“The Endless Cycle of Tracing Origins” by Chelsea DeClue

While most people can say, “Oh, I’m Hispanic,” or “I’m from Europe,” many Americans hit a point in their life where they ask themselves, “Where am I really from?” We look for something that is more precise than the possibilities that we’re given by our parents or grandparents. As Americans, unless you’re a very recent immigrant, we recognize that there’s a strong possibility that we don’t know the full story.

Up until a few weeks ago, if someone had asked me my ancestry, I would have told them “I’m Irish and German, but we also think that maybe there’s a little bit of Middle Eastern in there.” See, my mother’s side of the family has always been interested in tracing where we came from, and I had very little clue as to my biological father’s side of the family beyond my birth name, thanks to adoption. But when we have to say, “I think,” it leaves a lot of room for questions and wondering what the real story is.

So earlier this year when I was gifted a discount code by my friend Courtney to the Ancestry DNA Project, I jumped on the opportunity to learn more about myself and my family. Thankfully, the process was simple. Ancestry DNA sends you a little vial, you spit in it, and you mail it back, and then wait.

My first email from them arrived about a week after I mailed the vial back, letting me know that it had arrived and they had begun processing. It would take six to eight weeks to get my results. The next week, I had another email: my results were almost finished and I would have them in two to four weeks. A week later, I had an email sitting in my inbox. I suppose I must have hit their processing center at a time period when they weren’t that busy, because six weeks had turned to three. My results were ready to view.

In the time it took to hit a link, I went from “I’m Irish and German” to a much wider ancestry than I had even thought possible, and the more I dug into my results and DNA Matches, the more interesting the story became.

Just as I had known, there were indeed Irish and German roots in my family. However, it was the ratio of these that came as a shock. Both my mother and I had lived thinking that the two ancestral groups were fairly equal. The reality was quite different. Instead of near 50-50 split like we had expected, 80% of my ancestry is actually from the British Isles.

The remaining 20% included Western Europe, ie Germany, at a grand total of 5%, but it also included a number of other, far more interesting, results. I didn’t expect to see Scandinavia at 8% and Eastern European at 5%, or the Iberian Peninsula. I definitely wasn’t expecting Native American or Polynesia and the South Eastern Pacific, and while we had family rumor of Middle Eastern, now I finally had the proof.

Now, one thing that Ancestry DNA does is match you up with relatives, and because of this I was able to learn even more clearly where my ancestry comes from. Through this process, I was able to view the ancestry of one of my mom’s uncles, which explained her paternal history, and I was able to look at the results for one of my uncles, which explained my paternal history. I discovered that the majority of those ancestries came not from one side of the family, but from both sides.

They also give you a basic historical overview of some of the more predominant ancestries, or migrant groups they’ve been able to trace you to. For example, we had always thought that my biological father’s family had met up with my mother’s family after immigrating to America directly from Germany. Instead, Ancestry DNA traced that part of my family back to an immigrant population that first left the Rhineland and immigrated to England and lived there a significant period of time before later immigrating to America.

Of course, this whole process also opened up more questions, even as it answered others. Without further matches, we have a lot of history missing. Where and how do Scandinavia, Polynesia, and the Iberian Peninsula enter into the mix? Who was that random Native American that joined the family? Which tribe were they from? Is that Middle Eastern hit really from who we think it’s from, and was he really an immigrant from Jordan in the late 1800s? If there’s one thing this experience has taught me, it’s that we never really know what we think we know, and because of that, tracing our origins really is an endless cycle.


Photo made available by Gemma Evans via Unsplash

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