‘Extraordinary in an Ordinary My Heritage DNA File….’ — Part One.
In November 2021 I purchased my first autosomal DNA test on a leading online DNA platform, My Heritage, founded in 2003 with its headquarters in Or Yehuda, Israel. A month later, right before Christmas I was informed by an email that my sample had been processed and analysed and the DNA file together with estimate were ready. Having checked my ethnicity map and the estimate which, by the way, was 66.9% — Eastern European (Russia, Belarussia, Poland, Ukraine, Latvia, Lithuania), 19% — Baltic (Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia), 11.6% — Balkan, and 2.1% — Central Asia, I downloaded my DNA file.
At first, as many people, I did not quite know what to do with it. But soon enough I had discovered some other DNA platforms specialising on analysis of the autosomal DNA results. And so, I uploaded my downloaded DNA file onto the following platforms: FTDNA, Living DNA, My True Ancestry, and GedMatch.
In January 2022, I ordered another autosomal DNA test from an American DNA platform — Ancestry. My goal was to check the ethnic estimates and maps of the two platforms. My results were ready in March 2022. The ethnic estimate produced by Ancestry somewhat differed from My Heritage: Eastern Europe and Russia — 78%; Baltics — 18%; Finland — 3%; and Malta — 1%. But the estimate itself was not as intriguing as the ethnic map — 2/3 of the Euro-Asian Continent was mine.
Since the ethnic mapping by My Heritage was closer to what I envisaged as my ethnic background I decided to stick with My Heritage results. For that reason, although I had downloaded the DNA file produced by Ancestry I never used it on any of the analytical sites.
In a year, analysis of the DNA results have developed further and new online platforms offering specialised interpretations of the DNA results have emerged. Among them there are such as Your DNA Portal (yourdnaportal.com), Genomelink (www.genomelink.io), and ILLUSTRATIVE DNA (lab.illustrativedna.com). As a person who likes everything new, I happily uploaded my ‘My Heritage’ DNA file onto these platforms. All would be ‘fine and all-right’ if not for diligence of an IT person from the ILLUSTRATIVE DNA. In a good sense, of course.
In January 2023, after having uploaded the ‘My Heritage’ DNA file onto the ILLUSTRATIVE DNA platform, I received an email from their IT support saying this:
It looks like the file you uploaded is edited somehow. Please send us the original/unedited file by replying to this email.‘
[date 26 January 2023, time 21:42 (9.42pm)]
Perplexed in regards to the message and especially to the fact that my DNA file appeared to had been ‘edited somehow’, I downloaded the file from ‘My Heritage’ website a second time. This time it seemed to be fine, or at least the ILLUSTRATIVE DNA support did not flag up any issues. The incident had prompted me to look closer and in more detail at the DNA file produced for me by My Heritage.
I started with clarifying the ‘edited somehow’ comment in the email received from the IT support of the ILLUSTRATIVE DNA. The reply I have received was ‘The encoding in the file was unordinary and giving errors. It was likely post-processed or broken during the download.’ [15 February 2023, time 20:40 (8.40pm)] The ‘encoding’ I was explained refers to ‘rs’ — ‘Reference SNP cluster ID’ — and by ‘post-processing’ was meant ‘merging, inputting and other processing’.
‘Reference SNP cluster ID’ is used by researchers and databases to identify a specific SNP (Single Nucleotide Polymorphism).
The replies from the ILLUSTRATIVE DNA confirmed what I was already thinking — the information found in the ‘My Heritage’ DNA file had been changed. But how and by whom?
Although I am not a DNA specialist, I nonetheless decided to open and first check the ‘My Heritage’ DNA file myself. On opening the file and looking at the data it contained, I noticed that some of the Y-chromosome fields in it had results. Now, all humans have 22 pairs of chromosomes (44 in total). In addition, women have chromosome X and men — chromosome Y. These two chromosomes determine sex of an individual.
For a woman, having results, even partial and sporadic, in the fields designated to the chromosome Y is bizarre to say the least.
Puzzled than ever, I decided to share the information regarding Y-chromosome found in the ‘My Heritage’ DNA file in the Facebook Group of Your DNA Portal, asking female members to check if they had any results in the Y-chromosome fields of their ‘My Heritage’ DNA files. But all went quiet and none of the women came forward.
Hitting the brick wall, I went back to the DNA files of mine and, this time, checked the Ancestry DNA file. In it, there were no results in the fields of Y chromosome. It became apparent that the ‘editing’ of the ‘My Heritage’ file was somehow linked to the information contained in the Y chromosome fields.
On a hunch, I decided to upload the results of my second test — the one with the Ancestry — onto the analytical sites where the results of the first test — the ‘My Heritage’ one — had been already interpreted. What I hoped to see was whether these two files were the same or different, and if different then how would the interpretations of the results differ.
I was open minded to the outcome of this experiment but what awaited me was beyond all my wild guessing. The two files supposedly mine turned out to be describing two different people, for in the matching sections of the analytical sites the relationship assigned to the files showed up as ‘child/parent’ one.
Here are the results of the two such analytical platforms:
Match — Parent/Child, shared 3547.6cM, G 1.0; the largest segment 151.5cM
Match — Parent/Child, shared 3,561cM; segments shared 22; the largest block 284cM; X chromosome 180.98cM
Since the Ancestry file did not contain any information in the Y-chromosome fields, it was obvious that it was the one belonging to a woman or a ‘child’. Since I was the one who did the test with Ancestry, I assumed it was me. Then the other file, the one produced by My Heritage, ought to be the one of a parent, a man in this case, as it contained some results in the Y-chromosome fields. In other words, the evidence pointed at the fact that the ‘My Heritage’ DNA file belonged to my FATHER.
Now, the person whom I grew up thinking was my father died in June 2011 and did not do any DNA tests for very obvious reasons: Firstly, he had no interest in it. Secondly, he did not have the means. And thirdly, he did not use internet at all.
The question that immediately arose in my mind was — ‘But why?’ Why would My Heritage attach my parent’s DNA results to my kit and account without even letting me know? And, most important, where is my own DNA file that My Heritage was supposed to share with me?
These and other questions I’ll try to answer in Part Two, which is to come shortly.