When I sent off for a home DNA testing kit, I thought I was wasting my money. I pretty much knew exactly who I was. An Ashkenazi Jew, whose family had lived in Lithuania for hundreds of years. I assumed there was nothing more to it.
But a friend of mine had gotten surprising results of his own, and so I decided to do it. Either I’d get a laugh at how predictable my genetics were, or I’d actually find out something significant. First I asked the question: what is the best genetic testing kit? Once I’d made my choice, I sent my spit off and waited for my results.
These are the incredible discoveries I made.
My great-grandparents all lived in Lithuania, so I assumed that even if my entire genetic line didn’t come from Lithuania itself, it would come from Eastern or Northern Europe. How wrong I was! Only 45% of my ancestry comes from that side of the world.
A large percentage of my recent heritage actually comes from the West. I’m not just talking about Western Europe. I have Native American ancestry. I also have some North African ancestry, which isn’t quite as surprising, but made me rethink my heritage.
Of course, what I learned did not begin and end at the results on paper.
I did the research
I couldn’t just get these results and idly wonder for the rest of my life. How did my genetics show any Native American heritage? Did my parents, their parents, or their parents’ parents have some dark secrets?
There was good news and bad news. The bad news was that there were few avenues I could take to find out where this Native American heritage came from. When I looked into it, my family history up to at least my great-great-grandparents was unlikely to contain the answer.
The good news is that I found this is not at all unheard of. While Europeans tend to think America only came into existence when Columbus “discovered” it, there are Native Americans who made it to Europe even before Columbus’s time. The oldest example of this is in the genetics of 80 Icelanders who had a Native American female in their line about a thousand years ago. After Columbus, the route was much more open, even if it was more one-way than the other.
So my Native American heritage holds up, even if I can’t pinpoint it or find out who in my history had a child with someone they weren’t supposed to according to their religion. But does it matter?
We truly are all connected
To me, it matters. I have always felt a sense of belonging in my own community, but the closedness of my heritage makes it difficult to think of myself as part of the human race as a whole. Learning about the diversity in my heritage, even if it was mostly European, has helped me realise that we’re all connected.
This sounds like a very hippy thing to say, and I would have thought so too, but in a world that is so divided, there is a certain comfort in it.