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What Vanessa Williams Learned from Ancestry DNA

Vanessa Williams

Genealogists can learn quite a bit from a direct-to-consumer DNA test. This is true even if you already know some things about your family history. Vanessa Williams used’s DNA test kit. The results gave her information about her family that she did not know.

AncestryDNA is the name of the DNA testing kit that comes from the popular genealogy website At the time I am writing this blog, the kit can be purchased for $99.00. The kit helps you to send in a saliva sample and the DNA in that sample will be analyzed by experts. The results will be sent to you in six to eight weeks.

Vanessa Williams was featured in the premiere episode of the second season of the “Who Do You Think You Are?” TV show. It is a show that takes viewers along with a celebrity as the famous person learns more about his or her family history. As you may expect, each episode has the potential to be very emotional. Celebrities are not told anything about their family history before the episode is filmed.

Vanessa Williams learned some more about her family history from her experience on “Who Do You Think You Are?” For example, she visited the National Archives to learn more about her great-great-grandfather, David Carll. He was a Civil War veteran. Vanessa Williams was able to see a tintype photograph of him, in his Union uniform, for the first time. From there, her family history was traced to a family patriarch who was born as a house slave in Tennessee.

The episode that featured Vanessa Williams was filmed in 2012 and genetic testing kits were not as readily available at that time (compared with today). She was excited to find out what’s DNA test would reveal about her family history.

How does that test work? General manager of the DNA division of, Ken Chahine, says that the first thing that is done with the DNA sample is an ethnic breakdown. The genetic signature is compared to reference samples from around the globe. Algorithms are used to identify where the DNA is most likely to have originated.

What did Vanessa Williams learn? She discovered that her genome has the following break down: 23% Ghana, 17% British Isles, 15% Cameroon/Congo, 13% Finnish/Ural/Volga, 11% southern European, 7% Togo, 6 % Benin, 5% Senegal, 4% Spain/Portugal. This was information that she did not know before she used the AncestryDNA kit. Genealogists who are interested in discovering more about their heritage could benefit from using a DNA testing kit, including the genealogists who have already learned quite a lot about their family tree.

Image by John Athayde on Flickr.

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