As a little treat to ourselves this Christmas, my mother and I each bought an AncestryDNA kit from Ancestry.com. I have researched quite a ways back on both sides of my tree, so I guess I wasn’t expecting to be shocked. I just thought it would be interesting. There is only so much tracking you can do through paper documents and even paper documents are not the end-all, be-all of your family history.
Paper documents are great, and interesting and exciting. You find them in old, leather-bound books and on microfilm, and tucked away in archives and churches. You also find, sometimes, that they’re inaccurate. Not in all cases, but often in “documents of a certain age,” births and deaths and other dates were reported by family members well after the fact. Long story short, paper documents are sometimes inaccurate because they are dependent on humans and, unless you’ve never made a typo or mistaken a date in your life, you understand why. Can you even imagine before we had the back-space?! Mind-boggling! More often than inaccurate, they are also incomplete. Written records only go back to a certain point. That, my friends, is where your DNA can help.
Everything you need to have your DNA tested comes in a nice, neat little box. You spit in a tube and it’s pretty gross. I decided not to share a photo of that particular step with you. (You’re welcome.) Then you package it up and and put it in the mail. Then, you wait. Wait, anxiously. That’s important.
My mom received her results about two weeks after they began processing her sample. Here is what she found out.
Mom’s results were pretty expected, with the exception of the trace results of Italian/Greek and Iberian Peninsula. However, those were trace results. Almost everyone will have some small, unexpected results. That’s just the nature of tracing human beings over thousands of years.
I had to wait two weeks longer than Mom to see my results, but it was worth it. While some of this was pretty straightforward, I was pretty surprised by my makeup, especially after seeing my mom’s results.
I was expecting a large percentage of British ancestry, but 13% Iberian? 6% Scandinavian, where mom had none–and I’ve never found a record of anyone in my family from Norway, Sweden, or Denmark. Central and West Asia are my “trace regions,” and the percentages were very, very small, but it still makes me wonder. The fact that there’s anything is surprising to me. How can there be such a small percentage of British DNA? That’s my biggest surprise. I’ve done the research for many of my lines back to the 1600s, and I’m just blown away that British isn’t the majority. Maybe the Italian came from the Romans invading Great Britain, maybe the Scandinavian came from the Vikings invading Great Britain. Each part can probably be explained by migration and invasion patterns in history.
I like timelines in history and I like how those reflect in genealogy. Human migrations involved a lot of little people, who no one wrote histories about. But because of a drought, or an epidemic, or religious persecution, huge groups of people just got up and moved. It’s a very different movement from today, when people can say, “Wouldn’t it be fun to live in California.” Today it’s often a choice. But big migrations mark much bigger, almost unimaginable shifts in human life, that were caused by families running out of choices. Why did the Irish come to America in droves in the mid 1800s? Their crops wouldn’t grow during the Potato Famine. There wasn’t another option.
You can see the traces of these movements in your own DNA. And those traces are a fascinating way to see into not only your own past, but into everyone’s.
I hoped that my DNA results would confirm a lot of my research, but I was shocked by the little extras that it turned up. I’m going to ask my grandmother on my father’s side to take an AncestryDNA test too. Not only will it be interesting for me, I think she’ll have the best time trying it out. And you should always be on the lookout for ways to entertain your grandmother.
Have you ever done an AncestryDNA test? Or any of the other tests, like 23andMe? What did you find? Were there any surprises. Let me know!