How Reliable Are Home DNA Ancestry Tests? Investigation Uses Triplets to Find Out

Playing Investigation Puts Ancestry DNA Kits To The Test Among Sets Of Triplets

Millions of people are purchasing home DNA kits like 23andMe, Family Tree DNA, and Ancestry DNA, to unlock the secrets to their ancestry, but are the results always 100 percent reliable? 

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To find out, Inside Edition enlisted the help of two sets of indistinguishable triplets and a set of indentical quadruplets to investigate the accuracy of the at-home tests.

One of the triplets, Erica McGraw, is the daughter-in-law of TV's Dr. Phil McGraw.  Her husband, Jay, is the executive producer of the television program The Doctors.

Erica and her two sisters, Nicole and Jaclyn, used one of the most popular tests, "23 and Me." To complete it, all they had to do was spit in a cup and ship off their samples.

Another set of triplets taking part in Inside Edition's experiment were the Maynard sisters, who were once on American Idol. They used a test kit from Family Tree DNA, and had to swab the inside of their mouths to complete the test.

Our third set of identical triplets were from New Jersey and used a kit from Ancestry DNA.

Also tested were a rare set of identical quadruplets, as the singing Pyfrom Quads, of California, took the test from 23andMe as well.

“Their ancestry should be absolutely identical,” DNA expert Dr. David Ku, of Universal Genetics, told Inside Edition.

Inside Edition’s Chief Investigative Correspondent Lisa Guerrero revealed the results to Erica McGraw and her sisters on the set of the TV program The Doctors. She was joined by the show’s host, Dr. Travis Stork.

The sisters were all 99 percent European but the test from 23andMe also showed some surprising differences.

Nicole was 11 percent French and German but Erica was 22.3 percent. Their sister Jaclyn was in the middle at 18 percent.

"I'm surprised," Nicole said. "I’m surprised because we came from the same egg and DNA. How are our ancestries different?"

Guerrero then met with the Maynard triplets and revealed the results for their “Family Tree DNA” tests. It showed they all had British Isles ancestry but the amount was different.

Erin Maynard was 59 percent, Mandy was 66 percent and Melissa was 70 percent.

The tests also showed that Mandy had six percent Scandinavian ancestry but her identical sisters showed none.

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The sisters were confused and disappointed with the results.

Guerrero asked them, “Is that disappointing?”

Erin Maynard responded, “Very.”

But not everyone was disheartened by the results.

The Ancestry DNA test results for the New Jersey triplets were almost identical. It revealed that their roots are largely from Great Britain, 45%-47% and their Italian and Greek ancestry was exact at 25%.

As for the Pyfrom Quads, their results were also almost identical and did not have the variations seen in other sets of our triplets.

Their test from “23andMe” showed each were 49 percent European and 46 percent West African.

“What’s the take away from this?” Guerrero asked Dr. Stork. 

"I think the answer here is that we've come so far in terms of genetic testing, but you can't just spit in a cup and have every single answer that you are looking for," Dr. Stork said following the test results.

Since the test, Family Tree DNA told Inside Edition they have improved their algorithm and will implement a new method in the next few weeks.

A spokesperson for 23andMe says their results are based on a sliding confidence scale, ranging from 50-90 percent. The higher the confidence level chosen, the less specific the result can be as to the region or country of the person’s ancestry.

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