Those of you who followed my blog in April will remember how I was singled out at Who Do You Think You Are? Live by Living DNA’s Marketing Director Hannah Morden– I suppose constant tweeting, not to mention purchasing 12 DNA kits on the spot – sort of made me stand out…
Anyway, thanks to that rather serendipitous encounter, I took a test with Living DNA, the results of which would ordinarily have taken between around 8-12 weeks to arrive. This week, after just over an amazing six weeks’ wait, I got my results!
Now, you will probably remember that so far the only company I have tested with is Ancestry.co.uk. The results I received a year ago showed what I (more or less) already knew, or at least half suspected – that I am a big fat European mongrel. A chunk of British ancestry here, a splash of Spanish (“Iberian”) blood there, and a sprinkling of Italian (“Italy/Greece”) genes all concocted with traits of other, smaller ethnic groups appear to have made me what I am today. So how would my Ancestry results compare with those of Living DNA?
Well, I certainly hope that no one out there is getting tattoos with their ethnic group percentages, because we must remember that any estimations we get are just that, mere estimations, and are actually only based on whichever company’s existing database. In other words, your results may and will vary depending on the company you test with, and will also change with the passing of time, as more and more users test.
So, how did I fare with Living DNA? Well, for someone whose recent (300 years or so) ancestry is vaguely 40% Spanish, 25% British (in my case mainly West Midland English with a pinch of Welsh) and about 30% Italian, I was amazed to find a large chunk of purported French DNA (over 70%!). But then again, France is a large country, with a lot of mixed peoples, and my Italian ancestors did come from northern Italy, not that far from the French border. Then again, this may well be because the markers contained within my DNA are for the time being too different from the markers that Living DNA’s lab currently use – thus they compare somewhat differently from my other Ancestry DNA results.
My Spanish side was also represented in my Living DNA results, although strangely it only merited 5.5% – again, my family comes from a very specific region on the north-western coast, and the migration of peoples may well have mixed up my ethnic Spanish “purity”. And, as mentioned, the markers from that particular area may not yet have been sufficiently developed by Living DNA’s lab.
Alas, enter Great Britain. Only 1.5 %? My English grandmother, whose whole ancestry back to the 1750’s is firmly English – but for one distant Welsh female ancestor- would definitely be shocked. And even more surprising is that there is no sign of Irish DNA, which according to Ancestry is present in my veins, though I can’t exactly explain how. Maybe Ancestry means to say “Celtic”, which would explain the Welsh side…?
All this may seem confusing. In fact it is, but I am not too concerned: the markers that Ancestry, Living DNA and the other DNA testing companies use are different; the labs they use are different, and as far as I can tell, their definition of ethnic groups is also different. I am sure that with the passing of time my results both on Living DNA and any other company I may decide to test with will continue to evolve and become similar (if not identical) to each other.
But that’s not all – for me, getting my autosomal DNA results was not the main reason for testing with Living DNA. You will understand my joy when I also received my Haplogroup subclades for my Y-DNA (direct paternal line) and Mt-DNA (direct female line) – Living DNA test 20,000 markers for their Y-DNA test, and 4,500 snips for the Mt-DNA test. Now, you may know by now that my dad’s direct paternal line comes from NW Italy, an area which was in fact at one point ruled by Sardinia. It all seemed to fit perfectly when I realised that my Haplogroup is quite common not just in the Western Balkans (what? I’m Bosnian/Croatian now?) but also in Sardinia!
My mother’s Mt-DNA signature was equally fascinating – and puzzling. She got a Haplogroup which turns out to be more common among northern Scandinavian peoples – in other words, a far cry from my NW Spanish ancestors…
Once I had time to digest my results and try to ponder the questions that were all of a sudden popping into my head, I wrote down the pros and cons of this testing, and decided to get some answers from Living DNA themselves. Here are some pointers which will hopefully help you clarify some of the questions you might have:
- Living DNA’s single test available offers autosomal, Y-DNA (for males only) and Mt-DNA results. Considering the cost (129€ plus delivery), it is very good value.
- Unlike other DNA testing companies, they cover the whole world, which means you can receive your DNA kit pretty much wherever you live.
- Living DNA is, as far as I know, the only company of its kind based in Europe and which consequently complies with EU legislation.
- Their website has a sleek, modern look to it, although finding your way around is not always 100% evident because of the features they include – but this is a minor detail in my opinion.
- Living DNA’s level of detail is pretty much unprecedented, as it allows breaking down ethnic groups into much smaller subgroups. The UK is the country with the largest group of ethnic sub-groups, but I understand other regions are in the pipeline to become more detailed in the months to come.
- Downloading one’s raw DNA file will also soon become possible, and they are working to make this feature compatible with sites such as GEDmatch which will helpfully allow users to compare their results with thousands of others.
- As a genealogist, the biggest flaw I found with Living DNA’s current set-up was the lack of a DNA comparison feature. For me, being able to compare my autosomal DNA results with those of other users is crucial as I am more interested in knowing if I have any close genetic relatives, as opposed to finding out if I’m a quarter French. Happily I just heard DNA comparison will be available as early as next July, so that will hopefully be a problem taken care of. If this feature is added, Living DNA will definitely become the most cost-effective of all available DNA tests.
- One detail which I think can be improved on their website is the accessibility to one’s autosomal results. It took me a while to figure out that by clicking on the “plus” sign I could actually see my results in greater detail. But again, a minor detail which should nevertheless be made more accessible, in my opinion.
- I also understand that there will soon be an additional feature which will allow data to be managed by a “key owner”, in other words, your data can be managed by a relative after your death.
- Living DNA’s current database is not as large as other companies’, but they are growing exponentially every month. I have already made it clear to Living DNA that I would be happy to volunteer some friends and relatives whose grandparents were born within an 80km radius of each other – thus allowing the company to increase their markers database and allow everyone’s results to appear in greater detail.
Living DNA has the benefit of being a fairly small, innovative and new company with all the good qualities of a family-run business. I find they are keen to listen to users and are happy to get suggestions, which is why I am ready to give them a vote of confidence. I certainly look forward to many great things from Living DNA in the near future!
Disclaimer: All views expressed here are my own personal opinions. I do not work for Living DNA or any other DNA-testing company, or any company operating within the field of genealogy or genetics.