Because a few friends have expressed interest and asked me a million questions about this process, I decided I’d do a two part blog post about it. The first one is about taking the test, this second one will be about my results.
It took 22 days, much less than the 6-8 weeks Ancestry.com told me I would have to wait. When I first sent off my DNA sample, I waited impatiently. During that time I received a few emails from Ancestry. One email told me my sample had been received. I hadn’t expected an email telling me that but I appreciated it since I always worry about things getting lost in the mail. The other two or three emails they sent me were trying to convince me to sign up for an Ancestry.com account – those emails I didn’t appreciate so much, because each time I saw I had an email from them I’d feel my heart race, thinking my results were available.
So when I received the email that my results actually were available, I was kind of calm at first, thinking it was more junk mail – But then I saw the subject line: Your AncestryDNA results are in!
I clicked the email and then clicked the button that said “See my results” – Then… I had forgotten my password and was temporarily delayed logging in which made me mildly crazed.
Finally, I logged in. It’s kind of difficult to say what I felt looking at the results. Awe. Wonderment. Surprise. Curiosity. Maybe a very small amount of disappointment, sure. There were some predictable results and some shockers, too. To be honest, I’m still kind of processing it all.
The first three results weren’t surprising. According to Ancestry.com, “Europe West” is defined as:
Primarily located in: Belgium, France, Germany, Netherlands, Switzerland, Luxembourg, Liechtenstein
Also found in: England, Denmark, Italy, Slovenia, Czech Republic
While I wish it was more specific about which countries, I can probably safely say based on surnames (and cooking traditions!) from my mother’s side of the family in Pennsylvania, that the bulk of my “42% Europe West” blood is German.
The “European Jewish” is defined by Ancestry as:
Primarily located in: Poland, Belarus, Ukraine, Russia, Hungary, Israel
Also found in: Germany, France, Lithuania, Latvia, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Romania, Bosnia, Serbia, Estonia
This would most likely be my father’s side of the family. My Austrian-born grandmother was part of the Kindertransport during World War II. She lived in England for awhile and later immigrated to New York. Her father’s side of the family was from Poland, and her parents survived nazi concentration camps, also immigrating to the United States. My paternal grandfather’s mother immigrated to New York from Russia. This side of the family is Jewish – So again, this second result which accounts for 38% of my ethnicity is just confirmation of things my family already knows.
For those who are asking, “Wait, isn’t Judaism a religion, not an ethnicity? How can they pinpoint that genetically?” – Well, apparently Jews around the world share some common genetic ties.
The third result, 9% Irish, I expected, but for some reason I thought it would be a lot more. Maybe because my maiden name was Irish and I’m told I have Irish ancestors on both my mother’s and father’s side of the family.
The “Trace Regions” is when things get super interesting. I’ve got 4% “Great Britain” which, as defined by Ancestry.com is:
Primarily located in: England, Scotland, Wales
Also found in: Ireland, France, Germany, Denmark, Belgium, Netherlands, Switzerland, Austria, Italy
The countries listed as “Primarily located in” are not countries anyone in my family has ever laid claim to, but Germany and Austria make sense, so perhaps that’s what it is. Then again, I recently watched a documentary about The Plague. It was pretty horrific as you might expect, but I learned so much. One of the things I learned was that during this time many people, desperate for a scapegoat and an end to all the deaths, decided it was the Jews who were to blame. (They were one of many scapegoats blamed for The Plague at the time.) As a result, Jews fled Western Europe (England, France, etc.) to avoid murderous mobs. Many of the Jews fled to Poland where they were welcomed (I believe because the ruler of Poland at the time had fallen in love with a Jewish woman.) … So, who knows? Maybe one of my ancestors fled England during this time. It’s kind of crazy to imagine that far back in one’s history – beyond any oral histories that you know from living relatives or those who only died a generation or two ago.
In the “Trace Regions” category I also have 3% Europe East which could be Poland, Austria, Russia and a number of other countries, so that one made sense in the context of heritage I already know about.
Then I came to a happy surprise: 2% Iberian Peninsula! … This could be Spain or Portugal, but is also found in France, Morocco, Algeria, and Italy. None of these countries have ever been mentioned as part of my heritage and I kind of just want to claim it’s Spain and be done with it. Finally! I’m a little bit Hispanic!… Okay, not really, but this is still a happy surprise. Because of the Jewish blood on my father’s side of the family, I would guess it’s from my paternal line. It makes me wonder if maybe my ancestor(s) from that area were expelled from Spain when King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella issued the Alhambra Decree in 1492 (yes, the same year “Columbus sailed the ocean blue.”)
The last two “Trace Regions” are just as surprising. Less than 1% Italy/Greece and less than 1% “Caucasus” which, according to Ancestry.com is:
Primarily located in: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Turkey
Also found in: Bulgaria, Jordan, Greece, Italy, Kuwait, Palestine, Romania, Turkmenistan
Because of the extremely low percentage on these last two, I imagine they could just be a fluke, but it’s fascinating if true. None of these have ever been mentioned as part of my family’s heritage. Maybe there was a traveler or two who set out for distant lands, to places where they didn’t even speak the language, and fell in love with a local. (In other words, maybe I had ancestors who did the kinds of things I’m prone to doing.) I wish I knew, but it’s fun to think about.
Now for the little bit of disappointment I mentioned. It was thought, although not proven, that there was a small amount of Native American blood on my mother’s side of the family. There’s even a photo of a great-great-great grandmother who we thought was 100% Native American, but we lacked any evidence regarding her true ethnicity.
The tricky thing is, the fact that “Native American” didn’t show up on my Ancestry test doesn’t necessarily mean that isn’t part of my heritage. Of course, it could absolutely mean that, but it’s possible that it just didn’t show up in my own unique genetic mix. If my mother or grandmother took the test, it could show up for them. (For more technical information on how this is possible, here’s a great little article about exactly this topic on Ancestry.)
Until older generations on my mother’s side of the family get tested, I’m going to assume that we were just wrong on this one, and that I’m not even a smidgen Native American. So there’s a little bit of mourning that. I’m not crushed or anything, but it does feel weird to find out you aren’t something you thought you were. It’s kind of like when you tried out for a sport in high school and you thought for sure you had made the cut – somehow you just KNEW it, only to find out you didn’t make the team after all… Not the best metaphor but that’s the most relatable one I can come up with at the moment.
In the end, I’m happy I took the test even if it provided just as many questions as it did answers. I’m left with an intense sense of connectedness to the world and everyone in it – not just those who now share it with me, but with all those who came before us, and those who will come after us. That alone kind of makes it worth it.
For those who are very serious and knowledgeable about genealogy and ancestry, I would probably not recommend AncestryDNA because it lacks the tools that other DNA testing websites provide, although you can upload your raw data to websites such as GEDmatch if you want to explore further. To be perfectly honest, I’ve barely dipped my toes into digging deeper into DNA results and it’s extremely technical and very confusing to me. If you just want a simple to understand result, and accept that you probably won’t get all the answers you’re looking for, then AncestryDNA is worth considering.
When we’re able to afford it, Carlos would like to be tested next since he knows almost nothing about his ancestry, so be on the lookout for a third post on this topic sometime in the future!