As the author of a travel blog, I usually write about exactly that. So you might ask yourself, “what do ancestry and genealogy have to do with traveling?! Why is she posting about this?” Well- I’m here to tell you exactly what this Ancestry DNA test is, what it told me about myself, and how it has impacted me, my world view, and fueled my desire to travel even more.
I like to think of myself as a bit of a “self-taught” genealogist. I’ve always had a huge interest in researching my own family tree, and over the years I’ve studied up online, watched seminars, read books, and done nearly 20 different trees (always citing my sources!) for friends and family. I’ve put in the “field hours”, and I’ve spent a good deal of money keeping my ancestry.com database subscription up to date. For a while there, however lame, perusing census records was one of my favorite hobbies!
When Ancestry.com first announced that they had DNA tests available for $99, I immediately signed up for the wait-list. I got my test in the mail in summer, and I received a packet with a vial I had to spit in. I shipped it off to the lab, and within about two weeks I received my results, which were visible online via my Ancestry account. It was like Christmas day for me- It was so exciting to finally see, this is truly what my DNA is made of!
Now, why would I spend money on something like that if I already knew my ancestry? I’d done the research on my tree, so why didn’t I just end it there? Why would I waste my money?
The thing is, family trees and a paper trail can only go so far. There are always hidden secrets in each person’s tree (always), things that census records and marriage certificates could never dig up. Some cultures and nations don’t have records digitized yet either, so there are lots of “black holes” in a family tree that may never come to light. Getting the DNA results partially atone for these black holes, missing data, and human error. For example, my 12x great grandfather living in Quebec, Canada married a woman named Françoise Grenier – A French woman on paper, right? if I dug closer though, I noted on the original marriage certificate that she was actually an Algonquin woman who converted to Christianity (likely against her will) and was given a French name. I’m lucky that I found that small line on the paper, but many people might never see elements like that. They might have assumed they’re all French, when in reality they might be a little bit Native American.
Another big thing for me was that I’ve always thought a significant part of my DNA would be Irish. I have an Irish maiden name, and a proud Irish family that I can trace back to the Emerald Isle before they all fled during the Potato Famine. However, I was surprised to see that actually none of my DNA originated in Ireland (the Celtic people), but in fact I am significantly of British descent. None of my ancestors on my paper family tree were born in England though- and I’ve traced the Irish side back to the 1700’s (How can that be?!- The answer lies in migration, but we’ll get to that). How would I have known that I’m actually a Brit, if not for my DNA test?
That is where the DNA test comes to the rescue!
Cutting to the chase- here are what your DNA Results will look like! There are several elements to it, which I will detail below. Here is the general map view of your results that you will receive. I added some comments to the image to make it more user-friendly:
You receive many things with your results, but first, you can see the breakdown of your DNA. The percentage is determined by comparing your DNA to that of a typical native of that region.
Second, you can find out if you have any relatives who also have a DNA test registered in the ancestry.com DNA system. I was able to get in touch with a second cousin that lived in my hometown, as well as another second cousin with the same last name who lives in Massachusetts. If not for this test, we would have never met! This could be particularly appealing for someone who is adopted, and curious about their birth family.
Third, you are able to view “trace regions”, or parts of the world where you do have a DNA match, but it is a small portion of your makeup (4% or less), with some of them even showing me a <1% match- which is amazingly precise.
Of course, there were some shockers in there! How am I Indian, or Middle-Eastern? I’ve always thought I was just basically German-Italian my whole life! The answer lays in the centuries old migrations of people.
I will never know for sure, but I could guess that perhaps my Grecian ancestors who eventually came to Italy were actually from Turkey, or even India, and over hundreds of years they kept moving and migrating west. I can guess that my Norwegian DNA is a result of the Vikings raiding Great Britain and later continental Europe, and the list goes on. It is truly fascinating.
Now, how does this all relate to travel? I told you I would have a connection!
What this DNA did for me, is to show me, more than ever, that racism, xenophobia, and cultural superiority are all absolutely and completely ludicrous. Of course I’ve always thought that, but this really drives the point home. We are all connected in so many more ways than we could ever realize. In a way, we are all cousins. We are all humans, and it is hypocritical of people to insult a culture or part of the world, when they could easily have DNA hailing from those locations.
As a result of this test, I now want to travel to at least one or two countries from each of the regions where my DNA comes from. I’ve already had a bit of a start, but there are several places I really would like to visit now. For example, I’d never had much interest in going to India- but now it is on my list! When I travel to Greece this summer, it will be more meaningful to me knowing that it is very likely my ancestors lived there.
Traveling is the best way to open your mind, and open your world. It forces you to trust, to embrace diversity. In this way, my DNA test truly fueled my desire to travel, to get to know my own history.
I stumbled upon this video last week from Momondo, strangely right after I had begun the drafts on this blog post, detailing the reactions several people had to their DNA results, and what their guesses on their genetics where beforehand. After some surprises and prejudices come out in the open, a participant at the end says that getting a DNA test like this should be “compulsory”. She even goes as far as to say “there would be no such thing as extremism- if people knew their heritage like that.”
It does make you wonder: If every racist or xenophobic person in the world got this test- would it change the way they view the world? Would it change how they see their neighbor? Would it encourage people to break free from their comfort zone and get out and explore the world more? I think it would. At least, it’s a way to start.
I would also like to note that I have not been compensated by ancestry.com or their DNA testing product in any way. I simply had a great experience with it and wanted to write about it!
PIN IT FOR LATER!