For Christmas this year, my wife got me something I’ve been wanting to have for the past few months or so: an Ancestry.com DNA kit. Now the true reason I wanted one to begin with probably has more to do with a short story idea I had last May than any actual research into my own genetic background. But, like many of us, I’ve always been curious about what that background might entail.
The first time I voiced my desire to get a DNA kit to her, though, was probably while watching the TV adaptation of Diana Gabaldon’s series Outlander. It’s a show set in Scotland and all the dudes on the show look cool in their kilts. I’ve always wanted to wear a kilt, but wouldn’t dare do so unless I actually had Scottish heritage myself. Otherwise, it would be like that time I bought a Rasta hat in college, only to be asked by a real Rastafarian if I was a believer or just wearing it for the fashion–which was my first clue that I was appropriating another group’s culture and that this might not be cool with folks from that culture. So if I was going to go around appropriating cultures, I wanted to at least have my genetic ducks in a row. During Outlander, I announced I was going to get an Ancestry DNA kit, and if I was anything greater than, say, 10 percent of a Scot I would be purchasing a kilt and tartan which I would then wear exclusively, at least until winter.
Unfortunately, I already knew that I was probably not all that Scottish to begin with. From everything I’ve been told, I come from Franco-German stock, with ancestors originating in Alsace Lorraine back when it was part of Germany. But then again, I reasoned, that’s only on my grandpa Fritzius’s side. I know nothing about my dad’s mother’s people, the Blaylocks, nor anything about the genetic history of my mother’s people, the Dunnams and the Huttos. There were also the rumors of Native American blood somewhere back on my Grandma Blaylock’s side–rumors which she always seemed cagey about, and which my dad believed must be true since Grandma was so cagey. Dad also suspected that we might have some Jewish ancestry woven in there somewhere, which considering our alleged European origins was not beyond the realm of possibility. My grandparents’ vehement denial of that possibility only served to make the rumor seem stronger.
The wife ordered my DNA kit, which arrived just in time for Christmas. And when we returned home from Christmas holidays, I busted it open and took my DNA test–or, rather, I supplied the sample of my DNA for the Ancestry folks to test. This involved spitting into a little plastic tube, pouring in some spit fixer and shakin’ it all up. (In order to get a good DNA sample, I had to refrain from consuming anything but water for an hour or so–lest I turn up as genetically descended from a Dorito.) I put the whole thing in their postage paid package, filled out my info online, and sent it off. Immediately, I began dreaming of the exotic lands my people may have come from. I didn’t actively start shopping for kilts, or anything, but I could always dream. I was looking forward to receiving my results, all spelled out, with no actual research required on my part. After all, I spent a goodly number of years working in a public library in which I devoted more than a little bit of time ridiculing the Genealogy People–those folks who either frequented our establishment looking for local records that would lead them to their ancestors, or who used our computers to sign in to their Ancestry.com accounts to do the leg work–who were, to a person, completely unafraid of going on at length to the library staff about the mind-numbingly boring details of all of their research, forcing us to occasionally gnaw off a leg to escape. And, y’know, God love `em for having a hobby and being passionate about something in life, but I will NOT become one of those people.
Weeks crept by.
Occasionally, Ancestry would send us emails apologizing for taking so long, then teasing us more by offering to let us research surnames on their site so we could get a head start, I guess. I toyed around with this, trying very hard not to get excited about any of it, lest I catch the Genealogy People bug. I did note that there were some Dunnams who’d turned up in census data in Scotland, but they were not necessarily ones related to me specifically. I’d have to do actual research, or get a full Ancestry.com membership to see if someone else had already done the research, before I could know that. If you thought about it, though, regardless of where the Dunnams, Huttos, Blaylocks, or Fritziuses were known to have lived, I could be party anything, really. There were a good number of generations and a couple of continents between my grandpa’s Alsace Lorraine ancestors and today, with four contributing genetic donors for each successive soul along the way. I might be part African, for all I knew–though my wife took particular glee in shooting down that likelihood. I was hoping for something that at least seemed exotic and distant. The possibilities were intoxicating.
“Ooh! Ooooh!” I exclaimed one night, while we were watching an episode of Vikings.
Immediately guessing what I was about to say, the wife shouted “You’re not a Viking!”
“You don’t know!” I replied, hurt.
“Yes, I do,” she said. “They’re all big, blond and Nordic looking. You’re short, dark, and stumpy.”
“There were stumpy Vikings, too!” I said. “I’d be a kick ass stumpy Viking. You’ve seen all those long boats I made.”
She refused to entertain the idea, nor to fetch me any mead.
The notes from Ancestry not containing my results continued on for weeks. Then, they sent another note not containing my results, which said they were at long last working on them. And a week later, they sent another note saying that they’d finished them and would soon be revealing the results to us, but were not actually revealing the results with that particular email. (I theorize that Ancestry.com employees are descended from assholes, but that’s just me.)
On Monday of this week, I was rudely awakened by my wife at the crack of 7:30. She’d been reading her iPad in bed, had checked her email, and saw that my genetic results were finally in. I blearily roused, squinting at the screen where she clicked the link in the email and a pie chart popped up.
Turns out, I’m mostly just a white guy.
About as white as they come, in fact.
My ancestors, it would seem, primarily hale from darkest Great Britain, to the tune of around 40 percent. (Your average native Great Britainer is around 60 percent, so I’m not too far off.) Initially I was excited about this, because Scotland is, after all, a part of the UK. Looking at their colorized map graph, though, the darkest of the tiered color ranges largely excludes Scotland and Wales, which fall in the next lighter shade down (as are the Netherlands and a chunk of France). I’m 27 percent Irish, which I assume means I’m forever more allowed to have a shot of Jameson with my Guinness when I’m down at the local Irish Pub. Surprisingly to me, I’m only 13 percent Western European, with Alsace Lorraine smack in the middle of the map there. I’m also around 9 percent from the Iberian Peninsula, which centers out on Spain and Portugal. Who knew? I’ll take it.
Oh, and I was delighted to learn that I’m approximately 6 percent Scandinavian, and two percent Finnish/Western Russian, so all those stumpy-legged Viking long boats I made in the garage may yet come in handy after all. I’ll sail down the Greenbrier and pillage Alderson, or something.
In the less than 5 percent genetic estimate range, I’m apparently 1 percent Greek and/or Italian, 1 percent Eastern European, and, in point of fact, I do appear to be 1 percent African. North African, to be general, with a possible origin spread across Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco, and maybe the edge of Libya thrown in. That’s how genetics works, right?
What I am apparently not: I’m 0 percent anywhere else in Africa, 0 percent European Jewish, 0 percent Pacific Islander, 0 percent middle Eastern, 0 percent anywhere in South America, and 0 percent Asian (except for 1 percent that they say originates from Caucasus, which I think is where they invented white people, so I guess that gives me bonus honky points).
All in all, I guess I’m happy with my results. It is odd to think that I’m not nearly as French and German as I had assumed I would be, but I’ll take Great Britain. Some of my favorite things in the world come from there anyway, from Doctor Who to Neil Gaiman to Douglas Adams and Monty Python. If that’s my heritage, I guess I’m in good company. I still would have liked a more specific tie to Scotland, but if that’s to be found I’ll likely have to join up with Ancestry and do some actual research. And then I’ll be dangerously close to becoming a genealogy person, and will soon be blogging exclusively about it.