Understanding DNA Ancestry
by Sheldon Krimsky
When my husband asked me what I wanted for my 60th birthday, I decided it would be a treat to find out more about my ancestry. I had read good things about 23andMe, so—after having paid for two kits (one for me and one for him) and spitting into tubes (which reminded me of various experiments performed during college microbiology)—we shipped off our samples. Eventually, we were presented with a report with my ancestry composition and a list of genetic relatives.
I have noticed that, since the test was performed, my ancestry details (mostly the percentages) have changed, and I assume that’s because more and more Black Americans have had their ancestry analyzed as well.
Because I have a science background, I had a firm understanding of genetics, but what I wasn’t as familiar with was the idea that my information may be used and sold.
Understanding DNA Ancestry by Sheldon Krimsky is a well-researched book on the industry of ancestry analysis, as well as exploring how ancestry analysis data can be used beyond constructing family trees. While I had briefly considered the privacy aspect before sending off my spittle for my personalized report, I hadn’t realized how companies can/may use the information they gather from all those samples.
While the issue of privacy wasn’t high on my list of things, I was worried about it. I understand that others could be worried about it, too, especially with the information being used in forensic genealogy , which was used to capture the elusive Golden State Killer. This case and others bring up the fact that, once your sample is submitted, it could lead investigators to a family member whom they subsequently suspect of having committed a crime.
It was also interesting to read about how the DNA sample you submit is compared against the standard that each unaffiliated ancestry company has established independently. This would explain why there could be differences in results if you request analyses from different companies.
I recommend Understanding DNA Ancestry to those who are interested in having their DNA analyzed, whether you are thinking about having it done, or have your results and wish to know more about the process. While the book is technical in some sections – in fact, I would suggest that readers have a basic understanding of genetics and how traits are inherited – most readers will find the discussion of privacy to be eye-opening. I know I was surprised, and I’m sure you will be just as surprised as I.
[Thank you to NetGalley and the author for the advanced ebook copy in exchange for my honest and objective opinion which I have given here.]