Monday, October 3, 2022

DNA Does NOT Tell All


We are in such awe of what can be revealed by a DNA test that we presume there is nothing that vial of spit can't tell us. Cold cases yield the secrets that stumped detectives for decades, thanks to DNA tests, and we are impressed. Companies are finding ways to convince us that our DNA can not only pry into the deep recesses of our family's wandering origins but guide us in more mundane categories like what we need to eat for breakfast.

We need to take a step back from our bedazzled vantage point and remind ourselves of one point: DNA does not tell all—until we pair up two DNA tests. And those two tests can't simply be any two tests; they need to contain some semblance of a genetic match. Until another person who is also related to us tests their DNA, all we can tell from our test results are ethnicity and details specific to our own genes. When our test stands alone, for instance, it may show us our deep ancestry originated in northern Africa, or that we are predisposed to a higher risk of certain types of cancer. But whether an adoptee is a newly-discovered half sibling, or the man we always called "Dad" was not really our father, those are cases which need a match before they can begin revealing such discoveries.

I have to remind myself of that detail constantly, especially when I bemoan the lack of DNA matches on my father's side of the family tree. It's not that they aren't out there, despite a couple generations of immediate families with few descents also contributing to my research problem. My real problem is that I need some second and third cousins on my paternal side to decide to take a DNA test—but how can I convince them to do so when I don't even know who they are?

The bright spot in my lagging research progress on my father's family is my paternal grandmother's side. Unlike my secretive paternal grandfather, his wife—Sophie Laskowska—came to this country with two brothers, one of whom had several children. Their descendants are among the eight DNA matches showing on my ThruLines results at

Of course, I'd like to see more. With my tiny eight Laskowski matches, I confess to feelings of DNA jealousy when I see ThruLines results, for instance, on some of my husband's third great-grandparents numbering upwards of one hundred matches. And I remind myself that that is simply an artifact of many distant cousins all choosing to take a DNA test—and turning out to be a match to my husband's account.

"If only," I grumble. "If only more of my ancestor's descendants would take a DNA test." And I wait. And hope.

There is one exception to this sense of DNA-match solitude: a website with test takers who come from around the world. True, is playing catch-up here, but I have far more matches from my paternal ancestors' homeland in Poland on MyHeritage than at any other DNA company. And this month, with my research goal to learn more about my Laskowski roots, I need to explore those connections and put the tools at MyHeritage to good use.

Tomorrow, we'll begin that learning process by introducing the family of my paternal grandmother, Sophie Laskowska, tracing her story back in time for the few generations I've already discovered. From there, we'll start probing the lines of descendants to see what other information can be gleaned on this family's history, both in the United States and in Poland.   


  1. I'm one of those folks who are waiting and hoping for any matches - to an adopted half-brother or anyone connected to him. So far there have been no matches at all. Maybe I need to do a 3rd DNA test, from MyHeritage.

    1. Sara, I remember your mentioning that lack of matches. Very frustrating! However, rather than actually purchase a separate DNA kit at MyHeritage, that company offers a way to upload your test results from another company to their website at a much more reasonable cost--and faster, too, I might add. I'll write about that this coming weekend.

  2. Very sensible reminders. Another thing about DNA matches that puzzles me: 3rd and 4th cousins who show a strong level of relation to me, while their full siblings barely match to me, sometimes not at all. I know that siblings inherit genes differently from the same parents. But I have also wondered if there is something about the test analysis that contributes to this?

    1. There possibly could be a slim chance of that, Lisa, but I doubt it. There are reasons why a more distant cousin match like third or fourth cousins might have such a wide variance. That's been my own experience, too. I'll write about that this weekend, as well.


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