‘Tis the season to eat turkey, cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie and to stuff ourselves until we’re comatose. ‘Tis also the season for DNA companies to offer up substantial savings on their products. So, let’s review DNA.

First, why do you want your DNA tested? If you, as I suspect the majority of folks do, want to learn if you should wear lederhosen or a kilt, you won’t really discover that.

Contrary to all the shaky leaves advertised on TV, a DNA test won’t tell you that. Oh, it’s interesting to see where the tests lead you; but there have been so many migrations throughout Europe in the past 10 or 11 centuries that a DNA test simply will not narrow yours down to a particular country.

Case in point. I have been tested by three companies, and my mother, my siblings, a niece, and one son have rest results that indicate Scandinavian ancestry. Several of us show traces of Middle Eastern ancestry. Our paper trail shows nothing but Great Britain or Germany. Where did those other genes come from?

My maiden name, Orsborn, appears to be a variation of Osborn in all its many spellings and is Norse in origin … specifically OsBjorn, child of the bear god. Aren’t you impressed?

The Norse had settled in parts of eastern Britain by the year 1000. Besides that, the Byzantine emperor’s elite guard in the Middle Ages was composed of Vikings. Who’s to say that one of those Vikings didn’t take a Middle Eastern wife home as a souvenir?

And to confuse the picture even more, my DNA (and yours) is compared with the DNA of people living in the modern countries that show up on our ancestral maps. If that Norse ancestor did bring home a wife from Byzantium, my results will show both Scandinavian and Middle Eastern origins.

So, what’s the point of a DNA test? First let’s review the types of DNA. Women carry an X chromosome; men carry two Y chromosomes. If you are trying to break through a brick wall on Daddy’s line, a Y chromosome test can help. You just have to find a direct descendant on the male line to test.

All of us also have mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) which we inherit from our moms. Only the female passes it on, however. So, my three sons carry my mtDNA , but none of my grandchildren have inherited it. Theirs comes from their mothers.

The third kind is autosomal, which comes from both parents. We inherit 50% from each parent, but every time an egg or a sperm divide, the autosomal chromosomes get stirred up in a different way. On average we inherit 25% of autosomal chromosomes from each grandparent, but that ain’t necessarily so. If you look at a photo of me, my second sister and my mom, it’s obvious my sister and I inherited most of our genetic makeup from her side of the family, and our DNA shows that.

It’s the autosomal DNA that is tested by all the companies and that supposedly helps you decide between that kilt or the lederhosen. What it actually does do is help find kinfolk. That’s the one that police use in cold cases and adoption researchers use to identify birth parents.

My autosomal DNA has led to several close cousins that I had no idea existed and I’ve been able to meet with at least one. I have also connected with a second cousin that I had heard about all my life but had never met. That’s kind of cool. Incidentally, there has never been a match that is a second cousin or closer that is false.

If you do decide to test, and you are interested in the Y or mtDNA, at this point your only choice is FamilyTreeDNA (www.familytreedna.com). To my knowledge, no other companies test those types.

And whatever you do, include a family tree on your profile. It’s really annoying to find a close match with no information for comparison. Serious researchers want to compare their trees with yours. Help them do that. You may find close kin you didn’t know existed.

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