For Valentine’s Day, I decided to give a whole new meaning to “swapping spit” and get my husband and I AncestryDNA testing kits. You send in a small vial of your saliva to the lab and in 6-8 weeks they email you the resulting ethnicities that are present in your DNA. I am still trying to get my head around the science of it, but in general they compare the samples with a reference bank from across the globe to see where the markers are a most likely match. Ancestry issues strong caveats that the percentages it gives are an average, which is why they also provide a range; any results should be seen as an approximation.
Based on genealogical research, I knew that a mix of nationalities were likely to be present, with documentary evidence showing ancestors hailing from Ireland, Germany, Poland, and Austria, among other countries. So I fully expected Irish and Western European to be the majority ethnicities. Yet I was absolutely stunned by what popped up when I got the results.
- Irish: 25% (so far, so normal …)
- Scandinavian: 24% (wait, what?!)
- Great Britain: 18% (really?)
- Europe East: 14% (okay …)
- Italy/Greece: 11% (seriously?!)
- Europe West: 5% (that low?!)
Trace regions: may not actually be present
- Iberian Peninsula: 2%
- Finnish/Northwest Russia: 1%
Ancestry labels this as 100% European and looking at the map they provide it certainly seems like the entire continent is represented. As you click on the maps you can see how the ethnic regions they identify overlap. Perhaps my German contingent actually has their origin in Scandinavia? And my ancestors from Tyrol, Austria are actually genetically more similar to their Italian neighbours to the south?
Regardless, what started as a fun way of trying to see into the past has made me take a new look at the ugliness of the present: A battle over immigration is flaring on both sides of the Atlantic. My adopted country is seeking to remove itself from my genetic homeland. And the nation of my birth and its highest office in the land is engaging in hateful rhetoric I thought had been extinguished decades ago.
Why is does such tribalism remain in the 21st century? Through the research provided by Ancestry about each region, it becomes increasingly clear that a country’s borders are quirks of cartography and the results of war and conquest. They are not written in stone—or a person’s DNA. Ultimately where we—or, in this case, our distant ancestors—come from is a curiosity, no more. What is important? How we live our lives. How we treat others. How we make the best use of our short time on this planet.