I’ve written about my family history quite a few times in the past. There are some interesting stories to be told, not least about my James Tytler, encyclopaedia editor and balloonist, and my Great Uncle William who died in the first world war. I’m very lucky that my brother has spent many years researching our background and has compiled a lot of information. Despite his hard work there are quite a few gaps and you never really know what happened further back before good records started being kept. My great-grandfather doesn’t have a father named on his birth certificate so that is a mystery. My Dad’s family seem to have moved in and out of Wales over many generations so it’s been difficult to pin them down to a point of origin. Whilst a DNA test is never going to answer every question, it may well shed a little light.
Not all DNA tests are the same though and my brother (the family historian) had one done a few years back which was much less detailed that the one that I have just had done with Living DNA. Living DNA is the world’s first ancestry test which allows people to break down their British ancestry to any of 21 regions in the UK. The test my brother had done by comparison only said whether the DNA was from the island of Great Britain (which covers Scotland, England and Wales) or that of Ireland. This provides a much greater level of interest. Living DNA are able to provide this much greater level of detail by working in partnership with over 100 world-leading genetics experts, including the team behind the People of the British Isles Study 2015 (the first fine-scale genetic map produced of the British Isles). In fact, my brother was very impressed with the level of detail of my results and he’s thinking of getting one done too.
So how does it all work practically? You sign up to Living DNA and get sent a sampling kit. You activate your account online and take a simple saliva mouth swab. This is so easy to do and requires no medical expertise. The most difficult thing for me was making sure I hadn’t eaten or drunk immediately before I did the test. You don’t have to wait long though, but I do tend to drink a lot of cups of tea through the day. You send your test off and you get an email acknowledgement. Later once the scientific work has been done you get another email to say your results are ready – they say this takes 8-12 weeks, but mine came through quite a bit faster than that. You can then log in and see them all. I could also share my results privately with my brother and send a special link to him on email so he could access them as he doesn’t live close by. The results are displayed on an interactive online platform, which is easy to navigate. You can see a breakdown of your ancestry to over 80 worldwide regions, including 21 UK regions. In my case there was only one area outside the British Isles that showed up: Scandinavia, so I appear to be a little bit Viking.
As well as being able to see your more recent family history, Living DNA allows users to look back over multiple generations to see their ancestry throughout human history, and discover when they shared ancestors with people throughout the world. Anther key feature is that with your test you get a lifetime membership to Living DNA which includes free updates to your results as new ancestry research and population groups are added to the platform or as science evolves and develops.
My results were very interesting. They showed that I am truly a child of the British Isles with Irish, Scottish, Welsh and English DNA in the mix. This was not a big surprise given I have a grandparent from each country (or of direct descent). I was intrigued to see that my Welsh and English DNA seems to come from a belt stretching across from South Wales with no DNA showing up from Northern England, apart from the border region of Northumberland. There was plenty of Scottish DNA too with a number of regions in Scotland being represented, including intriguingly Orcadian DNA. I’ve long wanted to visit the Orkney Islands so perhaps that DNA is why I’ve been drawn there.