On The Joys Of Genetic Genealogy

A few weeks ago, around Father’s Day, my mother convinced me–in truth, she did not have to convince me very hard–to take advantage of a deal to sign up for a DNA test from Ancestry.com, although I had earlier taken a y-DNA test from another one of the many genetic testing companies that currently exist.  Apparently, my mother wanted to make sure that a few relatives of ours had their genes tested so that we could compare the places that Ancestry.com said we were from and so on and so forth.  While it took a while for the DNA test to be processed, yesterday I received notification that the test had been done and I went to check out what they had found.  My own genetic percentage, such as it is at present, was mildly surprising, with 57% of my genes coming from England, Wales, and Northwestern Europe, 30% from Germany, 9% from Ireland and Scotland, and 2% each from Norway and Sweden (!).  That last source was particularly surprising because while I know of some Norwegian ancestry through the Norse Scots, I was unaware that I had any Swedish ancestry, or where that happened to come from.

Nor, when I was adding the various members of my family tree, did this Swedish connection become any more clear.  It was pretty easy to find ancestors down to the 18th century and quite a few lines went back to the 15th century, but at least at present, that is where the lines stop for me, at the Protestant Reformation, on that particular website at least.  I was able to find some interesting stories–like a 17th century ancestor who was lost at sea in what is now Indonesia, participating in the spice trade or something equally dangerous, or potentially troubling, like ancestors with aliases and plenty of cases of pedigree collapse due to a lot of marriage with cousins and one case where a husband and wife were shown as having the same parents, which does raise a few eyebrows at least.  I was quite surprised by how many of my ancestral lines went through New York and New Jersey, and how many went to the Netherlands, Alsace, and obscure small states in the Rhine area of Germany, as well as the oddball Prussian or Bavarian lines.

I was able to find a few known relatives who had, like me, already shown interest in the website and in the genetic testing, like my only paternal first cousin, who had a private family tree that I have asked permission to see and link on to, and one of my mother’s first cousins, who is the most passionate genealogy hobbyists among my close relatives.  It was rather striking to me, though, just how rapidly my family had lost touch with fairly close relatives.  Of the many relatives who were fourth cousins or closer to me, there were only three of them–my paternal first cousin, my great-aunt, and my great-aunt’s daughter (my mother’s cousin)–that I knew personally.  The rest are a mystery to me, which is testament I suppose to both the popularity of genetic genealogy and the general isolation of my own immediate family relative to the body of relatives that we have.  I’d like to think at least that a family should be familiar with its second cousins, at least.  After all, they would be the descendants of one’s great-grandparents, and I was close to at least one of those and my family has stories about the rest of them, some of which I have written about here before [1].  Yet one of my great-grandparents appeared to have another family he had left behind after World War I, and that may not have been an entirely isolated experience, which does tend to reduce one’s familiarity with genetic relatives who may have unknown and surprising common ancestors and exciting new family stories to share.

It has always fascinated me to see the different ways that websites handle linking in with others.  Some websites are extremely easy to use when it comes to connecting.  Some of them take a lot of time but provide a lot of information at the same time.  But it is striking at any rate to see the difference between, say, geni.com, ancestry.com, and wikitree, for example, all of which I use and all of which show a large degree of connection between my own somewhat obscure genetic line and the larger body of people who I can connect with thanks to my family tree.  How is it that the last few generations of my family got to be so isolated from what was going on around us.  A lot of my ancestors were very adventuresome people–quite a few had military offices in colonial America and traveled across the Atlantic for one reason or another–and yet among my own close relatives, all of them had birthplaces no further west than Ohio and only my mother was born further south than Pennsylvania and New Jersey for any of the ancestors I can find, all of whom either went through New England, the Middle Atlantic states, or Canada starting from the 16th century to our family’s most recent immigrants like my maternal grandmother (although it is not very dramatic to be a Canadian immigrant, I must admit, and she had an American-born father from eastern Ohio).  At any rate, more genetic testing and genealogical research by myself and other relatives means more people to connect with, and in general I consider that a very good thing.

[1] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2011/08/03/death-is-a-hungry-hunter/

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in Book Reviews, History, Musings and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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