The Roots of it All (Part I)

Pamilya – in Tagalog, this translates to “family.” Anyone who knows anything about The Philippines knows that a huge emphasis is put on the family. Many can relate to having many lolos and lolas, titos and titas, and a ton of cousins at large gatherings, but you were never really sure if they were blood-related or not. Your parents said they were family, and you happily accepted that they were.

I have discovered my spouse has been fortunate enough to have comprehensive research done on her family tree; as my spouse likes to joke, she is basically a “European Mutt.” Her tree has been traced back centuries to times that were well before the Americas were even a concept to Europeans. I have since learned it’s quite a bit harder to do the same with my lineage, but I got curious enough to see whether what I had been told our more recent family lineage was more or less the truth. And thus, I ordered one of these.

What A Spitting Image Indeed

According to a 2019 article from the Center for Genetics and Society, more than 26 million people have taken an at-home ancestry test. The ability to uncover those roots, paired up with TV shows such as PBS’s “Finding Your Roots” and the NBC/TLC “Who Do You Think You Are?”, have continued to drive the demand – a 2021 Research & Markets story predicted growth would stay at around 12% through 2026. This is obviously offset by the potential malfeasance involved with the data itself, which is a potentially lucrative target for data thieves and has unique potential consequences when it comes to law enforcement purposes, even when it comes out to a positive outcome for those who may be shown exonerated by a DNA test.

Yet, in this decidedly less private world where private and government data stores are hacked seemingly every day, I still wanted to know what I could find out.

One thing you find out early is that the test tube is a touch deceiving – it takes a fair amount of saliva and effort if you don’t time the taking of your sample optimally. The instructions say you should take your draw at least 30 minutes past your last meal or drink, but they really should add a hint to time your draw right right before your next meal, when your mouth is more certain to be watering.

I found another slight difference in the instructions via the 23andMe app and what came in the package, which go into more detail. Following the app’s instructions, I didn’t have a clue that the top portion of the test tube they delivered was a preservative that would help keep the saliva sample viable. I simply disposed of it and replaced it with the cap you needed to use before putting it in the return envelope. Since I got no messages saying otherwise, my sample turned out fine in the end, but I would make sure that the sample gets the preservative if you decide to take the test yourself.

The results came more quickly than I expected – what had been warned to be 6-8 weeks away only lasted half that time from sample taking to results report. I’m not sure if that was due to a seasonal lull (I remembering spying kits available at Costco around the holidays) or a general trend, but obviously getting the results before predicted is nice.


For the most part, my results were as expected. My heritage is mostly Filipino, and the areas from which I knew my parents came from matched the top three regions 23andMe predicted my DNA should be from. I didn’t know exactly where the Chinese line from my Grandpa on my mom’s side of my family tree emerged from, so I was intrigued by where 23andMe’s determinations would point to – generally, they were all coastal regions, which wouldn’t be a surprise considering the large amount of trade that was conducted along the coasts from Indonesia all the way to the Korean Peninsula historically.

Other intriguing info lay in my determined haplogroups (basically, a group of people who share a common ancestor along their paternal or maternal lines), Neanderthal DNA, and predicted traits. My results state my haplogroups are relatively uncommon among 23andMe customers, but I realize that’s partly a result of the population of customers which have used this service (I imagine Asian customers are still somewhat uncommon in general, numbers-wise.)

Apparently, despite what seems like a low percentage, my report states I have more Neanderthal DNA than 99% of all other 23andMe customers. Again, this is dependent on the folks who actually have used the service to begin with, but it did make me chuckle a bit when I read about my apparent difficulty in getting rid of rarely-used items (my parents have traditionally been notorious for this; while I have nowhere near the amount of stuff they once had, I do admit I keep things around that deep down I really won’t miss.)

As far as traits, I appropriately had asparagus for dinner shortly after I received my report – check that as confirmed. The 50/50 chance of being able to match a musical pitch made me really laugh – to paraphrase a famous line from the movie “The Naked Gun”, I have a 50/50 chance to match a musical pitch…but there’s only a 10% chance of that. A few things that also went against trend was my preference for vanilla over chocolate (still something I tend to have now) and my preference of sweet over salty (though that has grown into a more even split over time.)

Interestingly, though, the report contained a couple things that I did not expect – that, unsurprisingly, will be the topic for my next blog post.

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