The following entry has been written over a period of several weeks.
25 March 2016
It was one of those lazy mornings when, instead of rushing to get ready for work, as I should, I got glued to the minuscule screen of my iPhone and became engrossed watching YouTube videos and how random people talk about their DNA results sent to them by Ancestry.
My appetite wetted, and at that, I decided that I should once and for all take the famous DNA test, and so ordered a kit online. Now, at this point you should be made aware of the fact that I know a considerable amount about my most recent ancestors (at least, those who lived within the last 200-300 years). Naturally the DNA test will tell me about my most remote ancestors, not necessarily those I know by name, but those who lived way back in the past, maybe even thousands and thousands of years ago, and whose names, alas, I shall probably never know.
Order made, card details submitted, payment goes through, and the Ancestry DNA kit is shipped on the same day I order it. The online tracker tells me it goes from Bell Gardens, California to Los Angeles, and from there flies to New York before making it to Belgium, where I am based. The impatient wait begins.
7 April 2016
After two agonising weeks, my Ancestry DNA kit is delivered! It arrives at work in the morning, and by nightfall I have devoured the simple instructions that are enclosed, and placed the test tube next to my toothbrush so I would remember to give my saliva sample early next day (i.e. spitting into a test tube until the level of spit reaches a particular level!). Note that one must not chew gum, eat, drink or smoke at least 30′ before providing the sample. Once everything is correctly sealed and placed within its bespoke little box, the tube is whisked off to the lab that very Friday.
9 April 2016
So I’m at the Who Do You Think You Are! Live show in Birmingham (England, not Alabama, I hesitate to clarify) and one of the first places I stop is the Ancestry DNA stand. I start chitchatting with one of the girls behind the counter, and before I know it I’m buying a second kit (price marked 40% off the original amount) for my partner. After a few minutes of wandering around, I decide to buy a third kit for my dad, who is also very interested in our family origins. I have yet to convince my mother to do the test, but my bank account will surely appreciate waiting a bit until I fork out another 120 Euro for a fourth kit!
12 April 2016
My partner sends off the kit as instructed. I can feel the excitement building up in both our faces… My dad’s kit is neatly put away until my next trip home.
23 April 2016
Mad! Utterly mad! My Ancestry DNA account tells me they still haven’t received my sample. Fair enough, as it takes 6 to 8 weeks to carry out the whole procedure, and they may be a bit behind. But my partner’s has just been received! Who has my spit???
25 April 2016
The e-mail notification informing me that my DNA sample is in has (finally!) arrived. About time! Sorry, I’m just too nervous for words… Excitement building up…
10 May 2016
I am notified by Ancestry that my sample is currently being tested at the lab. Time to update the old family tree on Ancestry – after all, what’s the point of doing the test if I can’t tear down some of those nasty brickwalls by (hopefully) linking up with some close matches?
13 May 2016
Time to have a good recap before my results are in, and reflect on what I know about my ancestors, and what I think I know about them. Here it goes:
I am the product of what you might call a mixed marriage (not a mixed race marriage, mind you, as both my parents are European). I’ll start with my maternal side: my Mum comes from NW Spain, specifically from an area called Galicia (not to be confused with the area of the same name in Poland). Until a few years ago I was under the impression that all her ancestry, as far as I was able to tell through documents, came from this particular region in the Iberian Peninsula. Most of my maternal ancestors lived along the coastline, where of course sea-routes favoured a fluid exchange of peoples in the olden days far more than across land does today. It was therefore not a wholly unexpected surprise when I found out that an ancestor of mine who settled in the area actually came from the sea port of Genoa, in modern-day Italy. This link to the Mediterranean could open up a whole new range of genetic ancestors – would my Italian ancestors have been Jewish refugees expelled from Spain in the 1400’s? Or perhaps they had links to the Barbary Coast in modern-day Algeria thanks to the sea trade? Perhaps there is even a whiff of the Middle East among my genetic pool…
But of course, Galicians are thought of as Celtic people (even though the Celtic element is probably more diluted and less common than we are made to believe), so there is a chance my ancestors actually came from Cornwall, or Brittany, or Ireland, or Scotland… That remains to be seen once the results come in.
My father’s side is equally mysterious, and considerably more varied than my maternal ancestry. My paternal grandfather, although born in New York, was the son of Italian emigrants who came from Piedmont (a landlocked region in NW Italy wedged between Switzerland, France and the Ligurian coast). Astonishingly, all my paternal Italian ancestors as far back as the early 1800’s came from different villages and towns within a radius of 5 miles. Needless to say the repetition of several surnames could suggest a considerable degree of inbreeding that I have not yet been able to suss out. I don’t think that branch will bring many exotic branches into the equation though…
My paternal grandmother, on the other hand, was British (more specifically, English). Most of her ancestry relates in some way or other to villages strewn across the county of Hereford, in the west of England, bordering with Wales. But of course, nothing in genealogy is ever completely black or completely white: one of her great-grandmothers came from Worcestershire (which is next to Herefordshire), and the prolific existence of surnames like Griffiths and Evans could suggest there may be close ties to Wales too. Welsh ancestors? Yes, please! And that’s not all, for there is an unusual surname among my ancestry, Tringam (aka Tringham or Stringham) which, unverified online sources claim, may be of Huguenot origin and would have therefore originated in France.
That’s what I know, or think I know, about my ancestry as of May 2016. And now for the truth…
23 May 2016
And now for the cream… My AncestryDNA results are in! And not before time, as my partner’s results arrived the previous morning and were making me green with envy! So I’ll start with my partner’s family: as far as we knew his ancestry is 100% Spanish, so you can imagine my surprise when the results revealed that only 53% of his ancestors are from the Iberian Peninsula (yes, that’s Spain and Portugal for those of you whose geography is a little rusty). That leaves an astonishing 47% “foreign” DNA flowing through his veins! A 4% DNA from the north of Africa is a pleasant, if not wholly unexpected surprise: my father-in-law comes from the southern region of Andalucía, an area that was dominated by Arabic peoples for over 700 years. There was bound to be some intermarriage at some point between invading Moors/Arabic peoples and “native” Spaniards, although of course that appears to have diluted significantly by now.
My partner’s results also show a staggering 29% Italian/Greek ancestry… We have no idea where that comes from but of course it suggests Mediterranean influence somewhere or other in the family tree. An ancestor who ostensibly came from Catalonia may hold the key to a larger and as yet unexplored branch of Mediterranean seafarers. Time to order some birth certificates…
There are a few trace regions which, although not 100% accurate, seem to indicate a fairly exotic concoction of Irish, British, Scandinavian, East European and (yes!) Jewish ancestry, making up for the remaining 14%. Although the numbers are much smaller than the other figures mentioned above, it still leaves the door open to a highly varied family tree!
And what about my results?
The e-mail from Ancestry arrived the same evening as that of my partner’s. Bearing in mind the above (see 13 May), I would have expected to be about 45% Iberian (Spanish), 30% Italian and 25% British. You can imagine my surprise when I saw that the largest chunk of DNA I “have” is actually British (31% – that’s almost a third of my total genetic composition!). Now, I have no clue how my British DNA actually surpasses the expected 25%, as only one of my grandparents had British ancestry. It may be possible that some of my ancestors from the British Isles made it to my hometown of La Coruña (Spain) when John of Gaunt landed there in 1386 to claim the Castilian throne by right of his wife. Who knows…
Next up I would have expected to be mostly Spanish, with just over a quarter of Italian ancestry, but once again I am proven disastrously wrong when I see a staggering 29% Italian(/Greek) DNA group. Again, more Mediterranean blood! This means my original calculations were fairly accurate, on the one hand, with my grandfather being genetically Italian and with an Italian ancestor on one of my mother’s sides. But still, my miscalculation regarding my British genes, however, leaves me with much smaller proportion of Spanish genes: a mere 21%! Yikes, sorry Mum!
The real shocker, I suppose, was the revelation of having 8% Irish genes… That leaves me with a doubt: could one of my ancestors, whose line I have not been able to figure out, have had Irish origins? Worth a shot…
What about my own Trace Regions? What you need to know is that these are regions where the estimated range includes zero and does not go above 15%, or where the predicted percentage is less than 4.5%. Since there is only a small amount of evidence that you have genetic ethnicity from these regions, it is possible that you may not have genetic ethnicity from them at all. This is not uncommon, and as more genetic signatures are discovered with a higher confidence level, we may be able to update these Trace Regions over time. My own Trace Regions indicate I have 4% Europe West (France, Low Countries…), 3% European Jewish, 2% Scandinavia and 2% Africa North… Now, until these results become more defined, I won’t be able to delve into these branches any further, but having my father and mother tested will doubtless shed light on where I get my genetic makeup from.
Next step? Hopefully know more about my ancestry, complete my Ancestry family tree and hunt for some of those distant relatives who are also trying to bring down those nasty brickwalls!
Still have questions? Check the FAQ Section of AncestryDNA for answers, or better still, drop me a line!