Diving into the Gene Pool

Think you know your roots? An ancestral-DNA test unearthed a few of mine — and some big surprises too

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ILLUSTRATION FOR TIME BY JOSHUA GORCHOV

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I was in for yet another surprise when, a few days later, the results from DNAPrint came in. The basic elements were similar, but the blend was different: 71% European, 26% Native American and 3% sub-Saharan African. Beyond a few inscrutable charts, there was little specific information.

In fact, there were a lot of things the tests didn't tell me. Unlike a pregnancy test, with its emphatic yes or no, ancestral-DNA testing gives you only a "statistical likelihood" of membership in a certain group. I don't know how many generations ago those ethnicities appeared in my family tree, nor (without further tests) on which side. Moreover, the gene test hasn't been invented that can unravel the improbable chain of events that connected Belorussians with Mozambicans, and American Indians with Poles--ultimately to produce me, a Latina living and working in New York City.

Did the tests change my view of myself? Not really. I'll still put my check in the Latino box, imperfect as it is. If the process proved anything, it's that we're all a messy amalgam of centuries of mixing and migration. True identity, it seems, resides not in our genes but in our mind.

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