Challenges with Asian American DNA Results
In my previous post titled “The Limitations of DNA Results for Asian Americans,” I noted the disappointing results I had received through an AncestryDNA kit:
AncestryDNA did not break down [my] DNA results by country or a narrower region like it had for my husband’s [European background] test. AncestryDNA listed a general geographical area for me — Asia East. The continent of Asia is huge, and even ‘narrowing’ it to East Asia is still very imprecise.
AncestryDNA stated that Asia East included these 17 areas: Russia, China, North Korea, South Korea, Mongolia, Myanmar (Burma), Japan, Taiwan, Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Singapore, Brunei, Palau. The area is very diverse. They all have their own languages, religions, and cultures.
As I had noted previously:
Lumping them into ‘Asia East’ is like combining the Irish, Italians, Spaniards, and Germans together under a generic ‘West Europe’ just because they’re all on the same continent. But as we know from my husband’s test results, AncestryDNA can better pinpoint countries of origin if they fall in Europe.
Why were the results so vague? AncestryDNA said that “with small sample sizes and an imprecise way to allocate them to specific ancestry, the results will remain imprecise. It’s getting better over time as more samples become available, but current assumptions are extrapolated from not enough data.”
Family DNA Questions
As an Asian American, this was very frustrating. At $100 a kit, I paid the same as others, who because of their European background could receive much more detailed information. The price-value return on investment was lacking. Specifically, I had wanted to explore if my DNA included other Asian backgrounds beyond Chinese.
One mystery was the family rumor of a now deceased relative who had lived in Thailand. It was unclear if this relative was ethnically Thai or rather a Chinese person who happened to live in Thailand.
Another area I wanted to explore was the surprise 12% Polynesian output that AncestryDNA had provided in my results. As far as I knew, no one in my family had a Polynesian background. The percentage wasn’t even just a trace amoutn, but rather was actually in the double digits. Were these results correct?
A Hack for More Detailed DNA Results
One of my blog readers, previous DNA post and provided an intriguing tip. She suggested I import my AncestryDNA raw data into a FREE Chinese-run site called WeGene to receive a detailed breakdown of my Asian DNA. A company based in China would likely hold a vast database with Asian customers, so in theory, the ability to provide more precise Asian DNA results would make sense.read my
In addition to AncestryDNA, WeGene allows users to import 23andMe.com raw data also at no cost. WeGene does not accept any other DNA company’s data besides from these two. Regarding obtaining your DNA raw data, most DNA sites allow their customers to download this information for free.
To use WeGene, first save your raw data onto your computer and then import it into the WeGene website. Make sure to use the WeGene English version site as the main website is in Chinese.
After I submitted my raw data, I immediately received an email. The message was in Chinese, so I used Google Translate to determine it was an email confirmation. I assumed I’d received an email to inform me when my WeGene results would be ready, but never did. As such, I logged into my WeGene account just to check. The results were available.
I am thrilled to say the WeGene hack worked! I received very detailed results.
The data indicated I was 95% Chinese. The data further broke down the results into ethnic groups. The Han group is the largest in China, so I was not surprised the majority of my background was from here. WeGene further broke down the Han group into the subgroups Southern Han and Northern Han. I had a sprinkling of other smaller ethnic groups in my background of which most were from Southern China.
Below are the Chinese ethnic groups available through WeGene.
- Southern Han Chinese
- Northern Han Chinese
My results showed Southeast Asian as the remaining 5% of my DNA background of which most was Cambodian. Under Thai, my percentage was 0%. This solved the mystery of the elder relative living in Thailand. This relative was not ethnically Thai but merely lived in Thailand. Below is the breakdown availability of Southeast Asian groups under WeGene.
According to Dictionary.com, Oceania is defined as, “the islands of the central and S. Pacific, including Micronesia, Melanesia, Polynesia, and traditionally Australasia. About 3,450,000 sq. mi.” As I mentioned above, AncestryDNA indicated I had 12% Polynesian DNA which was a surprise. AncestryDNA did note that their data could be skewed since they only had small [Polynesian] samples. The WeGene results contradicted the Ancestry DNA restuls. WeGene listed my Oceanian DNA as 0%. However, I noticed that WeGene only included one ethnic group when in reality there are many more. So I’m not really sure what to believe – AncestryDNA’s 12% or WeGene’s 0% Polynesian results? This may be one mystery that will never be solved. Below is the one Oceanian group in WeGene.
For your reference, here are the rest of the breakdowns offered under WeGene:
- Native American
Based on my experience, if you’re Asian American and wish to get a more detailed breakdown of your DNA, try using WeGene in combination with AncestryDNA or 23andMe.com. As a side note, a reader had informed me that 23andMe.com had provided him with Asian groups such as Chinese, Japanese and Korean. But I don’t believe he received a sub-breakdown of ethnic groups (like WeGene does) which would provide a whole other level of detail. If you have used WeGene or have any other insight into Asian American DNA results, please share in the comments.