Ad­ven­tures in an­ces­try

The Enterprise - - Southern Maryland Classified - Twit­ter: @right­meg

The re­sults are in! I re­cently sent off a DNA kit from a pop­u­lar on­line ser­vice pro­vid­ing an­ces­try in­for­ma­tion and fam­ily con­nec­tions. This was all I wanted for my birth­day, and my hus­band obliged. Once opened, it took me only a day to get my sub­mis­sion ready and back in the mail. In July.

I waited. And waited. And waited. I be­gan ob­ses­sively Googling how long other folks had been in the queue, and the an­swers were all over the map (pun in­tended). Like in­tol­er­a­ble Veruca Salt in “Willy Wonka and the Choco­late Fac­tory,” when I want some­thing . . . I want it now.

So imag­ine my dis­ap­point­ment upon re­ceiv­ing a fol­low-up email six weeks later stat­ing my DNA sam­ple had “failed” and I needed to be retested. All I could see was a gi­ant “De­lays Ahead” mar­quee as I was is­sued a new kit with the gen­tle ad­mon­ish­ment to, you know, ac­tu­ally fol­low di­rec­tions this time.

I thought I had. Trust me. If you’ve ever won­dered what sort of sad rule-fol­lower ac­tu­ally squints at all that fine print: hi.

Know­ing folks who had sub­mit­ted their sam­ples way af­ter me and al­ready had their re­sults, I was antsy. It took another week to re­ceive and send back the next col­lec­tion kit. Af­ter it was marked safe at the lab­o­ra­tory, I re­sisted the urge to re­fresh the web­site daily. (Fine: hourly.)

In my de­fense, the web­site has a tracker! Log­ging in lets you see where your kit is in the scheme of the test­ing process — kind of like the carry-out pizza chain that guides you through the process of your pie be­ing pre­pared and baked be­fore it’s out for de­liv­ery. Only, you know, the pie is ac­tu­ally mi­cro­scopic cells from my cheek. And the pizza mak­ers are sci­en­tists.

You get it.

Once my kit was back in the queue, I re­signed my­self to another month be­fore I’d pos­si­bly re­ceive that golden “Your Re­sults are Ready” email. The com­pany ap­par­ently no­ticed I’d been re­fresh­ing its web­site con­stantly and took pity on me. I only waited eight days for the re­sults this time.

It’s been two weeks since my re­port was gen­er­ated and posted, and I’ve been study­ing it ever since. I went into the ex­pe­ri­ence be­liev­ing I was largely of Pol­ish and Rus­sian de­scent, thanks to folk­lore and the re­search my par­ents have done into their fam­ily trees. Both ar­dent ge­neal­o­gists, Mom and Dad have shared tons of in­for­ma­tion with my sis­ter and me — but I’ve nev- er seen cold, raw data.

I live for data.

Be­fore re­quest­ing the kit, I asked Mom and Dad if they’d have any­thing they wanted to tell me. We’ve all heard the sto­ries about shock­ing half-sib­lings, aunts or un­cles who crop up in the list of DNA rel­a­tives; I thought it best to let them di­vulge any­thing sala­cious be­fore I found out on the in­ter­net.

No big scan­dals here, ap­par­ently. The re­sults so far con­firm that.

I can’t say I’ve ever had a strong cul­tural iden­tity be­yond that of a proud Amer­i­can. My ma­ter­nal grand­mother re­mem­bers her own Pol­ish-speak­ing grand­fa­ther, an im­mi­grant with whom she played cards and com­mu­ni­cated with by smil­ing. When my sis­ter and I would be tear­ing through the house like wild boars, she ad­mon­ished us to “sit on our du­pas” (which Google tells me is crass? If so, I apol­o­gize). I have al­ways loved her cab­bage rolls: a fam­ily recipe. And she and my grand­fa­ther, both from North­east­ern Penn­syl­va­nia, grew up in a proudly Pol­ish area.

On my fa­ther’s side, the fam­ily stretches back to North Carolina and, I be­lieved, to France and Rus­sia. My pa­ter­nal grand­mother was born in Wash­ing­ton, D.C., and our fam­ily has deep roots in the cap­i­tal city. My fa­ther is a third-gen­er­a­tion tour guide in the Dis­trict.

Noth­ing shock­ing ap­peared in my an­ces­try re­port — but it still wasn’t quite what I ex­pect- ed. At the top? French and Ger­man, eas­ily. Next came British and Ir­ish, fol­lowed by the broad and only slightly help­ful “Eastern Euro­pean”: Ukraine, Rus­sia, Poland and Hun­gary, by their def­i­ni­tion. Round­ing out my ex­tremely uni­form iden­tity is “South­ern Euro­pean,” con­sid­ered the Ibe­rian, Ital­ian and Balkan penin­su­las. Guess­ing that didn’t come from my fairhaired mother. That would ex­plain our dark fea­tures on my dad’s side, at least.

I guess I could have avoided the ex­pense of DNA test­ing by sim­ply ask­ing my par­ents to pool their ge­neal­ogy and share the re­sults with Katie and me. But that wouldn’t be telling the whole story — and I wouldn’t have the op­por­tu­nity to find po­ten­tial rel­a­tives, which turns out to be my big­gest ob­ses­sion of all.

Cur­rently in the data­base? My cousins. Just 1,154 of them. The clos­est rel­a­tive ac­tu­ally shares my maiden name with its non­tra­di­tional spell­ing, but I’ve never heard of her. She’s beau­ti­ful, so I’m not sure how I feel about be­ing the frumpy, dumpy, frizzy cousin. But that’s a sac­ri­fice I’m will­ing to make.

I sent quick, ca­sual emails to all my top re­sults: cousins with last names I rec­og­nize, but all strangers. Even my mom and dad, with their deep reser­voir of fam­ily knowl­edge, aren’t clear on who some of these folks are.

We’ll see what I hear back. Then I can start re­search­ing venues for our gi­gan­tic fam­ily re­union.

If you need me, I’ll just be in my in­box: re­fresh­ing.

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