Personal Journeys with Gramma

Life adventures, inspiration and insight; shared in articles, advice, personal chats and pictures.

Snooping into the Bedrooms of the Past; Following the Double Helix

Many people claim they don’t care who their ancestors were or where they came from. They look at the relatives they DO know and DON’T like and don’t want to know more. I suppose there’s a certain logic to that. Another reason people don’t want to look at their DNA ethnic reports from or anywhere else is they don’t want to know. Information would confuse their beliefs.

Some begin examining their test results by having their family stories confirmed. My husband’s family, for example, came to North America in waves that continued until the late 1800s. He’s primarily Swedish and Irish. That wasn’t the beginning of his story, though.

Many are surprised when they see their DNA ethnic pie chart. One TV advertisement features a man who discovers his family pride was focused on the wrong country. Like him, I knew of certain relatives of mine who arrived in the United States from Europe (as recently as great grandparents from Germany and Scotland, I thought), and indeed my largest ethnic percentages proved to be from Western Europe and Great Britain. But those percentages came with a note that in both of those percentages I had strong ties to the French fur trappers who populated the area around the St. Lawrence River. In fact, the majority of my ancestors were in North America by the late 1700s. And I have healthy doses of DNA from Scandinavia and the Iberian Peninsula (Spain and Portugal). What? Me?

At some point, the chart of any one person has to include ethnic groups the current family didn’t know about. Why? Because ancient people migrated and people interbred. Only very few populations in Africa—the people who stayed put—have little outside influence. Because my husband and I participated in a study conducted by the National Geographic Society, we learned years ago about the routes our ancient ancestors took migrating across the Continent. Hence, we both have bits of DNA from the Middle East and Eastern Europe and even the nice, warm Iberian Peninsula, although the routes the Geographic Society drew for each of us were not the same. (Other well-used ancient routes led in the opposite direction into Asia.)

My lesser percentages read like roll call at the United Nations—going so far as to include Native American and Asian. These, I would guess, are artifacts of ancient peoples or single dalliances of more recent ancestors. Without consulting an expert in such fraternization, I conclude my ancestors were a friendly lot.

When you look at anyone’s DNA ethnicity chart, you’re reminded that prejudice against those who seem to be unlike us in color, religion, traditions, and so forth is ludicrous. We’re family. At some point we’re all connected. Everyone. No wonder racists don’t believe in DNA. They want desperately to continue telling themselves that “their people” have always been white. Without evidence that their forebears were delivered here from some all-white planet by all-white aliens, they’re wrong. They have relatives who were not white or Christian or European.

I rather like the idea of being part of one big family. That thought is immensely comforting for people from lousy families. When I try to imagine the ancient past, I feel expansive and empathetic. I like imagining some of the people in my past were particularly talented, wise, or courageous. I saw THE REVENANT with Leonardo DeCaprio starring as a trapper who wrestled a bear. Maybe some of my people performed feats like that. It makes my coping with a washing machine that refuses to be fixed after two months of attempts easier to endure with a smile.

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