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24 October 2018

They search for their roots through DNA

Journal: Kathimerini – 16.07.2018

In recent years, more and more people, internationally, turn to private companies that “build”  DNA banks, hoping that, with their help they will find more clues about their origin or find unknown relatives. The first companies of this kind appeared in early 2000. Most of them are based in the USA, but others are active in the UK, Iceland, Canada and the United Arab Emirates.

In 2007, 23andMe valued the test at $ 999. Competition led to a reduction prices and now it costs $ 99 (or less, depending on the company and the sales period). The company Ancestry played a key role by entering this growing market in 2012. Today it is estimated that more than 12 million people worldwide have given genetic material to such companies. At least half of them are customers of Ancestry.

The trend has spread to members of the Greek Diaspora. Second or third generation migrants use these services. Some are motivated by the desire to return to their ancestral homeland and others by the need to reconstitute their personal history.

Elias Vladon, a retired professor of history in Washington, already knew enough about his Greek past. But he wanted to learn more. He did two DNA tests in different companies, but also convinced his sister and mother, two weeks before she died in the hospital, to do the same.

DNA cousins

He says he has contacted many of his cousins, with whom he shares genetic sequences. “At least 15 cousins of my ancestors were born in neighbouring places with Ano Giannei, Arcadia, my father’s village,” he said in the newspaper Kathimerini. “My goal is to communicate with my fourth and fifth cousins and to find out who our common ancestors were,” he says.

Similar investigations are conducted by Greeks who have been adopted – legally or illegally – after the end of the Civil War and grew up in the US knowing little about their past. When the American Helen Whitehouse was trying to discover her own family tree, she did a DNA test. Surprised, she learned she has close cousins in Kalamata. The Greek who she thinks was her biological grandfather seems to not have lived in Chicago in 1929.

“I have to travel to Greece for more details,” she says. “My DNA revealed a new world. It is my responsibility to solve the mystery of my father’s descent.”.