The project that first sequenced a human genome in 2000 took 15 years and cost about $3 billion.
Now it takes six to eight weeks and costs as little as $100. Takers include actress Vanessa Williams, who has a long interest in tracing her family history.
"I’ve got blue eyes, my brother also has light eyes, and everyone says, 'Well, what are you? You’re mixed with something. What is it?'” Williams told The Huffington Post. "My parents are black ... but I was a bit defensive, because I don’t know, all of my relatives look like me. And we know as much as we can."
Two years ago, Williams found herself choking back tears as she traced her family history during the second season of NBC's now-defunct series, "Who Do You Think You Are?"
"I knew more about my father’s side because we opened the show visiting my family cemetery in Oyster Bay, New York," Williams said, recalling the discoveries she made on the show, including a tintype photograph of her great great-grandfather David Carll, a Civil War veteran.
"I got a chance to go to the National Archives and see a tintype, which he had sent in to get his military benefits," Williams said. "Because he couldn’t read or write, because he was a laborer in Oyster Bay on the fishing ships, they got his name wrong. When he was released ... he sent a picture in a tintype to the government to prove who he was. That was an amazing discovery to actually see him in his Union uniform with the American flag draped over his knee. It was phenomenal."
Williams traced her grandfather's roots back to Tennessee, where the family patriarch, born a house slave, eventually worked as a principal and teacher. "Those were my two stories and they were extremely prideful because they were two men whose names I can see written in stone because of their achievements," Williams said.
While the experience helped her fill in gaps in her family's Tennessee and New York family tree, Williams said her travels to Africa inspired her to dig deeper.
"I remember the first time I visited South Africa, I saw different tribes and different features. I’ve been to Kenya as well and it’s one of those unfortunate things as African Americans, knowing that you don’t have a clear association with any tribe," she said. "You know that it’s the west coast obviously, because of the slave trade, [but] you’re envious of other family histories that can say we’re 100 percent Polish ... or whatever."
Williams jumped at the opportunity to try out genealogy website Ancestry.com's DNA test -- a mail-order tube-and-swab kit priced from $200 to $350 that the company says offers customers detailed results in six to eight weeks. Dozens of other commercial labs offer similar testing, with prices from $100 to $400.
Genetic testing like this wasn't accessible to most people even two years ago, when Williams appeared on "Who Do You Think You Are?" As more people get tested, the companies' growing databases allow customers to identify common ancestors, or cousins.
"Once we have the genetic print, we’ll do two things," said Ken Chahine, general manager of the DNA division of the Ancestry.com. "The first thing is ethnic breakdown. We compare that genetic signature against reference samples from all over the world ... and then we use very sophisticated algorithms to say where is [the] DNA most likely to come from."
For Williams, her genome revealed this mixture: 23 percent Ghana; 17 percent British Isles; 15 percent Cameroon/Congo; 13 percent Finnish/Ural/Volga; 11 percent southern European; 7 percent Togo; 6 percent Benin; 5 percent Senegal; 4 percent Spain/Portugal.
The second part of Ancestry.com's test compares the subject's DNA with that of others who have been tested. "If two people are related, they had a common ancestor, and if they had a common ancestor, they should share large segments of DNA that are identical," Chahine said. "Depending on how long of a [DNA] segment you share with this other individual, we can make a prediction as to what your cousinship would be."
Williams only recently got her results and hasn't yet determined whether she has undiscovered distant cousins.
Harvard University professor Henry Louis Gates Jr., a genealogy enthusiast, recently compared Ancestry.com's DNA test to other genomic companies to better understand what percentage of African ancestry lies in the African American population as a whole. Here's what his comparison revealed:
* According to Ancestry.com, the average African American is 65 percent sub-Saharan African, 29 percent European and 2 percent Native American.
* According to 23andme.com, the average African American is 75 percent sub-Saharan African, 22 percent European and only 0.6 percent Native American.
* According to Family Tree DNA.com, the average African American is 72.95 percent sub-Saharan African, 22.83 percent European and 1.7 percent Native American.
* According to National Geographic's Genographic Project, the average African American is 80 percent sub-Saharan African, 19 percent European and 1 percent Native American.
"These admixture tests reveal surprising information about the complex genetic makeup of the African American community, and speak volumes about the hidden history of American racial and social relations encoded in our genes," Gates said. "Judging from these test results, the bottom line is that black and white Americans are inextricably interconnected at the level of their genomes, and African Americans are a profoundly 'mixed' people, far more than anyone thought possible before these DNA tests were invented."
Williams said the test proves the basis for personality traits she's witnessed throughout her life.
"My mom did her test ... and a surprising percentage that came up with her is the Turkey/Persia region," Williams said. "I always tease her because she loves to bargain and she loves going to bazaars. We’ve gone to Egypt twice and she’s in her element."
Williams recalled her brother being diagnosed as a child with a blood disease common in Italian populations. "My mother said, 'We don’t have any Italian in our family,' but now that I know he’s 11 percent southern European, bingo, there it is," Williams said.
While Chahine and his team work to refine genomic testing, Williams said she has other plans to explore her roots. "For one, I already know where my next trips are going to be," she said. "I want to see if anyone looks like me, or if I feel some kind of connection."
Related on HuffPost:
COUNT 'EM: 27 Celebrities You Didn't Know Were Latino
Ryan Lochte is the overnight success who's been around for some time. Born in upstate New York to a Cuban mother ('Ike') and German-Irish father, Lochte was raised mostly in Florida where his father was a swimming coach and where his talents blossomed. One of the most decorated U.S. swimmers ever, Lochte's haul of five shiny medals (2 gold, 2 silver, 1 bronze), paled with the glare of lights, media attention and fans that followed his every swim, smiling interview and bare chested moment. Alongside chatter about his wins and almost-wins, there has been plenty of speculation about <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/01/ryan-lochte-sex-one-night-stands-deep-thoughts-olympian-love-romance_n_1729720.html?utm_hp_ref=latino-voices&ir=Latino Voices" target="_hplink">his dating life</a>, his <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/08/ryan-lochte-reality-shows_n_1755898.html" target="_hplink">possible TV career</a>, and his <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/06/ryan-lochte-interviews_n_1749273.html?utm_hp_ref=latino-voices&ir=Latino Voices" target="_hplink">penchant for non sequiturs</a>.
Voted by fans in 2011 as one of Top 15 players in WNBA history, Taurasi is now leading the U.S. Women's Basketball team onto the medal stand at the London Olympics, where they are assured at least a bronze and are playing for gold on Saturday. Born and raised in California to an Argentine mother and Italian father who was raised in Argentina. Sports runs through the Taurasi bloodline as her father, Mario, played professional soccer in Italy.
Sara Paxton is Scottish and Irish on her father's side, but her mother Lucia was born In Monterrey, Mexico. This year Paxton, who resides in L.A. turned 24 and got to spend <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/25/sara-paxton-excited-about_n_1452964.html" target="_hplink">her birthday in her mother's homeland.</a> The star was in Mexico filming the coming of age movie "I Brake for Gringo".
Vanna White, the television personality best known as the co-host of the 'Wheel of Fortune' television show, was born in North Carolina, but she certainly has some Latino blood in her! Vanna's last name is not actually White, it's the name she took from her stepfather Herbert Stackley White Jr. Her father, Miguel Angel Rosich, was born in Ponce, Puerto Rico but abandoned Vanna and her family when she was a child.
Actor Andrew Keegan, best known for his role as Joey Donner in "10 Things I Hate About You," may be the ultimate American 90s teen heartthrob, but Keegan actually has some Latino spunk in him. His mother is a <a href="http://www.latina.com/entertainment/buzz/100-stars-you-never-knew-were-latino?slide=11" target="_hplink">Colombian hairdresser named Lana</a>.
Actor Frankie Muniz, best known for his role In FOX's hit series "Malcolm In The Middle", was born in New Jersey to a Puerto Rican father and an Italian mother. Since his "Malcolm In The Middle" days (the show stopped airing in 2006) Muniz has stayed below the radar until last October when <a href="http://www.people.com/people/article/0,,20539701,00.html" target="_hplink">he popped the question</a> to his longtime girlfriend Elycia Marie Turnbow.
Actress Raquel Welch, stole all eyes when she appeared in a skin bikini in the 1966 British adventure film "One Million Years B.C." She became the ultimate sex symbol, but what a lot of people don't know is Welch, born in Chicago, has Spanish and Latino blood in her. Her mother is English and her father is of Spanish-Bolivian descent. In <a href="http://www.pbs.org/wnet/tavissmiley/interviews/actress-raquel-welch/" target="_hplink">2001 she was awarded</a> the Imagen Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award, honoring those dedicated to <a href="http://www.imagen.org/" target="_hplink">encouraging and recognizing the positive portrayals of Latinos in the entertainment industry.</a>
He may be a big legend of one America's staple pastimes, but baseball Hall of Fame honorary, Ted Williams, had some Latino blood in him. In fact, the Red Sox's left-fielder was of <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2005/08/26/sports/baseball/26latino.html" target="_hplink"> Mexican descent on his mother's side.</a> But Williams kept his Mexican roots very private. "He never made a point of letting it be known," said Williams's nephew, who is also named Ted Williams to the <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2005/08/26/sports/baseball/26latino.html" target="_hplink">NYTimes. </a>"He didn't promote it. He was very friendly with our Mexican relatives on a private basis, but sometimes he shunned them in public because he didn't want it to be known. His mother led an Anglo life in San Diego."
The Hollywood starlet of the 1940s and first Bond girl, Linda Christian, was Latina. Christian, who appeared alongside Barry Nelson in the 1954 TV adaptation of the James Bond novel <em>Casino Royale</em>, was born Blanca Rosa Welter in Tamico, Tamaulipas, Mexico. Her mother was also Mexican and her father Dutch.
Annabella Avery "Bella" Thorne, star of "Shake It Up!" and <a href="http://www.starpulse.com/news/index.php/2012/06/12/bella_thorne_named_global_ambassador_f" target="_hplink">Global Ambassador for the Stomp Out Bullying Campaign</a> still has a fear of public speaking after she was bullied at school. But the young Disney Star hasn't let that stop her acting career with some people even <a href="http://www.latina.com/entertainment/buzz/100-stars-you-never-knew-were-latino?slide=13" target="_hplink">labeling her as the next Miley Cyrus</a>. Disney's next big star, was born in Florida and currently lives in California,<a href="http://www.latina.com/entertainment/buzz/exclusive-bella-thorne-wants-her-shake-it-character-be-cuban" target="_hplink"> but her father Renato is originally from Cuba. </a>
Actress Q'orianka Kilcher, who's name means "Golden Eagle" in Quechua--a dialect spoken primarily in the Andes region of South America--is best known for her role as Pocahontas in the 2005 film "The New World". Aside from an interesting name, Q'orianka also has a very fascinating heritage. She was born in Germany, to a father of Quechua-Huachipaeri descent from Peru and a mother of Swiss descent, born in Alaska and raised in Switzerland.
Former Victoria's Secret Angel and part of the 90s supermodel clan (alongside Cindy Crawford, Elle McPherson, Naomi Campbell and the like) Helena Christensen is a product of Danish and Peruvian blood. Born in Copenhagen, Denmark, her father is Danish, and her mother is Peruvian. In 2009, she traveled to her mother's homeland where she captured in photographs the country's economical and environmental issues and displayed her prints in an exhibition titled <a href="http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/climate-change/portraits-of-peru-why-supermodel-helena-christensen-returned-to-her-roots-1823080.html" target="_hplink">"Portraits of Peru". </a>
Heather Hemmens, better known for her role as Alice Verdura on CW's cheerleading comedy-drama "Hellcats", is sassy and she knows it. The Costa Rican actress (raised in Maine) is one proud Latina. "When someone says 'Tell me about yourself,' I wish I could answer simply, 'I'm Latina!'" she told <a href="http://www.latina.com/entertainment/buzz/100-stars-you-never-knew-were-latino?slide=36" target="_hplink">Latina Magazine.</a> "There's not much more to it. I love dancing, eating and I have sass that I make no apologies for."
Actress Jordana Brewster from the rejuvenated TV series "Dallas" was born in Panama City, Panama and her mother, Maria João, is a former swimsuit model from Brazil. Jordana lived in Brazil from the age of six to 10. "As a kid, it was funny, because when I came to New York at the age of 10, I always felt very Brazilian, and then in Brazil, I always felt very American--so I always felt a little bit out of place," <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/13/dallas-star-jordana-brewster_n_1595303.html" target="_hplink">Brewster told The Huffington Post. </a>
Who would've thought that little Rory Gilmore is a Latina? But Alexis Bledel, who starred as Gilmore in the CW series "Gilmore Girls" has Latino genes coming from both sides of her family. Bledel, who was born in Houston, Texas, is daughter of a Mexican mother and an Argentinian father, <a href="http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0088127/bio" target="_hplink">according to her official bio on IMDB.</a> Even though she pretended not to be fluent in Spanish in <a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5yOARfgKUqk" target="_hplink">this Gilmore Girls' episode,</a> Bledel's first language is in fact Spanish.
Kid Cudi became a music sensation after his song "Day n' Nite" debuted in 2008. Kid Cudi, whose birth name is Scott Ramon Seguro Mescudi, was born in Cleveland, Ohio, to an African American mother and a Mexican father, <a href="http://www.latina.com/entertainment/tv/kid-cudi-learns-how-make-it-america" target="_hplink">according to Latina.</a> Since his mega hit in 2008, the rapper has also ventured into the acting world. He plays Domingo Brown on the HBO series, "How to Make it in America".
Yes, comedian Aubrey Plaza is Latina! Plaza, who plays Amy Poehler's assistant, April, in the NBC comedy "Parks and Recreation" is half Puerto Rican. She grew up in Wilmington, Delaware. "I have a huge family and tons of cousins in Puerto Rico. We actually hung out with them last summer, and it was awesome", <a href="http://www.latina.com/entertainment/tv/parks-recreation-star-aubrey-plaza-explains-why-shes-so-hot-right-now" target="_hplink">she told Latina in 2009.</a> Plaza had her big Hollywood break when she appeared as Daisy in Judd Apatow's movie "Funny People". This summer she starred in the hit indie film "Safety Not Guaranteed".
David Blaine, the magician known for his over-the-top, life threatening tricks, is Latino. His father is Puerto Rican, <a href="http://www.latina.com/entertainment/buzz/shocking-15-more-stars-you-never-knew-were-latino?slide=7" target="_hplink">according to Latina magazine</a>. He <a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pVhJ8pXKaKQ" target="_hplink">has levitated on camera</a>, he was <a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y9D-biQM3ag" target="_hplink">drowned alive</a> and <a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ILiMCVV9fYA" target="_hplink">froze himself in a 6-ton block of ice in New York City's Times Square </a>, from which he emerged 61 hours later.
Nicole 'Snooki' Polizzi
Although Snooki became famous by playing a Jersey Shore guidette, a term which usually refers to Italians, Nicole 'Snooki' Polizzi is actually Latina. She was born in Chile but was adopted by Italian American parents, <a href="http://www.imdb.com/name/nm3725472/bio" target="_hplink">according to her bio on IMDB.</a>
For ten seasons you watched David Gallagher play <a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XX7ns7C65aY" target="_hplink">Simon Camden, the cute little blonde boy turned rebellious teenager</a> in the show "7th Heaven." Simon was a member of the Christian, white, suburban Camden household. His blonde locks and green eyes made him a perfect fit for the Camden family. But Gallagher was born in Flushing, Queens, to a Cuban mother, <a href="http://www.latina.com/vivo-david-gallagher" target="_hplink">according to Latina. </a>
Odette Yustman appeared with Megan Fox in the action-thriller "Transformers". But her big break came when she starred in the 2009 horror film "The Unborn". The stunning actress was born in Los Angeles, California, to a Cuban mother and a Colombian father, according to Ethnicelebs. She appeared regularly on "House" during its eighth and final season, which came to an end May of this year.
Vanessa Marcil is best known for her role as Gina Kincaid, the little vixen on Aaron Spelling's series, "Beverly Hills, 90210." She later went on to play Sam, a tough business woman, for five years in the NBC show "Las Vegas." Marcil, whose birth name is Sally Vanessa Ortiz, was born in Indio, California to a Mexican father and a French mother.
Louis C.K. is one of the hottest comedians now. C.K. writes, acts, directs, and edits his sitcom "Louie." He was born to an American mother of Irish ancestry and a Mexican father. The famous comedian lived in Mexico until the age of 7 before moving to the U.S. His first language is Spanish.
Noomi Rapace is one of Hollywood's hottest international stars. The Swedish beauty became a household name after her big breakthrough role as Lisbeth Salander in the film "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo". What most people don't know is the actress is also part-Spanish. Rapace was born in Sweden, to a Swedish mom, actress Nina Norén and a Spanish father, flamenco dancer Rogelio Durán. Rapace was also cast as Lisbeth Salander in the sequels, "The Girl Who Played with Fire" and "The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest". She made her English language debut film in "Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows" as Madame Simza Heron.
Howie Dorough, member of the 90s boy band "Backstreet Boys" was born in Florida but is the son of a Puerto Rican mother and an Irish father.
Victoria Justice debuted as an actress at the age of 10 and has appeared in several Nickelodeon series including "Victorious" and "Zoey 101". Justice is of Puerto Rican descent on her mother's side and English, German, and Irish on her father's side.
Peter Gene Hernandez, better known as Bruno Mars, was raised in Honolulu, Hawaii in a family of musicians. But the Hawaiian native has more mixed blood than you think. His father is from Puerto Rico and his mother from the Philippines. Bruno Mars became the first Latino man and the 10th gent to <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/15/bruno-mars-playboy-cover_n_1347890.html" target="_hplink">grace the cover of Playboy</a> back in March.