Adventures in ancestry
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.