When I was about 12 or so, I became interested in my heritage. I think more than anything, it probably stemmed from my interest in mythology and reading books about knights and various heroes, many of whom boasted colorful or “tough-looking” family crests.
So, on a visit with my maternal grandparents, I hit my grandfather up for what he knew – mostly from his (my mom’s) side of the family, the “Corlett” side – and the basics of what he knew about my dad’s parents. He was a real storyteller, my Grandpa Dick Corlett. He was truly a man of his era, a real classic. He memorized and recited poems like “The Cremation of Sam McGee” and other old-timey songs he would teach me and my cousins. I say old, mid-western phrases like “Jiminy Christmas” because he did. And he loved baseball. God, I loved my grandfather … but I digress. Delighted to be asked, my Grandpa wrote out some percentages which suggested that we were predominantly German (40%, he thought), followed by Irish (20), Scottish (10), Manx (10) Manx, you ask? Yes. Manx refers to the people of The Isle of Man, a small island – with only about 30,000 people – that rests in the Irish Sea between Ireland and northern England. It is not technically part of the U.K., but is a “self-governing Crown dependency.” So, I naturally spent my life largely believing the percentages presented by my grandfather were true.
Then, for Christmas last year, my wife gifted me something I had been talking about – a 23 And Me Genealogy Kit (www.23andme.com). I was thrilled and surprised, and remain so appreciative of her thoughtfulness. You probably know several people that are doing this, either through 23andme or Ancestry.com. All one is required to do is fill a small vile that they provide with your saliva, and mail it in. They then take about 8 weeks to analyze genetic markers, and alert you via email that your report is ready online. The report tells you as much as they can about the various world destinations one’s ancestors came from. It’s pretty cool that this has become so mainstream. One of my former colleagues, who is African American, used it to find out what specific part of Africa his desendants hailed from (West Africa). And I know many grown-up children of adoption are using these services to satisfy their curiosity.
The report I received confirmed 1 or 2 things, but also contained a couple of big surprises. Let’s break it down for those among you who have long wondered, “Where did this Flora guy come from?!” (but in the nice way).
First and foremost, I should mention that 23andme breaks down one’s DNA into several reports, I’ll go ahead and provide the top-line highlights of certain DNA reports so we can spend more time on the Ancestry.
DNA Grouping – I apparently have relatives in 32 U.S. States and 4 additional countries.
Neanderthal Genes? – I have 273 “Neanderthal Variants,” whatever that means. But they say I have fewer variants than 57 percent of all 23andme customers, making me below the average on Neanderthal, and predominantly Homo sapien.
Paternal Haplogroup I-M438 – The genes from my paternal Haplogroup are found in 20% of all males in Europe, predominantly Eastern Europe and the Balkans. Our friends in Sarajevo and Mostar might enjoy knowing that I-M438 is found in 40 percent of Bosnian men! The group originated in East Africa about 30,000 years ago.
Maternal Haplogroup U4d1 – A Haplogroup held by only 1 in 3,200 23andme customers, (at time of printing), U4d1 dates back to a woman who lived about 9,000 years ago. Her genes also originated in East Africa and made their way predominantly to northern Eurasia, which was frigid and uninhabitable at the time, moving several groups into Southern and Western Europe.
My Ancestry by COUNTRY! (THE FUN STUFF!) – First, let’s get it out there that my genetic testing found that I am 100% European. Some of you may have friends or family members who have participated in one of these services that have discovered slivers of Mongolian, Chinese, South Asian, and other “surprise” micro-percentages of heritage. That seems to be an intriguing commonality making the “water cooler” talk of “Big Ancestry.” But not for me. Am I disappointed? I guess a little. It would have been cool to have some mystery relative who made me .01 percent Indian, Mongol, maybe from some “___stan” country … something else that at least made me feel a little diverse. But I’m not diverse. I’m pretty much your white, male, 100% European colonizing nightmare. Oh, well.
Here are my percentages:
- British & Irish 30.4%
- Eastern European 21.4%!
- French and German 15.8%
- Scandinavian 7.8%
- Broadly Northwestern European 20.4%
- Broadly European 4.1%
Here are the family names for each known country origin that were taught to me before my 23andme experiment:
Through the 23andme experiment, there are three major storylines and one minor one that emerge:
- The Polish numbers are a stunner!
- The low German numbers are equally a surprise
- I’m even more Scottish, Manx, and Irish than I thought
- Nearly 8% Danish? I knew there was some, but almost 10%?
Well, it turns out, all I needed to do was check in with my Mom to see why these numbers made sense. As soon as I called her with the results and shared with her the Polish numbers, she sounded nonplussed. Casually, she said something akin to, “Oh, yeah. Well you know Grandma Corlett (my Grandpa Dick Corlett’s mother, her grandmother, my great-grandmother) was a (zero generation) Polish immigrant. Her last name was Shemansky.” …. WHAT?! I sort of felt like Dorothy being told by Glinda the Good Witch AT THE END of Wizard of Oz that she could have tapped her heels together and gone home to Kansas anytime. “Mom, you mean to say you’ve known we were Polish this whole time and didn’t say anything?” So that surprise was apparently a mystery only to me, though I find it strange that it never came up in conversation.
Where one nationality gains another must lose. In this case, the plurality of German I once thought I possessed has been reduced to just 15 percent (that is known). I don’t want to visit Germany any less for it. But I will have to break the news to my friend Volker Boehme, who stayed with my family as an exchange student when we were sophomores in high school. Apparently, I sold him a bill of goods and didn’t even know how wrong I was. At the same time, we can’t forget there remains 24.5 percent of me that 23andme could only come as close to calling “Broadly Northwestern European” and “Broadly European.” So, it is possible that I could have another 5-10% of German-ness in there. Then again, I may just be even more Scandinavian, or more Irish/Scottish/Manx. … or even more Polish!
Speaking of the U.K. and Ireland, what can I say? Who doesn’t want to be MORE Scottish and Irish? That would be like saying, “Nah, I don’t really want to be friends with Ewan McGregor, Kelly Macdonald, Collin Farrell, or Liam Neeson.” No one says that. Because who wouldn’t want to be friends with these people!?! Or at least sit back and watch them take over a bar? I think it’s safe to say that most Americans consider Scottish and Irish your “fun” nationalities. Plus – bagpipes! I already explained Manx, which is I guess the only thing “British” about me, but again, not technically part of Britain. But did you know the tiny Isle of Man has its own flag? … Yep – The Flag of Mann! It almost looks like a Monty Python joke, but it’s real. Check it out —
We did have a bit of fun with the Danish ancestry last weekend when we visited my mom in San Clemente. My other Grandpa, Bob Flora, carries our Danish heritage. His mother, my great-grandmother’s, last name was Anderson. And he was born in Wisconsin before coming to California as a young boy. He had a cousin he was close with named Wes Anderson, who ended up in Texas. And for about 5 minutes, we entertained the notion I might be related to Wes Anderson, the famous film director, who was born in Houston. Wikipedia put this notion to rest, however, in explaining that his grandfather’s name was Mel, and he is of Swedish and Norweigan ancestry.
23andme also offers a combination test for Ancestry + Health, which some of you may want to consider for any genetic dispositions, flaws, or defects that may be of concern. Overall, I’m satisfied with the experience and grateful for Erin’s investment in the Ancestry test. Despite almost 25% of my results not being able to tie specifically to a country of origin, it is pretty darn clear where I came from, and I’m confident that my own history hunting and family research will only become more enjoyable from here.