Unfortunately, when it comes to DNA testing, a form of unconscious bias has arisen amongst some of the most established industry leaders in DNA testing, producing very meager results when it comes to Asian testers.
There have been many Asians who have complained that the DNA databases are simply highlighting their results as ‘Asian’, reducing the plurality and diversity of the many regions of Asia that they come from - including the Philippines, Japan, China, Mongolia, Korea and Indonesia - to one single category.
Considering the fact there are currently 2 billion people living in East Asia alone, it goes without saying that this is very unsatisfactory for anyone of Asian descent who wants to accurately pinpoint their heritage to a specific location.
Considering the levels of migration from Asian countries to Western countries such as Europe, North America and the United Kingdom, more and more Asian-Europeans, Asian-Americans and Anglo-Asians are seeking out where they come from for them to get a better sense of who they are.
While industry leaders are certainly improving and compiling further entries into their Asian databases, new companies have already jumped in to fill the gap in this market, providing Asian customers with far more in-depth and specific results for the questions of heritage that they have.
With ancestry genetics tracking becoming ever more developed and sophisticated, companies can now trace the diverse lineages of Asian peoples with increasing accuracy. Out of a study conducted on 1,700 Asian individuals, there were 10 deep lineages discovered, a testament to the rich genetic history of people from this area of the world.
But if you are Asian, how do you find a test that will give you the best results? Apart from accuracy, what can an Asian-specific test provide that a standardized Western test cannot? Is it possible to use more than one company and then compare the data you receive from each?
Well, don’t worry, we’re here to give you some answers to those questions, taking a deep dive into some of the science that goes into DNA testing, as well which companies tailor their services for Asian customers, and some of the obvious pros and little-known cons that come with DNA testing.
What Does A DNA Test Involve?
A DNA test will map your genome against a background of thousands of genetic matches that are already on record. If you go with companies that have a wider database, then you can likely expect more varied results, as testers can hone your ancestry into one or potentially numerous locations.
The results of your test will be a solid foundation on which to conduct further research into your family tree. Once you have discovered the specific region you and your family originate from, you can check the results against local historical records to find out where you come from.
Maternal And Paternal Testing
There is a stark difference between maternal and paternal testing, so it is worth considering which one you find more intriguing before starting on your search. If there is one side of the family you know less about, then you might want to start on this genetic line first.
With genetic testing, you can better try and connect the gaps between family members, as every family certainly has its missing links. If you are an Asian brought up and living in the West, you can track your family’s movements across the globe, honing in on when they moved and, when checked against larger historical contexts, figuring out why they moved.
With the rich tapestry of sweeping movements across the globe during the twentieth century, you might turn up information that might be interesting, poignant and, most importantly, harrowing. The history of migration of Asian peoples, particularly to America, is not always a pleasant story, so be prepared for that.
Enhanced DNA Matching
Websites such as AncestryDNA use autosomal testing that looks at a wider sequence of DNA, which can help identify more matches in your family tree on both maternal and paternal sides of the family.
Autosomal DNA testing also hones the results to within the last 100 years, which might be more fruitful for people who want to start with their most recent genetic heritage, rather than Y-chromosome or mitochondrial DNA testing that has a time frame of between 10,000 to 50,000 years.
Why Get A DNA Test Specific For Asians?
World War II was a significant period of upheaval for a lot of Asian peoples, with millions of Asian people migrating from their native lands to seek better opportunities in America for them and their families. However, during the war, a lot of people from China, Korea and Japan spent their time in American internment camps. Upon release, they tended not to discuss the horrors they suffered through with their descendants.
This is one of the reasons a lot of second and third-generation Asian-Americans are now seeking out their ancestry, simply because they are unable to get answers from their parents and grandparents. Bear in mind that ancestry research can bring up a lot of painful memories for people, so don’t be surprised if your investigations meet with a hostile reaction.
Also, conditions such as Alzheimer's Disease are becoming more common, with older generations losing access to the memories that might aide younger generations on their search for a family tree. Again, DNA testing is a neutral and accurate method of discovering your ancestry and informing your identity.
A Common Problem With Asian DNA Tests
DNA testing could be your best shot at discovering which area of Asia you came from, however, Asian DNA testing will present their own unique set of problems.
One of the main issues is that Asian DNA tests give you fewer results, unlike those with European ancestors that have more in-depth records of the countries, villages and towns they’ve lived in.
One problem is also relationships with governments of countries such as China who might be hostile in opening up their genetic and historical records to a Western company.
As we have discussed earlier, some of the more established ancestry tracking companies have much more limited databases when it comes to Asian regions. If you come from Polynesia or the Philippines, the results might show that you have Polynesian or Filippino DNA, however it might not highlight a specific region within those countries.
What Are The Positives Of Getting An Asian DNA Test?
There are many good sides to getting an Asian-orientated DNA test, as they can expand the knowledge of where you came from and help you form a necessary part of your identity.
Connecting With People Who Have Shared Ancestry
A lot of these websites give you the option of connecting with others who share the same genetic makeup as you, tracing you back to a common ancestor. You might find that you have common goals and aspirations. Also, if you feel that your family is particularly small, then you can easily expand your familial horizons and connect with people all across the globe.
As we have already discussed, Asian families can be hugely fragmented, spread to the far-flung corners of the world. Connecting these disparate elements of your family could potentially heal wounds left by diasporic peoples abruptly removed from their ancestral home.
How You Figure In Global Percentages
You can trace your lineage and see how popular you are on your ancestral continent. Whether it’s Indonesia, Alaska, North or South Korea, each country has thousands and thousands of ancestral strains, which link up together in what scientists call 'deep lineages'.
You can also discover how your ancestors intermingled on those Asian continents, some company’s breaking down the stats to show which percentage of Asian DNA is the most dominant.
You Can Share The Results With Family
To some families, heritage is incredibly important, binding the living members under a common history, with shared goals and perspectives. Revealing what you’ve discovered through an ancestry search is a lovely way to surprise a parent or grandparent who might treasure such information.
A lot of these DNA results are broken down into percentages to make them easier to understand. That information is then yours to do as you see fit. Why not create a presentation of your findings, compiling the DNA with your historical research and any photographs you might have to show to your immediate family?
Connecting With Missing Relatives
Losing a relative at some point in your life can be an extremely difficult event. Without siblings or parents, we can often feel very disconnected from our surroundings. Tracing a lost loved one through DNA tracking could be an effective and quick method of reuniting with them.
As we have mentioned, certain Asian peoples such as China, Korea and Japan experienced terrible separation during the twentieth century. With many historical records lost or erased, certain Asians might have all but given up hope of ever finding their lost loved one. However, with sophisticated DNA tracking, the probability of finding these people is always increasing.
You can also uncover any untruths or misinformation that has been perpetuated about you and your family members over the years, either by other family members, societal prejudice or fabrications by official government records.
Sometimes feeling that you aren’t a part of the family might not be all in a person’s head. Adoption grew increasingly popular in the twentieth century yet with official documents being illegal to access due to privacy laws or family members unwilling to divulge the truth of your paternity or maternity it might have been next to impossible to find your biological parents.
Also bear in mind that people have discovered they're adopted when they weren't looking for it. No matter how sure you are of your parentage, you might uncover something that you could never have expected, so keep an open mind and be prepared for any eventuality.
Learn About Hereditary Conditions
If you find yourself experiencing specific medical symptoms, then DNA testing might be beneficial in identifying or ruling out certain congenital conditions that might run in your family.
In a medical study of Asian-Americans, certain medical conditions have arisen that seem to affect this genetic demographic more than others.
- Cardiovascular Disease
- Hepatitis B
By identifying your ancestry, you can find out whether you and your family have genetic predispositions. If caught early enough, you can look to modifying your diet or seeking preventative treatment before the conditions get a lot worse.
You can also determine whether you have a genetic predisposition to mental health issues such as depression, anxiety and panic attacks.
Asian DNA Testers - Who’s The Best?
AncestryDNA is one of the more established and popular names in the DNA testing industry. It is a consumer-based test and has over 18 million customers in its database from which to choose from. It is also one of the leading DNA testers for Asians.
This service has millions of users all over the world, providing you with all the resources you need for establishing your family tree. It also provides a service where you can contact genetic matches anonymously via email, which is ideal for Asian people looking to find lost family members.
Amongst the 18 million-strong community are people from numerous Asian countries including Caucasus, Central Asia, East Asia, Syria, Lebanon and the Philippines. So the chances are that if you match with someone from those countries, you might be able to more precisely track your genealogy.
AncestryDNA breaks down the world into roughly 1,000 regions for their testing, the growing number of subscribers increasing your chances of finding genetic matches.
AncestryDNA also has an incredibly appealing interface, allowing you to create a profile with a picture that can connect you with other matches and design an online family tree. This means you can reach out to distant relatives to find out whether they have any information on a common ancestor.
- AncestryDNA will match your DNA with thousands of others on the database, with an option that allows you to contact them anonymously.
- Includes many regions in Asia that will only increase as the number of subscribers from these areas increase.
- The website also includes a migration chart that will highlight the movement of your ancestors across the generations on an easy-to-understand world map.
- Members can also access genealogical research information and links to historical documents.
- The website also has a forum for interacting and sharing information with other users.
- Whilst the database is amongst the largest in the world, it still has a shortage of information on countries in the East Asian region.
- You will have to pay ongoing subscription fees to view your online family tree, so only the committed family tree growers should apply.
Another world leader in DNA testing, 23AndMe have a massive reputation that started when they released the first home testing kit, allowing you to see the health and wellness traits in your DNA.
One of the reasons that 23AndMe is popular amongst Asians is that it has an extensive Asian database that incorporates East Asia, which is good news for anyone who suspects that they might be from that region. The regions on their database include Japan, Korea, China, Southeast Asia, Mongolia and South Asia.
The testing involves a simple saliva sample, taking a couple of seconds to fill up the cup before sending it back in the post. There will a personalized result sent back to you, showing haplogroups on both your maternal and paternal lines. If you have matched with anyone on the database, you can then connect with them via the DNA Relatives feature.
Another boon for Asians looking to trace their heritage is 23AndMe’s Global Genetics Project that seeks to collate even more information about genetic groups outside of Europe. A few of the regions that would qualify you for this program include Uzbekistan, Indonesia and Thailand.
- 23AndMe contains lots of Asian groups and subgroups that make tracking your distant relatives and missing links in your family tree a lot less of a laborious task.
- This company boasts millions of users, which means far more genetic matches to choose from.
- Its easy-to-navigate user interface will help you connect with family members from Thailand and other East Asian countries.
- Despite the extensive community, it doesn’t have the huge numbers that some of the bigger brand companies have.
This company might not be as well known as AncestryDNA and 23AndMe, but it can still locate your genetic heritage and determine what your DNA makeup is from a range of around 40 ethnicities.
Some of the Asian regions include China, Japan, Vietnam, the Philippines, Indonesia and some lesser-known Asian regions like Mongolia and Malaysia.
MyHeritage will also pick up any Asian members of the Alaskan, Canadian or Greenland regions you may have in your bloodstream, as the have Eskimo and Inuit DNA in their databases.
MyHeritage is also far more diverse and flexible than other DNA testing companies, letting you download your results as raw data and allowing you to compare them with any results you might have got from other companies. For an Asian person, this increased accuracy might be very welcome.
- MyHeritage, like its other genetics tracing contemporaries, allows for the option of connecting with people you have matched with, alerting you when there is enough genetic information to consider you a match.
- With an extensive range of Asian countries that includes the remote people of Inuit and Eskimo communities, as well as larger Asian regions, this gives an Asian tester a much better scope for finding unknown relatives.
- With a range of 40 ethnicities, Asian users can see a more diverse and precise breakdown of their genetic makeup, dividing the results into easy-to-understand graphs and pie charts.
- Despite the inclusion of Asian and Alaskan-Asian demographics, the numbers are still small, which might lead to some gaps, dead-ends and frustration when trying to map out your family tree.
Companies And Asian Heritages
Users who want to source matches with East Asia can expect an increased granularity with recent updates to AncestryDNA and 23AndMe, although there is still room for much expansion on their DNA pallet, which will only come with increased membership from these areas.
Other companies such as XCode Life and WeGene allows their users to transfer the raw data from the bigger companies so they can re-analyze them through a more refined search of China and other East Asian countries. WeGene has an emphasis on East Asia and an expanding community of 500,00- users, which will give hope to Asian tracers.
Other companies have expanded their reference panels to include Southeast Asia: Chinese Dai, Vietnamese, Filipino and Indonesian profiles already exist on their system. Additional reference profiles from Japan, Korea and China have bolstered the numbers of Asian lineages on their system.
Most companies are beginning to see the importance of Asian representation in their stats and are taking steps to increase their membership in these areas of the world.
Are There Any Negatives In DNA Testing?
As mentioned briefly in the sections above, there are a few downsides to tracing your genetic heritage, particularly for Asians who have experienced a turbulent or traumatic past that involves forced migration and internment camps.
Tracing ancestry might prove difficult emotionally for users or relatives of users. Seek a trauma therapist if you or someone close to you starts to experience a decrease in their wellness or mental health as a result of ancestry research.
Tracing your ancestry might also lead to discoveries about certain medical conditions that run in the family that could see a spike in anxiety. Remember: just because a condition has been experienced by members of your family in the past, doesn’t mean that they will automatically happen to you.
Our Final Say
Asian people have and will continue to experience obstacles particular to their ethnicity, owing both to their particular history, personal circumstance and the limits on demographic diversity and current tracking technology.
As more people from differing Asian countries contribute to or build their own DNA ancestry tracing systems, the more varied and scientifically accurate the results will become.