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Do DNA tests show that we all have common ancestors?


Several scientists, including eminent genetic researchers, have reportedly criticized commercial companies that charge people up to £300 a time to learn if they are related to famous figures in history.  The recent discovery of Richard III’s last remains apparently prompted a surge in people wanting to know if he featured among their forebears.  Some scientists describe such tests as little more than “genetic astrology.”  The case is that after a few steps back up our family tree. We have very little DNA from each ancestor compared with that which we share from ancestors we have in common with others. Steve Jones, Emeritus Professor of Human Genetics at UCL says:

“On a long trudge through history – two parents, four great-grandparents, and so on – very soon everyone runs out of ancestors and has to share them.  As a result, almost every Briton is a descendant of Viking hordes, Roman legions, African migrants, Indian Brahmins, or anyone else they fancy.”

Fair enough.  I’m comforted by the thought that I have some of Julius Caesar’s DNA inside me, alongside the more obvious and more recent Viking DNA from my Danish ancestors.  Maybe it is a little like astrology, in that many people read their horoscopes every day for a bit of fun without seriously believing that the patterns of stars as they appeared in the sky at the time of their birth determine their future destiny.  These DNA tests might similarly give us a little fun, and some links we can amuse ourselves with, rather than telling us anything all that significant about our origins.


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