"Let me see generation times, will we hear children singing rhymes? Sweet memories gone by..."

07 December 2012

Ancestry through DNA

"Listen, my child," you say to me
"I am the voice of your history
Be not afraid, come follow me
Answer my call, and I'll set you free"
-- "The Voice" by Brendan Graham

Growing up, if you'd asked me what nationality my family was, I'd probably have told you that I was Italian on my mom's side, and English (or American) on my dad's side.  I remember doing a family tree for some middle school project, going back only to my grandparents - though I had lots and lots of cousins to squeeze in :)

As I've researched, though, I've discovered a number of German ancestors in the family tree on my Dad's mother's side of the family, mixed with other lines that trace back to Revolutionary War times.  On his paternal side, the names seemed mostly English-sounding.

I can't trace my mom's side back as far, but all the names I knew were consistently Italian.  I asked my mom, and she said:
"Regarding my ancestry, I remember my parents telling us that all our family was Italian.  My father was born in this country but his parents were both from the Naples region of Italy.  My mother was born in Bari, Italy and came to this country as an infant with her mother and older sister."
This past summer, I took one of ancestry.com's new DNA tests. They sent me a small test tube to collect a saliva sample, and then I mailed it back and waited a few weeks for the results. This is the description from ancestry.com:
"The new test looks at a massive amount of your DNA, over 700,000 locations, and compares it to other DNA samples from around the world.  By detecting similarities, we can trace back generations to connect you to the lands your ancestors once called home.  AncestryDNA uses recent advances in DNA technology to look into your past to the people and places that matter to you most. Your test results will reach back hundreds—maybe even a thousand years—to tell you things that aren't always in historical records, but are recent enough to be important parts of your family story."
In August, I got my test results:

Nearly half was central European - this probably would be mostly German for me, but it was much higher that I'd thought.  The Italian side (southern European) was only 16%, lower than I'd have guessed.  And where had the 11% Persian/Turkish/Caucasus come from?  That was a complete surprise.

I showed the results to my parents, and Mom said that it'd be interesting to test her and Dad separately to see what the results would show.  So, about a month ago, when ancestry.com offered a "sale" price on the DNA test, Mom got one, too. 

Her results just came back:

Even more surprises!  Mom was almost half eastern European, and only about one-quarter Italian (southern European).  It seems likely the Persian/Turkish/Caucasus part came from her, and not from Dad.  Plus, she had a little bit of Middle Eastern heritage that apparently hadn't been passed onto me.

As part of the test, ancestry.com also compares your DNA to other samples they receive.  You're able to view matches and compare your family tree to your "new" cousins' trees to try to identify common ancestors.

Happily, when it came to matching with other members, ancestry.com predicted with 99% certainty that we were parent and child.  So that's a relief :)

We both have cousin matches with varying degrees of certainty.  Since Mom's just came in, I haven't yet begun to compare her matches.  I have gone through mine over the past few months as new matches appear, and most of them are far too distantly related for me to trace on the family tree.  Only on six matches have I been able to determine who our common ancestor is, but even then, they're mostly 5th- or 6th-cousins.

As a weird coincidence, though, one of my very distant cousin matches is a woman that I "met" a few years ago though the Find-a-Grave website.  We worked together to document a family cemetery in Gloucester County, Virginia.  Small world!

1 comment:

  1. Very interesting. My father's side is Swedish, Norwegian on his father's side, Irish on his mother's. My mother's side is French Canadian, with a wee bit of British. That makes me pure American mutt. But what I know about is perhaps very far from the full story, as your own experience proves.