sons gave him a 23 & Me DNA test kit. They weren’t alone. Wired reported that Ancestry.com sold 1.5 million DNA test kits during the Christmas shopping season and 23 & Me, while not releasing total sales figures, was one of the top five best selling items on Black Friday. When I came across the figures, I wondered what happened with those test kits.
I asked my nephew he why and his brother had decided to give their dad a DNA test. “We just wanted to know more about where our family came from,” he said. “We knew that we were German, Irish and French on my grandmother’s side, but my family discussions about my grandfather’s side was always vague. Somewhere in Eastern Europe. Nobody knew. I had friends who had family members who had taken the tests and it sounded like a good way to find out something definite.”
My brother-in-law said, “I thought it was a thoughtful gift, but it wasn’t something I would have done on my own.” He nevertheless returned his swab and waited for the results.
When the report from 23 & Me arrived, both my nephew and his dad agreed that they didn’t learn anything surprising. The report said that the family was primarily Polish, Czech, and Slovak, with some other Eastern Europeans thrown in. “It doesn’t really tell you who you are related to,” my nephew said, a bit disappointed.
His father observed, “I had a secretary once who helped me do some genealogical research, so I knew a little. The results weren’t anything that I didn’t already know.”
Both agreed that they would like to know more, but were too busy right now to do the research necessary to find out anything specific about the family. Both said that some time they might like to see what they could find out.
I suspect that there was a fairly large number of Christmas gift test kits which produced a similar story. That’s too bad.
“Genealogical research can be daunting, no matter how chipper those Ancestry.com ads seem,” said Jaya Saxena in the New York Times. “And while a DNA test can help, there’s probably more to your story.”
One of the things we enjoy at Stories To Tell is the opportunity to work with people who take up the challenge of uncovering the rest of the story and putting it into a book.