I think most people are aware of the consumer genome sequencing services. If I'm not mistaken, 23andMe took them quite mainstream. You get a kit in the mail, spit into a vial, send it off, and not long after get a report detailing where you hail from and maybe what autosomal diseases you're prone to if you pay extra.

I believe that on the journey to understand yourself, it's important to consider those that have come before you. I've always been interested in genealogy as my own is quite foggy. When I was little, I tried compiling a family tree. My family gets quite large quite quickly the further back you go, so this was difficult. I would like to one day do proper research (or hire a professional to do it) to have a proper family tree.

No records

I come from Egypt and was born there, but haven't lived there since I was 3 years old, which is the first challenge. Record-keeping is lacking to say the least. We don't have family crests and deep records like the Irish. In fact, since approximately around the Arab Spring time, I officially no longer exist. I found out when I went to get my birth certificate renewed (context: if you're of Egyptian origin, you can enter Egypt without a visa, however my "proof" is an old-school handwritten birth certificate, and these days they insist on the typed one). It turns out I've just been deleted or something. My siblings all still exist, only I don't. This might have been useful if I were still Egyptian since I could probably dodge military service.

Anyway, my family is large. I'm one of four, my mum one of three, and my dad one of seven I think. I have so many cousins I can barely keep track. And my parents have so many cousins, that some areas are dominated by those families. My only hope to try and gather this information is my uncle Khairy who's the closest thing to an archivist that my family has. He keeps albums of old photos and know a lot about the family.

Too white to be Egyptian

I'm rather ethnically ambiguous. I'm pure Egyptian in theory, but for all intents and purposes, I'm white. It's not uncommon for me to be mistaken as a foreigner in Egypt, and certainly nobody outside of Egypt could ever guess I'm Egyptian by appearance alone.

My skin is light, I have light brown/green eyes and hair that went from blonde to light brown. This isn't very common for Egyptians (maybe Syrians). My dad also had green/grey eyes and blonde hair, though my hair is very coily, while his is straight. Him and his siblings all look very Caucasian. So I really wanted to find out where this whiteness comes from. It's very likely Turkish, as I heard somewhere my great-grandmother was Turkish.

DNA to the rescue

After a bit of research, I ordered a DNA kit from AncestryDNA towards the end of 2018. I picked them because they were the most likely to meet my specific needs (genealogy) while other services were more focused on looking for specific markers for medical traits for example. They're the ones that reveal to you that you have a cousin you never knew anything about, or that your dad is the milkman.

My biggest concern was privacy, as I didn't want them peddling my DNA data to the US government / law enforcement, but the privacy policy was decent, and I felt like the risk-reward profile was ok, despite the fact that MyHeritage had suffered a breach not long before (remember that name, it'll come up again later)!

I sent in my sample and got my results soon after. At the time it was quite disappointing, as the results were very vague. It was basically a big blob over the entirety of north Africa. I didn't have any distant cousins identified or anything either (unlikely that people in Egypt use this particular service anyway). I chalked this up to a data issue, as they need to correlate a lot of data from particular areas to make good classifications, and they probably simply don't have a lot of north African data.

However, over time, the data did improve and got somewhat more granular. Here's a summary of where I'm from, judging by my DNA, though I wouldn't take this all too seriously. I remember reading a story of someone sending a sample in from their dog, and the results being just like a human's, calling the service nothing more than a dressed up horoscope, though I have reason to believe it's not quite that bad. At the same time, I wish I wouldn't have indicated that I was Egyptian, and put in my name etc, as I would have liked it to tell me where I'm from "blind".

Medical data

Something that I looked for during my research is the ability to download my DNA data and use it elsewhere. AncestryDNA had this option (although I don't think we're dealing with a full genome, but rather a useful subset), so I was able to reuse this data with other service providers.

I found out that some of the big services use Promethease's data for medical reports, so I went straight to the source and uploaded my DNA there on February 16th 2019 in the AncestryDNA-v2d format, and got a detailed report. I remember it was comparatively very cheap. I found out that:

I suppose it's good that there was nothing major that really stood out there. Also the report is so long I can't possibly go through everything, plus after a certain point you can't really load more markers and everything starts to lag, so you have to use the filters.

Round two

Late 2019, I got an email saying that Promethease got acquired by MyHeritage, a different platform. This is the same one that suffered a breach, but the acquisition came after. They had an opt-in for EU users (thank you GDPR!) and I ended up opting in after reviewing everything. I was now in a position where I could review the results of two different platforms with two different datasets, with the same DNA data. The results were close, but different enough.

Apparently all regions were high confidence, except Turkey was medium and Greece low. There's a lot that can be unpacked here, but the main difference is that these results are slightly more European, and the Turkish results seem like they may be directionally correct. Still, my results are quite vague as expected, and of course this platform didn't identify any extended family.


I guess it's relatively safe to say that, as far as ethnicity is concerned, I'm Egyptian. I also have seemingly healthy DNA.