DNA Testing: Should You Use It to Determine Your Ancestral Heritage?

“We’re all ghosts. We all carry, inside us, people who came before us.” – Liam Callanan, The Cloud Atlas


Are you interested in tracing your ancestry or heritage? If so, is it worth considering sending a DNA sample taken using a home DNA test kit? Or is this a waste of time, effort, and money?

By way of answering these questions, let’s consider the following points.

1. Humankind Has a Need to Understand Where We Come From

This quotation by Liam Callanan highlighted above is the quintessential expression of why we, as humankind, have such an interest in tracing our ancestors. Because we all carry our ancestors (ghosts) within us, we must know where we came from to understand ourselves.


Self-acceptance and self-esteem are related; although, they are not the same. And both are required to live a meaningful life.

Leon F Seltzer defines the difference in his article titled “The Path to Unconditional Self-Acceptance.’”

He notes that “self-esteem refers specifically to how valuable, or worthwhile, we see ourselves.”

On the other hand, self-acceptance alludes to a far more global affirmation of self.” In other words, if we accept ourselves, we can embrace all parts of ourselves, not just the healthy parts. Self-acceptance is similar to the unconditional love that we show our children, siblings, and parents. We recognize our weaknesses, but they do not interfere with our ability to accept ourselves fully.

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Coming to self-acceptance is a journey. And for some people, this journey is long and torturous, especially if our parents had not conveyed a predominantly positive message about us, and we did not grow up in a supportive home environment.


Part of the journey to self-acceptance is to understand our ancestry and where we come from. The movie Assassin’s Creed describes the journey that Callum Lynch, the protagonist, goes on when revolutionary technology unlocks his genetic memories, allowing him to experience the adventures of his ancestor, Aguilar.

Before we write off this movie as fantasy, it is essential to note that the movie’s theme is based on science, although this science is still unfolding. Genealogists have long understood that our “ancestors from centuries past influence how we act and behave today.”

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The caveat here is that science is not yet able to prove that our ancestors further back than our grandparents will impact how we act and think today. But our ancestral history has a cascading effect on our genetic behavioral patterns.

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For instance, your grandparents influence your genetic makeup, your parents’ grandparents impact their genetic makeup, and your parent’s great grandparents affect your parents’ genealogical behavioral patterns. This pattern repeats itself, going as far back as the beginning of time.

2. The Value DNA Testing Brings To The Journey of Self-discovery


While ancestry DNA testing has its limitations, there is merit in sending a DNA sample to an ancestry testing laboratory in that, in the worst-case scenario, the results will provide broad geographic regions for your ancestors.

For instance, these DNA tests can determine that you are x-percentage Broadly European. However, most ancestry genetic testing laboratories can narrow down European heritage to individual countries.

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Rondel Holder emphasizes this point in his blog post titled, “How Tracing My African Heritage Led Me on A Journey to Self-Discovery.

At the start of this journey, he knew that he had Caribbean ancestry because his family came from the Caribbean to the USA. He also had a “fair share of African American history in his genetic makeup. He thought he came from West Africa. His DNA testing results showed that he was from West Africa, but his ancestral history originated in two West African countries, Togo and Benin.

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Holder subsequently traveled to West Africa “to the land that [his] ancestors were taken from.” He describes his trip as a “journey in terms of travel and culture, but also a journey of internal self-discovery.”


Holder described his journey to visit his ancestral lands as self-empowering. He prepared himself to face critical, emotional, and spiritual challenges, for most black people in the Diaspora did not willingly migrate from Africa to the USA. They were captured and sold as slaves. The history and facts surrounding the slave trade are complex.

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Finally, Holder noted that it is an emotional journey coming face to face with the origins of the slave trade, especially the role that the Christian Church of the day played in the slave trade.

Holder described his experiences coming face to face with the intersection of religion and slavery, namely, how “Christianity was used to control Africans and how traditional African religions were belittled and demeaned. There was a church in the middle of every slave fort as mass was in order while Africans were being tortured just feet away.”

Final Thoughts

It is clear from this discussion that there is merit in adding an ancestry DNA test to your arsenal when tracing your ancestors and family history. While the results won’t necessarily give you the whole picture of where you come from, but it will guide you and give you a starting point from where to search.


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