Irish Roots

September 21st

John Grenham


As we have seen, the direct usefulness of DNA testing to genealogy is almost entirely limited to the single surname study. But it is still worth looking at what DNA tests claim to do, beyond genealogy.

On the positive side, they can, for example, statistically situate an individual in a framework of prehistoric populations and migrations. The descendants of slaves forcibly abducted from Africa can use mtDNA testing to identify the area of the continent from which their ancestors are most likely to have come.

But then there are so-called “kinship” tests, purporting to demonstrate descent from a historical individual. Inevitably, the chain of logic behind these is deeply flawed: Genghis Khan was not the only Mongol in Central Asia in the 13trh century.

Most dangerous of all, though, are the so-called “tribal” tests. These use present-day DNA signature distribution to analyse ethnic origins, often presenting the results in map form, showing where in the world the highest concentration of matches to your DNA is currently found. So you are then deemed predominantly Celtic, or Viking, or Anglo-Saxon … This is racist bunk, to be polite. The history of the human race is one of migration after migration, over tens of thousands of years. We are all related, and the point in history (or pre-history) we designate as the start of our separation into tribe or race or nation is a cultural and political choice. There are no genetic tests for ethnic identity. The old Apartheid practice of determining race by checking if a child’s hair was wiry enough to hold a pencil is just as scientific as these tribal DNA tests.

So beware of sciency-sounding snake-oil merchants who will take your money, run some DNA tests, and certify you 13.5% Cherokee and 41.2% Ashanti.


Comments and suggestions are welcome, to irishrootsatirishtimes.com.

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