At home DNA kits are a popular gift that have taken us a step above personality quizzes and newspaper horoscopes. Through at home DNA kits such as 23andMe or Ancestry, people are hoping to learn about themselves. These fun spit tests are not as simple as finding your Hogwarts house though – with your health, heritage and relatives all variables in the final results, you can’t hit the redo button for a different outcome.
So how can you prepare for what your DNA test might reveal? Whether you are interested in the genes you carry, where your ancestors came from or maybe even looking for family, here are 10 things you should know before spending $200 and spitting in a tube that is probably going to change what you thought about yourself and your family yesterday.
- Be sensitive
So your great-grandpa used to tell fantastical stories about his one-eighth Cherokee heritage and you want to know if any of it was true. Sure, the stories might have been laced with a little stereotyping, maybe even some plain racism, but you are still curious if any of his cool stories hold up. Remember to be sensitive.
The results that you may or may not be expecting will always represent another group of people and their identity. It is important to respect that. Claiming a heritage based on a family rumor is not cool, but neither is telling people that you are Cherokee after finding 0.03% Native American on your final results.
It is also important to keep context in mind – if great-grandpa really was one-eighth Cherokee, why would that be? What would your ancestors have been doing at the time for this to happen? We are all related to bad people somewhere along the line, and chances are great-grandpa’s racist comments are far more tame in comparison to what was likely going on, especially if you have colonial heritage. Does that make you a bad person? No, because you can chose to be sensitive about what you might find and learn from mistakes of the past.
- Do research
Closely related to being sensitive, doing research is important to prepare you for what is to come. As mentioned before, if you suspect a heritage or maybe even a relative be sure to prepare yourself with as much information as possible. You want to be ready to understand your findings, but also to share those findings and give context to your relatives that may be interested in what pieces they share with you.
Take the initiative to understand why you have the genetic makeup you do and learn about yourself. Your heritage is not a trendy title or status update, it is the basis of what makes you you so give yourself and your ancestors the respect deserved.
With research it is not only easier to be sensitive to others, but to yourself as well. Learn the historical contexts and struggles faced by your possible ancestors, and even find information for heritage groups who might be able to help you navigate your DNA results when you get them. Research can help you prevent misrepresenting yourself and your relatives or even just avoid feeling lost or confused.
- You might not be surprised
After reading the first two suggestions you may be thinking ‘wow, I had better get to researching the viking heritage I always knew I had!’ Not so fast Ragnar Lothbrok, you might be a little disappointed.
Every one of us wants to feel that they belong to something bigger, and what better way to do that than through family stories and Google searching your surname? Well it turns out, DNA testing is way better… but maybe not as exciting.
Although many people have a mix of ancestors with different heritages and identities, some people may have more of a straight line in terms of heritage. For people with short ingredients lists, don’t be discouraged, your research just got cut in half and chances are you are already familiar with most of it.
On the contrary, if all of the wild and fantastic family stories end up being true, be prepared to find exactly what you have been told your whole life. DNA tests are not a game of who is more or less genetically diverse, it is about better understanding yourself and your family heritage.
- Prepare for the worst (or the best)
So let’s say you are going into this process with no information about your heritage or preconceptions, or maybe you have a detailed family tree on your wall dating back to 1603 – either way be prepared. Many DNA tests go past just heritage and will share medical information such as genetic conditions and may even connect you with genetic relatives.
What might have been a fun birthday gift may give you scary news or even shake up the family you know or don’t know about by finding new relatives. None of these things will be easy and they may not even make sense at first, but avoid as much shock as possible by understanding what might come up, and consider the potential for things that you may have thought were impossible for you or your family.
Keep in mind that your results might change your life. Whether it is a possible disease that makes you worried or even confirms a fear, or maybe finding a long lost relative or the family that you didn’t know you had, prepare yourself as much as you can and make sure you have support through it (maybe even open your results with someone you trust.) Take your time and don’t feel like you have to go through the process alone, even online forums for DNA kits can be helpful.
- Don’t be scared
As you prepare yourself with research and support before getting your results, remind yourself not to be scared. With all of the possibilities and new things to learn, don’t forget that this test isn’t changing anything about you. You will be the same person after the test that you were before and you will have all of the same genetics, the only difference is that you will be aware of them.
If you are privileged enough to take a DNA test to connect yourself with these things, remember that the worst part will be opening your results, and if you find something that shocks you, you have endless resources available to help you understand and get through anything that might throw a wrench in what you knew before.
Your DNA results won’t ruin your life, they might not even change your life. These tests are meant to be fun, and it will be! Remember: people take these tests every day, and how many of those people are making headlines for their shocking results? Not many.
- Don’t let your results change you
Like mentioned before, taking a DNA test does not change who you are or who you are related to, it just makes it more clear. You do not have to identify with any of the results and you do not have to change yourself by any means. Like with most things, all you have to be is kind and as long as you respect the history and impact that your heritage has on you as a person, there is nothing else that you are expected to do.
Even with relative results, the kindness rule applies. Don’t be worried about who your family is or isn’t. You have the choice to reach out or not and if someone reaches out to you just be kind and honest if you are confused or surprised. Remember that they are likely in the same boat and just want to get to know you, so have some fun!
- Have an open mind
If you have gotten this far, you might be a little worried and honestly that might not be a bad thing. Understanding the impact of these DNA tests is important, but what is more important is to keep an open mind.
The possibilities are endless with your results ranging from earth shattering to uneventful at best. Just remember that chances are if you are taking this test, you probably have some idea of what to expect, but you might learn something that challenges how you identify or even your relationship with your family. These variables are something that everyone has to consider, even if not taking a DNA test, but this will put it out in the open for you. You might not like what you find at first, but if you keep an open mind you will understand that it isn’t about liking your results, it’s about learning.
- It doesn’t stop at your initial results
So you have taken the test, you sat down with a friend or a loved one and dug into what you look like on paper. Maybe you were surprised, maybe you weren’t, but don’t close the tab and forget about it! Many of these DNA services are updating with new research and new people who have taken the test. Your results can change and become more precise as time goes by, especially if relatives are taking the test and showing up on your account. Be sure to check in every so often to keep up to date with your results and avoid missing out on any new or helpful information that might come along with your profile being developed. Also look into any new relative matches that you might have as they will update as new people take the test.
- Ask questions
As your results are updated, your research continues and you talk to relatives about what you find, you might have more questions. Make sure to look into the resources provided by your DNA kit company and contact the company directly if you have any questions about your results or the process.
Also don’t forget to ask the people around you. So you found a cousin or a great-somebody in your results that you didn’t know you had, use the people around you to help answer the questions you might have because the answers may already be there.
This entire process is about being curious, so don’t let shyness or even laziness stop you from getting your questions answered because chances are someone will have the answers that you need. Be safe, be kind and be sensitive like you have already learned.
- This isn’t all about you (by a long shot)
Your DNA results are specific to you, this is true, but don’t forget why you have the results that you do. Each highlighted map section or percentage in a chart lines up with a person, their family, their culture and their life. Also, your relative results are even more clearly not all about you. Each one of those people related to you has their own experiences and had their own reasons to take the test so be sure not to forget that.
Even outside the results, your DNA test is also about the family you already know. These results might impact the people around you more than you think so make sure to be gentle with any important information and share what you can with those who may be impacted by it. Who knows, they might have wanted to take a test too and you might be their first step in research.
We are all someone’s family, either present day or hundreds of years in the past and each of us has our own story and makeup that relies on one another, so don’t make this all about you.
These 10 steps are only pieces of the adventure that you will embark on when you spit in that fancy little plastic tube, so be prepared. Make new (maybe more accurate/respectful) family stories, learn your historical heritage and take a deep breath because this is all for the fun of learning!