I still remember to this day the experience that I had when my mum and I went to an evening meeting of the Spanish Honor Society when I was a freshman in high school, and my mother had to liven up the conversation by joking that her sons were conceived by the milkman and the mailman. As it happens, my father was both. Nonetheless, I think it is important for us to recognize that in an age that is filled with fear about the damaging effects of genetic genealogy and the destructive effect that DNA results bring to families when secrets are found out. And as someone who is interested in stories and videos that discuss the solving of family mysteries and the exposure of various nefarious and shady doings, I am more interested in the dog that doesn’t bark, and the scandals that don’t happen.
What do I mean by the scandals that don’t happen? Let me give an example. Let us say that one comes from a family where there is a lot of suspicion between a husband and a wife over the legitimacy of children. With the proliferation of reasonably-priced DNA tests, it makes it rather easy for those suspicious to be allayed. You want to find out who the father is? All it takes is some spit or swabbing the cheeks into a relatively in-expensive DNA kit and waiting a few weeks for that DNA to be processed until you see your full siblings and cousins and so on. And when you have that kind of DNA evidence, then there is no room for that kind of ugly suspicion. Just because one of your children don’t look like doesn’t mean that they aren’t yours, and the knowledge that truth is not that hard to find ought to reduce the sort of stress and pressure that people face when they are accused of adultery when they are not in fact guilty of it. (The flip side of this is, of course, that one’s sins may very well find oneself out.)
As someone who is fascinated by my family’s history, one of the things that I find most notable is the mundane nature of the family ancestry. Despite the fact that my family has been in North America since colonial days, what is most striking about the DNA is how narrow the ancestry is. Ancestry.com only lists four populations for my own background, and only one of them was even a mild surprise: England and Northwestern Europe (which includes Northern France, Belgium, and the Netherlands), Germany (including Switzerland and Austria as well as Sudetenland), Scotland (including Northern Ireland), and Sweden. My family has lived in the United States so long that the communities listed were all based on Pennsylvania and Eastern Ohio. Even communities that my family is deeply tied to, like the Puritan founders, or the early settlers of New Netherlands and New Jersey, or the early settlers of Ontario, are far enough down the list and far enough back in time that they are not included (for me at least–they may be for my mother or her maternal relatives), and no European communities are included in detail because the family lines go back so far that Ancestry.com cannot tie them back to the European source communities where my family came from, even if we have paperwork that can tie them back to parish churches in England, Scotland, the Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland, Alsace, and other such places.
This is not necessarily a bad thing. One of the things that is perhaps the most striking is that there is clear Scandinavian DNA even though within the historical record that I have none of my family lines go back to Scandinavia. It is striking to me that there is so much Norman ancestry that it shows up as an appreciable and sizable part of my DNA even if that ancestry goes back all the way to the Middle Ages before any of them were in Scandinavia. That is remarkable and striking to me personally, and it demonstrates the persistence of a background when you have so many people marrying others of the same background generation after generation, which is one of the more notable aspects one finds about my own family background. As I have noted before , one of the more striking aspects of my family history is its relentless proclivity towards endogamy, something that appears over and over again. Just this past weekend I was spending some time looking through new family tree information and found more cases of pedigree collapse in some of the family lines that showed multiple cases where the same relatives appeared over and over again. I suspect some people are disappointed when they find out how boring their DNA is, because they and their family stayed more or less in the same background with other people of their background, but what that means is that a lot of potential scandals didn’t happen, and that is by no means a bad thing. Less drama and scandal in this world is by no means a bad thing.