Sunday, April 2, 2017

. . . And my DNA

At the end of last year, I decided to get my DNA analyzed via Ancestry.com. They were having a deal, and I'd been meaning to get it done. It's not that there was any mystery about my background. I've always known that I'm English and German. The family names speak for themselves--Huhns, Schefflers, Russells, and Frowes. I wasn't sure when these various European contingents came to America, but I knew it wasn't all that recent--not in the 20th century, for sure. The way my dad told it, his family was in western Pennsylvania in the mid-1700's. Very early. My research on the Huhns runs cold in the early 1800's, so it's hard to say for sure.

While doing some desultory family-tree making at the National Archives (I was waiting for records to be pulled), I happened across the fact that some of my mother's relatives (William and Mary Moffitt) were Irish and came over in the 1850's. This wasn't a fact that I was aware of, and nor was my mother. Cool fact, say you? I agree, say I. It pops up a little later.

Anyway, after sending Ancestry a bottle filled with my spit (ew), I waited a few weeks and then got an email telling me my results were in. I eagerly clicked the link and logged in, to find, to absolutely no one's surprise, that I am the whitest person you'll ever meet. I was surprised the least of all, though it would've been interesting if something unexpected, like Pacific Islander, had shown up. In that instance, I might have called up Ancestry.com and told them there was a mistake.

My DNA revealed that I am, wait for it, mostly British and Western European. I am 33% British and 51% Western European. The WE ethnicity includes--wait for it!--Germany. It also includes some of France and England, but let's just say for the sake of argument that in this case it means Germany, because my parents' names are both purely German. The only small surprise was that I am 11% Irish--cool--and 4% Iberian. Not quite sure where that tiny bit of Iberian comes in, but maybe there's a Spaniard in my distant past. There's 1% of them not being quite sure-probably Scandanavia, they say.

In any case, it seems pretty clear that that 11% Irish comes from the Moffitts. It's kind of neat to trace a certain percentage of my genetic makeup to particular people (people whom I know nothing about aside from their names, I'm afraid).

As I was talking with a friend about these (thrillingly expected) results, she reminded me of something that I would have known if I'd thought about it a little. She mentioned that her siblings had done the test too, and their admixture was different from hers. I probably made a face, because I had to think that one through before it made sense. But, of course, we and our siblings don't get the same genes from our parents, or we'd be identical twins. Our DNA is different, pulling a little more from this ethnic group and a little from that other ethnic group. While I'm pretty darn German, I would not be surprised if my brother took the test and was even more German. He has a very German look to him which makes me think he has a pretty strong genetically German make-up.

Yesterday, I got an email telling me that Ancestry had added a new analysis. They've analyzed my "genetic communities". In addition to giving me a percentage of my various ethnicities, I now get sorted by--I *think--haplotype. This is a bit like a genetic family with a group of similar genetic markers. Using technology, they're able to put me into one or more of these groups and to trace the spread of that group from Europe (in my case) and across the world.  Ancestry DNA tells me I'm "likely" in the "Early Settlers of New York" community. The group came from England and Germany in the early-mid 1700s, then spread across New York and Pennsylvania. Sound familiar? It's basically the story of the Huhns. I'm also "possibly" part of the "Early Settles of the North East" and "Settlers of Ohio and Potomac River Valleys", which would also fit.

This is a fun exploration of what our genes can tell us. Isn't it remarkable how much of us is actually an artifact of the people who came before? Sure, our DNA is unique, but it bears markers of all the people we're descended from.


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