Last week I read the amazing book The Lost Family: How DNA Testing is Upending Who We Are by Libby Copeland. I also happened to listen to the podcast The Curious Cases of Rutherford and Fry‘s episode The Viking Code which examines how DNA testing works and whether or not all Britons (is that the plural?) are descended from Vikings.
It made for an interesting week of contemplation about what forms your identity? Is it your ethnicity? The family you were raised in? The culture in which you find yourself?
I learned from both of these sources that DNA tests do not actually tell you your history (or your ethnic identity, even though that is what they claim), rather, they are matching certain parts of your DNA to people who live now. For example, let’s say that part of your DNA matches the UK. It could be that you are descended from people in the UK, but it could also be that a people group has migrated to the UK recently and you are part of that group.
It is impossible for the tests to tell you exactly who your ancestors were, because they are not doing the DNA analysis on your ancestors, but rather on modern people. It all gets really murky and tricky. And is far more nuanced than we have been led to believe.
And yet, as Rutherford and Fry so aptly put it, we are all descended from the same people. We are all much more alike than we are different.