My 23andMe experience and takeaways

Growing up, family members and people in general would comment on how different I looked.

Different from their preconceived notion of what a Chinese person looks like.  You know, the image that we all have pearly complexions, smaller, monolid eyes, and super straight jet black hair. One summer, my hair must have gotten lighter than usual because one of my cousins was so convinced that I had dyed my hair that she thought I was lying to her.

Sometimes people would even approach me, and ask me where I’m from. Most of the time, it felt like they were playing a guessing game with themselves and wanted to make sure they were right. I could write a whole blog post on this alone, but I don’t want to bore you with something you’ve probably heard of, or experienced for yourself.

Curious about my ancestry

My parents and I at my grad school graduation.

When I look at my parents and my younger brother, it’s definitely clear that we all share the same darker complexion and wider, double eyelid eyes. My parents both come from farming villages, so it definitely makes sense that their complexion would be darker from labor intensive hours in the sun. Knowing this didn’t make me any less curious though.  Am I really 100% Chinese? Is it possible for anyone to be 100% of anything? My parents were always convinced, so why wouldn’t it be true? This is where 23andMe comes in.

Discovering 23andMe 

23andMe is a company that uses saliva samples to run DNA testing and determine where your ancestors are from. Over the summer, 23andMe was doing a contest where “winners” would be given an all expense paid trip to one of the places where their ancestors are from, based on their results. A free trip got my attention.

But it wasn’t really free since I still had to pay for the kit, which is $99 when it’s not on sale. So I decided to hold off.

Then Black Friday came and they offered 2 kits for the price of 1. Thinking that it wasn’t going to get any cheaper than that, Vadim and I decided to go for it.

My experience and expectations

When the package arrived a few days later, I was really excited. It felt so official and so scientific. But then I thought, what if my parents are right? What if I am 100% Chinese and I just paid about $50 to confirm the obvious. Too late now.

I decided that my results might come back as “boring”. There wouldn’t be any unexpected plot twists. I figured Vadim’s ancestry might be a bit more diverse and colorful.

We opened the package and proceeded to follow the instructions. They were simple and straightforward, but make sure you read them before starting. One thing we didn’t know until we read the instructions is, there’s no eating or drinking 30 minutes before you start spitting.

I realized while spitting into the tube that I’m really bad at it. Vadim didn’t have the same problem though, he had to actually encourage me to continue spitting when I was getting impatient. Eventually, I made it to the finish line.

We closed the cap to release a solution into our saliva, gave it a good shaking, and twisted off the top cap to reveal that it was sealed and ready for the lab.

My Results

About four weeks later, my results arrived in my inbox.

My ancestry breakdown:

My ancestry timeline:

Trying to make sense of my results

So it turns out, I’m not 100% Chinese. There’s some Southeast Asian in my DNA too. Though it is pretty broad, it left me wondering who in my family made the trek to China. My ancestry timeline shows me that one of my relatives descended from Southeast Asia somewhere between 1840-1900.

What was most interesting and unknown to me was that one of my relatives somewhere down the line was of Native American descent.

My parents didn’t believe the results. They even questioned the validity of the test. How are they still so confident?

I kept asking whether they knew where their parents and grandparents were from, and they kept naming their respective villages in Guangdong, China.

Then my mom finally had an a-ha moment, and reminds my dad that his mother never knew where she was actually from. It turns out my grandmother was sold into a family at a young age to work as a servant. She never reunited with her family.

Case closed, I guess. I can’t go back in time and ask my grandparents questions about their childhood. All but one of my grandparents passed away before I could meet them. And even when they were alive, they all lived in China. I was also really young so something like this wouldn’t have been in my consciousness yet.

My parents also don’t know much about their own parents and grandparents. Passing down stories of life and childhood was not something they had time to do. It just wasn’t as important as working the land to survive and feed their families.


Storytelling is important. I have a general idea of what my parents’ childhood was like, but what if one day I regret not knowing more? When they’re gone, how will I want to remember them? What are the stories they would want me to tell? And if your grandparents are alive and well, write down their stories. You never know how it might help you better understand your own story, or someone else’s in the next generation.

Unlike Derek Zoolander, groups of people do not have just one look. It is outdated to think that all Chinese people, or any group of people for that matter, look the same. That simply isn’t true. China is a large country with many regions, ethnic groups, and dialects. Being “Chinese” is a very broad label that can be broken down even further. This case can probably be made for any country.

Science is really cool. Without the scientific advancement that made DNA testing possible, I would have only had my parents’ word to go on. I wouldn’t know to ask questions, and I certainly wouldn’t have known that there was more to uncover. I suppose, I might find more answers if my dad took the 23andMe test as well. I wonder what his results would look like and how he would respond.

Food for Thought: Do you know where your family is from? Would you take this 23andMe test? Why or why not? 

Thanks for stopping by. See you in my next post!

Sophie 🙂

Disclaimer: This is not an ad. All opinions are my own.