Have you ever imagined that you might be sharing your DNA patterns with someone in, say, Greece or Mexico? How would it feel to suddenly discover scores of ‘blood relations’ scattered all over the globe, bound to you by ancestors who lived thousands of years ago? Would it totally transform your sense of identity - or would it really not matter much?
Human beings have always been curious about their past. Archaeologists and anthropologists have unraveled fascinating details about the evolution of the human race and the lives of our ancestors over centuries. Now, a new phenomenon goes several steps further! Several websites offer to test your DNA, create your family tree, identify your “genetic cousins” (those with similar DNA patterns) and even trace the origins of your surname!
How does online DNA testing work?
Though different websites offer different baskets of services, all of them use similar methodologies for genealogical profiling. The procedure is simple. Once you sign up with a site and make the online payment, you are mailed a testing kit. You take some scrapings from the inside of your cheek and mail it back. The test uses Y DNA testing (only for males) and mtDNA testing to determine your genetic series and markers compare it with those of various races and identify common patterns. You can also see which other candidates are genetically related to you. Some sites help determine the roots of your surname, and have communities for people with related surnames to establish links.
How relevant is the test to Indians?
While India is a smorgasbord of races and cultures, Indians also have a strong a sense of national identity. Though researchers have traced the roots of the Aryan races to the Steppes, and the Dravidians to lands as remote as Polynesia, decades of inter-country migration and intermarriages have diluted the relevance of races. In fact, the Government of India did away with racial classifications in the census in 1951 to discourage communal distinctions. So, will the convenient and accessible online DNA tests open a Pandora’s Box and create a potentially conflict-inducing racial awareness? Interestingly, though some websites even offer to trace the “Hindu gotra tree”, records indicate that very few Indians have taken these tests so far (Source: Family Tree DNA).
A parting thought – for a country that is struggling against social backwardness and communal forces to emerge as an economic superpower, does it really matter where on earth your ancestors lived and which surnames are related to yours? Then again, what if a Clooney or a Hayek was among them? Would you take the test to find out?