When I was 8, I had a family tree project assignment in my I-TAG program. It was a simple image of a tree with lines to fill in the basic information of our parents, grandparents and great-grandparents. We were tasked with doing the researching which started by consulting family bibles for details. Back then, family bibles were THE leading source for this type of information. We were also encouraged to talk to our relatives, visit the local library and scroll through microfiche records to gather further details. I was hooked and it was the start of a long search for details.
For years (well beyond turning in the assignment), I would have conversations with my elders in hopes of adding pieces to the puzzle. My paternal grandmother was so inspired by my research that she began dedicating hours into learning about her father whom she knew very little about. I was able to put together a pretty decent tree from the various pre-internet resources.
One thing I knew for certain is that my maternal grandmother was 100% Italian. Regardless of what I knew about any of my other ancestors, this high percentile of Italian lineage meant my mother is at least 50% Italian and my siblings and I are 25%. As a result, I’ve always told people I’m mostly Italian since I carry more in my blood than anything else. So I thought. Ancestry and DNA are not the same thing. I don’t have my mother or grandmother’s darker skin tone, hair color or eyes.
I (mostly) get my physical features from my father’s side of the family. Quite often I’ve been told I’m the spitting image of my father and recently been told by his relatives that they can see my paternal grandmother in me. Whenever I see a photo of myself, I actually see a lot of the same features as my dad’s sisters and my cousin. When I was younger, I didn’t really recognize the similarities, but after relatives said I have the family forehead, I started seeing the resemblances more and more.
A couple years ago Scott and I asked for (and received) DNA testing kits as gifts. The results didn’t surprise me too much, but have left lingering questions in my mind. Not for my ancestral details, but for what people are discovering about themselves as a result of the mass of DNA results. At least once per week, I see someone on Facebook commenting with concerns as to the accuracy of their DNA tests. They’re asking which kit is the best and whether other people have had conflict with the results received.
I’ve only had one test done and it told me a lot about the genes I carry. But if I was using it to trace my ancestry, it would have me searching in completely different parts of Europe than I might have otherwise searched. It has completely turned a blind eye to my maternal ancestry. Perhaps because I don’t carry as many of those genes. I’m not a scientist nor do I claim to be. The most recent training I’ve received about DNA is from Genius Games’ Linkage board game.
From a logical standpoint, the results of my test and what I expected are two entirely different things. I expected to see a high percentage of my breakdown as Italian. Yes, the reports show 100% European ancestry, but the devils is in the details. The bigger question isn’t whether or not I carried those Italian genes, but whether or not my perceived ancestry is the same as the actual ancestry. We always said my grandmother was 100% Italian, but were all her ancestors native to Italy. Did anyone along the way marry someone from elsewhere? Did some of her ancestors live elsewhere then migrate to Italy? Unless we dig deeper into our family tree, tracing back and finding census information, actual birth and death records and try details, we won’t know for certain. Science hasn’t always been what it is now, nor will today’s results be the same as what I would receive in a year or two. One thing is for certain – programs such as 23andMe, AncestryDNA, MyHeritage and Family Tree aren’t the be all, tell all. They’re simply a glimpse into what we carry in our genes.
So when the results aren’t exactly what you expected, don’t be upset. If you want to know about your history, ask your living ancestors and research your deceased ones. You may learn more about your family than you could from any test.
Have you tried a DNA test?