As an American with my USA ancestry dating back almost 400 years, my DNA is quite a blend of European roots that migrated to the great melting pot of America. With so much undocumented, I was curious – where am I from?
Finding my ancestral roots with 23andMe.com
Where are you from? One of the icebreaker questions we all ask when meeting someone.
I used to say California as that is where I spent most of my adult life. Then my answer was Arizona as that was my permanent address (thanks parentals) while I was traveling full-time for 5 years without a home to call my own. This is also where I grew up, so I can truly claim Arizona. Now that I am based in Austin, the answer is Texas.
I love seeing the response from people, especially overseas, as “where you are from” immediately shapes their perception based on the stereotypes that they have seen creating a common thread for conversation.
One of the things I love most about America is the mix of so many cultures and heritages from 100’s of years of immigrants. Thought I always feel solidly American, I am always drawn to Europe as these are where my ancestors and some of the customs we still have in our family are from.
Traveling to Europe often, I have started to master the art of blending and I am delighted when locals start by talking to me in the native language.
When in Northeastern Italy and Slovenia, this familiarity has resulted in many interactions where the locals insist I must have an ancestor from there.
So this prompted me to wonder – Where AM I from? Do I have a European ancestor from this region?
- My great-grandparents on my father’s side immigrated to the USA in the early 1900’s with some records found at Ellis Island. The family history details that I am 25% German and 25% Lithuanian from that side.
- My Mom’s ancestry tree details a true American Mutt with ancestors coming across on the Mayflower in 1620. They were mostly in New England until the 1940’s so probably mostly English.
With so many possible loose ends, an ancestry test seemed like a good way to get more clues.
I signed up for the Ancestry & Health test at 23andMe.com to discover my ancestry in a new way! A quick signup form and the kit was mailed to me. Next step was collecting the sample by spitting in a tube. Easy enough – over 1 million people have done it with great results! My kit was back in the mail as I awaited results.
And then came the surprise!
23andMe.com has several different reports available based on this DNA testing including:
- Haplogroups: A haplogroup is a family of maternal or paternal lineages that descend from a common ancestor. The global distribution of haplogroups sheds light on the origins of some of our ancient ancestors and on their migrations over tens of thousands of years. My Haplogroup was German – not surprising.
- Neanderthal Ancestry: This report tells you how much of your ancestry can be traced back to Neanderthals. I have less than 4% of my DNA tracing to Neantherthal. Neanderthals were a group of ancient humans who lived in Europe and Western Asia, and are the closest evolutionary relatives of modern humans. They went extinct about 40,000 years ago, after living alongside modern humans – Homo sapiens – for thousands of years. As a result, evidence of Neanderthal DNA is now found in traces in nearly all modern humans. Traits like less back-hair, height, and sneezing after eating dark chocolate have been scientifically proven by 23andMe researchers to have an association with specific Neanderthal markers. Thank goodness my amount is smaller as I love dark chocolate and thankfully do not sneeze after eating it!
- Carrier Status: This report shows variants you may have that may not affect you, but can tell you about potential health risks you could pass on to your children. I had nothing!
- Wellness: This report shows how your DNA may influence how you respond to certain lifestyle and environmental factors. The reports say my genes have a probability of being lactose tolerant and unfortunately I am not which limits my ice cream consumption worldwide.
- Traits: The last report lets you discover how certain genetic variants can influence your personal characteristics and attributes including taste, smell, hair, facial features etc. These were hit and miss.
- Ancestry Composition: Ancestry Composition tells you the proportion of your DNA that comes from each of 31 populations worldwide. This analysis considers DNA you received from all of your ancestors on both sides of your family. The results reflect where your ancestors lived 500 years ago before ocean-crossing ships and airplanes came on the scene.
This is what I was most interested in.
Drumroll… I am VERY European (99.6%). Most of my DNA traces to Northwestern European with a smaller percentage in Eastern Europe. And the clincher… 0% noted in Italy or the Balkans. So I am still clueless as to why my looks seem to “fit in” in this region.
But.. there was 0.4% of mystery in my DNA – It showed that this was Eastern Asian & Native American with 0.3% being Mongolian and 0.1% Native American.
Talking with the 23andMe scientists further, they explained to me the science behind the probability of their analysis. For a population to show on your report, the tests must have a minimum of a 50% probability in your DNA. You can delve into this probability further by switching views in their reporting and increasing the probability prediction to 60%, 70%, 80%, or 90% for more specific reporting.
At 80%, I still had DNA matching these two populations which according to the scientists is a good indication that I do have a Mongolian and Native American ancestor. Since this ancestry percentage is so small, it is likely just one segment and is also likely to reflect just one genealogical ancestor from 6 or more generations ago. In all likelihood it could be much further back to 12 or more generations. Once you go very far back, the amount of DNA you inherit from an ancestor gets really very random, and it’s quite likely that this might have been contributed by a very remote ancestor.
Another mystery to solve.
Could the Native American DNA been from my Pilgrim ancestry? My Mayflower ancestors are 12 generations back leaving for a wide range of time for a Native American to be in my ancestry.
And what about the Mongolian roots? My hunch is that the Mongolian ancestor was from my Lithuanian ancestry, but who knows! I have not yet been to Lithuania – it’s definitely on my bucket list to do and do it right by spending a significant amount of time there and meeting with distant relatives. Thanks to the internet and Facebook, I have been able to connect with relatives with my last name in Lithuania and we have pieced together a common ancestor from our uncommon last name. This will definitely be a conversation point when I meet them.
The outliers are easy to focus on as they are the surprises that make you wonder how someone 6-12 generations back integrated into a foreign culture. The 23andMe confirmed the bulk of my ancestry is understanding the little pieces of history that contribute to me.
One thing is for sure – I am the result of a hundreds of ancestors each with their own story all rooting for their descendant to have a better life.
Do you know where you are from?
Explore your ancestry with 23andMe.com!
BlueSkyTraveler worked with 23andMe.com to discover my ancestry, however all opinions are my own.
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