Ancestry DNA: Part 2

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(Image source)

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.

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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.

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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!

18 thoughts on “Ancestry DNA: Part 2

  1. Oh wow!! I am so thankful for your detailed description of your results. I asked the hubby and he says if that’s what I want for my b-day, then go for it, so I plan on buying this for myself in the next few weeks. I am kinda disappointed at the vagueness of it, but then again, what do I expect for my budget?? I know very very little of my heritage, basically have been told from my mom that her family is Dutch, German, and a bit of Irish, and that my dad was “white, but his mom may have been half Mexican or something….” (which, as you know, means any ethnicity that speaks Spanish.) I’m excited, but like you said, I know it comes with more questions than answers.

  2. Thanks for this, I’ve was wondering how detailed the ancestry.com DNA test was, have you tried tracing your genealogy the old fashioned way, I think the DNA test are amazing but It’s also tons of fun finding your ancestors through their paper trail, I’ve been working on mine for a few years now and can’t get enough of it.

    • My older sister is the one who has taken care of working on the actual family tree. She got a little further than what still living family was able to tell us. I’m not sure if she got stuck or just doesn’t have the time required to dig deeper right now. I’d love to know more, but I don’t have the patience or time to work on it myself either. Maybe someday!

  3. Thanks for sharing your findings and how the whole process even works. I’ve seen the commercials and always wondered what the results looked like. I would like to do it one day if I ever have some money layin around but I would really love to do one on Luis as he doesn’t know anything about his family either and doesn’t seem to care. But I’m curious. To me he has very strong native features and so I want to know exactly what Indian tribes (?) he comes from. One day.

    • Unfortunately, I don’t believe AncestryDNA can tell you specific tribes indigenous to Latin America. It will just show “Central or South American” to indicate indigenous blood from those regions … For those with indigenous blood from tribes recognized within the United States, I believe there are companies who can analyze your DNA results against tribe members to see if you have a match — but this is not something that will be revealed in one’s AncestryDNA results.

  4. It would be interesting to know also the “when”. There have been so many movements of people trough time. Anthropology shows us that at some point, the Germanic people moved to north Europe from north India, for example. There were many waves of people from eastern Asia moving into West Europe. It is believed that somewhere around 10 to 15 thousand years ago, people from southeast Asia moved to America, in several waves, then, it is also possible that people from Europe moved to North America (When most of the Atlantic was frozen) around 15 to 20 thousand years ago, based on some finds in the state of Virginia. There’s some evidence that Pacific islanders found south America sometime. Then again, we all came from Africa at some point (Estimated different waves from around 50 to 150 thousand years ago. BTW, Jew is an ethnicity AND a religion, and it is possible to find ethnic Jews that are not religious Jews, and the other way around…

    • BTW, several people on my “De La Mora” side of the family have been working on finding our ancestry, and working together we’ve found the origin of the last name to 1521, in Cordoba, Spain, from a Spanish gentleman and a Moorish lady, to whom we owe the last name (De La Mora = Of The Moorish). I happen to be 12 generations down from them, and we’ve been able to document in most cases births, deaths, etc.

      • What fantastic information you uncovered about your surname. That’s really neat.

        I totally agree with you that a time span would be helpful in figuring out migration patterns. Maybe our science just isn’t there yet, (or maybe there is a way to identify it but it’s just too labor intensive to give this info to everyone they test? I honestly don’t know.)

        Yes – you’re correct that Jew is an ethnicity and a religion. I myself am ethnically Jewish (although not according to Judaic law since it came from my father and not my mother), but I do not identify as Jewish when it comes to religion.

        As for Africa, this is actually something I wondered aloud last night. If we all came from Africa, why doesn’t every single DNA test reveal at least a small percentage of that? … Is it just way too far back for some of us? (Sorry if that’s an ignorant question. The science of all this isn’t easy for me!)

  5. Hi Tracy! I took my DNA test the end of last month through ancestry and still waiting!! I’ve heard that ancestry doesn’t really show the Native American dna too well but maybe if you trace the actual members of your family back you might find something. I have been doing just that and found out the other day I’m a descendant of Pocahontas’s first cousin! i never would’ve guessed. So you never know!

    • Thanks for the interesting link!

      I’ll admit that some of my disappointment stemmed from some things mentioned in the article (I mean who wouldn’t want to feel a special tie to the land?) – But I’m not sorry this aspect of my heritage was “debunked.” I prefer to know the truth and would never continue to knowingly claim something I had no right to claim.

  6. Pingback: Ancestry DNA: Part 3 | Latinaish

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