UPDATED — 2021-
Since I wrote this years ago so much has changed. This worked well for me, but it just as easily could have been horrible. Im trying to preserve the original emotions here. That said WOW 23&Me were inept in assessing ethnicity and I cant be sure they’re now great at it.
23&Me seems to be refining their guesses here. Things changed a lot about a years after my test when 23&me was exposed as having overvalued some ancient DNA samples and been too dismissive of others. While they will likely not blow a call on Family Relations- they could be off my a degree or two when you go beyond say two degrees of separation. The idea they get a sibling wrong seems remote though. 23&me may still be the best test, bit here’s how they messed up ethnicities for a while;
You could call it ‘bad science’ but it was more was more like “An awful and misinformed view of history and paleontology.” Some of the DNA samples from ancient burials 23& Me had been using were called into question. In some cases it was an absence of decent archaeologists or social historians who could have just told them “these people were just not from here.” DNA samples of some burials they had assumed to be locals turned out to be more like the remains of some traveling merchants from totally different areas! A couple of times. There were other mistakes as bad.
Here Now the Original Post —
Through the Past, Starkly – Mind Blowing DNA Test Results of an Adopted Guy
As a baby I was adopted by an awesome family and adoption in general is a topic I’ve blogged about before. I have no complaints, in fact I can only praise my fantastic parents who raised me, the only parents I will acknowledge. That said I was plenty curious and ended up with my mind fuckin’ blown by the results of my DNA Test.
And now I write my most difficult but necessary blogpost- about coming to terms with my DNA Test Results and my adoption. I’m going to try my best to navigate this and convey what I felt.
My most important thought on adoption for now is this – having seen all the Star Wars movies I was keenly aware piercing the adoption could easily lead to a less than ideal parent showing up. I don’t need some guy who only thinks they’re my dad cutting my hand off as the opener of a pitch to join the family business! On to concerns closer to this Galaxy.
I didn’t foresee this technology growing up. I had long ago accepted I would know nothing and decided I’d embrace the Irish and German thing cause they are
pretty awesome and who doesn’t wanna have heritage in common with their actual parents? I mean, we weren’t gonna end up DNA relatives , right? (right?)
Things have changed! A DNA test that’s pretty accurate is now affordable. So I pushed forward to get my answers.
Ok, so check out the picture of me as a kid and place your bets on what I ended up finding out.
1- Which Test?
I went with 23 & Me for a variety of reasons. The FDA approval was the biggest factor.
My quick review – You should go with the 23 & Me Ancestry Package. The Health Insights are not currently (and STILL arent in 2021) worth a hundred bucks. Maybe opt in a few years from now. You already KNOW if you blush when you drink! However, I do think the FDA aspect cuts down on spurious claims. After all, whats to stop some mendacious businessman or marketer from calling the “Alcohol Blush Trait” the “Addiction Gene”? Terms used by the Test company are really powerful. They will frame what and how you think if you aren’t self conscious about it. Keep a copy of World History for Dummies, a Dictionary and a joint at hand.
2- Spit in the Bottle, Loser!
This proved very difficult as my fucking life flashed before my eyes in a weird mind-bending parade. Who am I? Why the fuck am I here? What was the deal with having two parents so stupid they couldn’t figure out how not to stay un-pregnant? Do I really wanna meet these people? (Not really)
My Mouth went dry every time I tried for two weeks. It’s also takes kind of a lot of spit.
3- Mail, Wait 6-8 Weeks
Didnt think about it all that much.
4- The Results are In!
The 23& Me Website and app are actually great. It made it easy and it was definitely fun. More thoughts on the that as we go along. Of particular usefulness was what I can only call “The Lifespan of the Last Full Blooded DNA Contributor Chart”. Really useful for perspective. It IS just a pretty rough estimate that’s steadily less reliable as we go further back, but it does help.
One thing I hope you’ll cut me slack on is that you probably can’t talk about this at all without sounding like a crazy idiot. Being too swept up in the results is an obvious hazard. I think in this one thing being Adopted is actually a huge advantage in having some dispassionate perspective.
For viewing the results I waited until I had hopped off a train and made it to my Moms place on Long Island. ‘You should try to avoid looking at them right away or alone if possible’ was my view on this. It did pay off for me. I wanted the familiarity and even more her with me to finish this journey we started together. Just the best mom any guy ever had. It was really helpful.
We looked together, your biggest single group shows alone with its percentage. The first revelation was at hand and I would hear it from my mother.
My Mom was pretty happy. “British and Irish ! 32% ! You’re Dad would be so happy!”
British & Irish – 32%. [Now 51%] This had trended up every time they enhance their database – however they may do that. Not in fact the biggest shock having had almost every person I’ve known at some point remark along the lines of “You look as Irish as Paddies Pig”. I wondered if anyone ever got the inverse “Irish & British” as the result. Looking on showed more ancestors born in Ireland than Britain by a long shot. Nonetheless, I again stopped to appreciate the power the terms the DNA test used would have over my initial feelings or impressions I might have. The fact is “British & Irish” is a trade term not a Scientific DNA term in my case.
I reflected on my Moms statement about my Dad and how he would have been thrilled about us both being Irish. I think he knew it. Would he have been thrilled? That was for sure. Unsaid was that if I had been Chinese he would have suddenly developed a deep interest in their culture and advocated all their contributions to society. He was just that cool.
Then things get interesting. Like as in,”I’m so glad they don’t charge by the race” sort of way and an “I’m glad I was a Democrat before I saw this” kind of way. How all these things could have come together was mind-blowing
While I was overwhelmingly European (over 90%- by 2021 this had slightly dropped to 89) a fairly wide swath of Europe was represented. If you saw how very fair-skinned I am, like SPF 3000 pale, you would never ever think I had so much southern European DNA.
Add to this the roughly 18% “Broadly Northwestern European.” Some of my ancestors had plied the North Sea and intermingled. A lot. Theres some more DNA coming later that may be attributable to their travels too. From Northern Ireland to the Eastern shores of Scandinavia and all across the Netherlands they had sailed, making their living and picking up and swapping out DNA. Over the years this has dropped to like 14%.
Scandinavian – half a percent. A previous scan for a particular genetic problem had found the Scandinavian DNA because it was looking for it. Going through my mind is “That should be more” but then again, 18% NW Euro could mean almost full Scandinavian Grandparent if it shook out right. (Unlikely but its a useful analogy I’ll go back to a few times).
So then there’s the second biggest chunk — All Over Western Southern Europe. (my term!)
Italian – 12%. [This has now risen to 20%].
this has to be considered with “Broadly Southern European DNA ” of about 14%. so we’re talking what is most likely a 24-28% Italian background tops? It’s roughly one full on Italian Grandparent and then some. The “Walking, Talking Bag of Ancestral DNA Personified as a Grandparent” is becoming a useful tool. I’m slightly shocked. This is not computing at all as I had on my own come to the view of the Italian as the epitome of being Immodest and crass. It’s a stereotype I’m really uncomfortable with. It’s also one I have happily perpetuated mocking my Italian friends (now my fellow Italians).
At this point it dawns on me belatedly (it takes a few minutes after initial impact for everything) that a lot of my ancestors were not Irish but the British I was told oppressed the FUCK out of us! Damn! I’m an oppressor? I make a quick decision they were the reasonable Brits. I realize Paul McCartney is British and Irish too. Sir Paul’s pretty alright.
The realization I’m thinking like a complete idiot washes over me. Does this go through everyone’s mind? Am I in fact Overchallenged by this? This sort of insane rationalization is totally silly but messes with your head just a little and its cumulative as you pile on races on top of races after a life of being a simple default American from the New York City area who loves the Yankees.
Next – Iberian. Like 5% with that same 14% Broadly southern European still to be considered, this adds up to a likely mostly Iberian (Spain, Portugal) Grandparent at least as a walking bag of DNA personified hypothetically. Maybe this person has some Italian heritage too, but its fractional. Looking at the Ancestors Birthplaces and some information genetic cousins had entered was Spain itself as well as a group islands off the west coast of Spain I had never heard of, The Balearic Islands. Not too far from Corsica. These people would probably have been a bit Italian and possibly just a bit French. Its much conquered. In fact for a hot minute even the Scandinavians are there. It would explain the DNA proportions of Iberian to Italian well.
Spanish? Unepected. Is this why I gravitated to playing the guitar? I realize playing guitar is also quintessentially American and move on still not having really absorbed this.
French & German – less than 4%. Sorry mom. The idea it could be all French and no German at all is a little strange. I throw that out. I like the food and the attitude of the Germans. I have happily picked up some stereotypically German traits. I have a sort of German American part of my Outlook, both good and bad. It’s manifested in quotes like “Quit makin’ your problems my problems!” but also (I’d like to think) a warm heart towards friends and family belied by a not so flattering aloofness I can’t really justify or shake. Or that I really mind. Fuck it, truth is I have an attitude and I could give a shit who has an issue with it. Maybe more people should feel like their above certain actions or beliefs. At any rate it would seem I was only 4% justified if we’re going to let our DNA dictate our outlook (don’t).
Getting Further along as we slug our way through the European part of my DNA comes Eastern European. Only about 1%. ok. File that away for processing in the Mind Blender.
Moving on, Ashkenazi Jewish just over half a percent. You don’t meed to be a DNA scientist to say this is probably the same person that’s bringing in the Eastern European DNA.
Altogether its seems to make me about 1&1/2% Ashkenazi & E Euro. It apparently means going back to when I have 100 direct ancestors 1 was Jewish and from Eastern Europe.
Okay, this is officially a lot to take in. Good thing I had my mom there to provide some continuity to whats seeming more and more like a Movie about DNA results. I again file some feelings away for future considerations.
Then we have something known as Broadly European over 7%. It could be added to ANY of these and change a lot of things about whats starting to feel like Human Animal Husbandry in my spinning mind. Basically the Iron Age Peoples of Europe separate and became the various specific ethnicities of Europeans and they all spring from this original group to the point a spanish guy and a dutch guy still share this 7%. More actually, as they would be wholly European individuals (for the most part). For me the free Northwestern DNA and the broadly european DNA added to the Irish DNA would potentially push the Irish DNA up to over 50%. It’s pretty likely my Irish Ancestors were from their north-east coastal area or a major port like Dublin (or both).
I take a Valium and smoke some weed while my mom pretends to not notice. It turned out to be a good time to do this.
Now we have the Non European DNA. It’s all Honorable Mentions really. Anything below 5% with no “Free DNA” to play with (like the Broadly European,etc) to me is an Honorable Mention. Groups present but not really large enough to realistically start to identify with too much. I would appreciate and try to celebrate it in proper proportion without being a crazy phony about it.
Native American 3%! [This one fluctuates radically from year to year but is back o like 3.5%] For context this is I think 900 times more native than Elizabeth Warren’s best case. WTF? Okay, as holder of a History Degree I was aware that the genocide of the Native Americans also included breeding them out of existence, but wow! One of the results of that policy ends up being me!?
I guess the cynical the genocide worked as I’m completely Unidentifiable as in any way Native American anyone or me has ever seemed to notice. I immediately feel guilty for my love of Westerns, then I realize most of the ones I really enjoy the most, like Last of the Mohicans, showed a compassionate portrayal or tried to. Hey, lets face it if the enemy (and mostly they always were) is too one-dimensional it makes for a bad movie. Resolve to watch the Billy Jack again soon. (On the same topic check out the documentary Reel Injun, brilliant!)
The Native American DNA has a deeply romantic aspect and is considered exotic. The Ancestry.com people push it HARD and irresponsibly. I’m thinking that I’m proof mostly that a lot of white people have just a small amount. I recommend reading “Custer Died for Your Sins” by Vine Deloria jr. before going off the deep end and buying a bunch of dream catchers and boring your friends. Deloria’s thoughts really educated me, he was a real civil rights activist and he writes well. He left us in 2005. I think when its a small amount of DNA you have to keep respectful perspective. Mostly probably it means you had a really uncool white ancestor who did some really uncool stuff more than a happy interracial marriage in the really racist 18th and 19th centuries, but anything’s possible.
Then I make a connection — Spanish and Native American??? There’s a term for that. It hits me – I’m LATINO??? Like as good as one full grandparent worth? My initial verbalization is “It’s just ridiculous.” I then realize that “It’s just ridiculous,” is one of Ricky Ricardo’s biggest lines. Actual Irony. It takes a few seconds to absorb. Outside my expectations for sure.
The app has a DNA relative Birthplace locator which shows Cuba as the number 3 birthplace of my ancestors, right behind Ireland, just before England (United States was number 1). My DNA almost definitely spent some time there. The app also showed many,
many Cuban 3rd cousins. Did a Great Grandparent maybe immigrate there and their kids split for here ? Its Interesting and makes me hate Trump even a little more. I Love Lucy and the Great Yankee El Duque flash through my head and I feel a strange kinship suddenly. I realize why I hated Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio so much. Now I’m trying to picture ‘Grandpa Desi’. I decide the only big deal about this is I need to step up my Steak making skills.
Still, this is minutes packed with sort of shocking information flowing in after decades of speculation, so I’m reeling. None of this is bad but it just keeps coming. I should take a break but can’t. Who would be able to stop now?
Next was maybe a little more surprising. Sub Saharan African. A little over 2%. A quick look at the app shows me a location on the western shore of central Africa for this population. Wow. More to think about later. I’m a little numb to the revelations at this point. (more African DNA to come!)
Rather than freak out I tell myself I have DNA in common with every American president ever thanks to being semi Kenyan like my hero Obama. Instantly ok with it.
Lets think about how someone in this situation is supposed to handle it for a second. I saw what happened with Demi Lovato , you don’t have to try hard to come off like a phony idiot. So while it is there, its more like “fun discussion of a curious aspect of distant ancestry” thing than my new primary identity. The truth is I was never discriminated against and can’t imagine I ever possibly would be for being African-American. I have no idea what its like. I would run the risk of insulting people by making much of this. I have no issues about this genetic fact. I realize how race is such a matter of appearances and how the hugest of bigots would never have a clue looking at me. If anything you’d think me prime material to try to recruit for your Anti Government Militia (I would never) on just appearances.
The hilarious movie ‘The Jerk’ and its comedic take on an adopted dimwitted white man raised by a Black family who’s too dumb to understand what adoption even is or to realize he’s not actually black goes through my mind. I could easily seem as comically out of touch but maybe no one would find it amusing. It also would probably rightly offend some people. Look at my picture and tell me just how idiotic I would sound screaming that heritage from the walls? It would never come off as genuine. Most people would probably say that with the adoption and environment I was actually more legitimate in claiming to be German even though the DNA amounts are roughly even. Is perception reality? I think probably in this instance it might be.
Where do you have legitimacy and when do you become Rachel Dolezal? Not a boundary I plan or feel obligated to test. Is it even a worthy endeavor? Doubtful.
Nothings going to change much. I wont be celebrating (or diminishing) Kwanzaa or anything, and probably shouldn’t. I DO Travel through Hollis, Queens every Christmas on my way to my parents place. I have to! I guess that’s about as far as it goes. I’m kinda thrilled in a way to have another continent on my Genetic resume. Certainly it’s not a big deal one way or the other. Won’t be opening a lot of conversations with it thats for sure.
Then I have a wave of empathy for the actual person who was the West African ancestor. His lifetime (18th and 19th century) would indicate the poor bastards chances of having been a slave are high! Shit! How terrible for them if true. “Brown Sugar” plays in my head and the lyrics are far more prescient and disturbing. I try not to think of their likely life of privation too much right now. Wow, amazing.
I again am grateful I was already a Democrat. At this point a strong Christian Conservative Republican White Guy would surely have had a glass of schnapps, put the Luger to their head and just ended it all. Fortunately that’s about the furthest thing from what I am and none of those emotions are present. I realize again I’m past the point of processing things efficiently and all of this was going to take some getting used to. At the moment I felt like I was on a roller coaster but still at the point where the chaos is enthralling. Even as I write this things are spinning around in my head as I try to make sense of ALL of this.
Next “Middle Eastern and North African“- just over half a percent. This is very likely from the Iberians. My ancestors plied the waters of the Mediterranean and were clearly sort of lively about hooking up. Nonetheless I’m 2 different kinds of African. Or are these Peoples more mediterranean? At the end of the day most of them live on the African continent.
I think about my greatest most revered hero, Derek Jeter, whose Irish and African-American. He was Dads very favorite baseball player ever! A class act and a first ballot Hall of Famer. We now have something in common. I’ll take anything that makes me more like Derek Jeter. The Jeter man crush absorbs any other feelings I may have had churning around for a while.
And for fun there’s .9% “Unassigned“. I think about my Alien ancestors and wonder if they were Reptilians or Grays, then I opt for the Douglas Addams explanation of how humans got here. For a moment I fear the Coming of the Great White Handkerchief.
I feel like I just ran the New York Marathon. Thank God for Valium.
5- Live Through This!
So now even jerking off is an Interracial Relationship? Damn.
The surely insane adventures my Ancestors had will be vicarious hypotheticals in my mind forever. Some of its kind of a relief, after all I WAS prepared to be Irish and turns
out I am. A lifetime of misbehaving on Saint Patrick’s Day and innumerable parade appearances justified! And you know what? Cuba has some similarities to Ireland. It’s another oppressed island full of Catholics and rebels.
With all the Island and shore based populations in my background I realize a lot of my ancestors had to be simple fisherman, sailors and certainly some pirates and brigands.
It goes through my head “Only in New York could you get a person like this.” Certainly New York is my ideal town and I’m proud to live here. I’m a product of living here. Could it have been a Manhattan Indian who contributed some of the DNA? I sort of hope so.
Then I think of the DNA I inherited from 3 extremely oppressed groups. Two of them were outright Genocide Victims to varying degrees. It’s a disturbing testimony to the hateful ignorant dedication with which they were oppressed and how badly that their oppressors wished they’d just disappear.
The Nazi’s and the 18th and 19th century Americans who killed off these populations were motivated partly out of fear that they would end up interbreeding with them and changing who they were ethnically. Then the realization that just maybe the Ashkenazi and the Native Americans might have had something of a unknowing last laugh at their oppressors. After all, the idea that they would have a direct descendant with some Indian or Jewish genetics in them probably would have completely repulsed the early Americans and the Nazi’s who were trying to destroy said Indians and Ashkenazi. The sheer pointlessness of race hate is more apparent to me than ever. Half my DNA is kind of equally divided between the Sharks and the Jets from ‘West Side Story”. I would have to stab myself.
Surely the Sub-saharan West African Ancestor saw his share of shit. And the Native American DNA? It wasn’t substantial but having any New World DNA was something I NEVER considered. Then I Think “Fuck you Andrew Jackson for massacring my Ancestors!” Could the Ashkenazi ancestors life have been much easier? Another population that faced endless and progressively worse genocides culminating in the Genocide of all Genocides. I’m grateful they even had a chance to contribute to my DNA, because if anything was different this Biological Unit would no longer be the same and I LIKE being me. Every last bit of it. Even the Unassigned DNA. Life’s Rich Pageant indeed. I have a serious case of the “Wow’s”. I probably used the word 30 times in a row before I said anything else.
6- Round Up of Thoughts and Implications for the Adopted
Probably the best thing I had going for me starting this was I was pretty comfortable with myself. I was also PREPARED to be surprised. Another aspect that helped is probably the fact that my parents were not bigoted in any way and looked down on people who were. Shouldn’t we all?
So if you decide to take this voyage come to terms with ALL possible outcomes if you’re adopted. If your NOT adopted, well, come to terms with the idea you MIGHT just be adopted or something even more difficult to face, like being the Cable Guys kid (it happens).
For the most part I think my mom was likely right – just go with the top three, everything else is too fractional. So I was good with being Irish-British going in. A comforting bonus to have it. Italian, well, hey, the Glory of Rome? Not so bad. Spanish via Cuba? It will take a little more figuring out but its legit. Not sure where to go with it. I’m not planning on learning spanish but I will probably start embracing it a little. It has an appealing aspect and it’s genetically significant.
When asked I guess I’m maybe still just gonna say I’m an American mutt and a true son of Queens, New York. Its nothing to be ashamed of. Irish-Italian-Spanish is a little involved and awkward anyway.
The DNA relatives tool was potentially terrifying! Seeing my ACTUAL DNA Relatives (at least knowingly) for the first time was a little strange, but third cousin was as close as it got. A Cuban woman and her brother, both much older than I were on top. It’s highly doubtful that they would know anything about my situation. What was a little encouraging, if that’s the word, was that about 150 DNA relatives a week pop up.
Many are still Anonymous on the site. If you’re really looking for people temper your expectations.
How fast is the database growing? Hours later in my own apartment I logged on again and a closer non sharing relative estimated 2nd cousin had appeared. They have since completely disappeared. It’s likely because they ended up being more distantly related as more of their own closer relatives joined. The other possibility is
that it was someone who found me and blocked me. I have to consider my existence could ruin one or more marriages and complicate some lives even this far after the fact. You know what? They’re problems ain’t my problems. Who cares? One things for sure, if the database keeps growing like this I may know a whole lot and sooner rather than later. I neither fear nor desire it.
I know who I am. I already did, Now i have some fun background that I would say every adopted person deserves. I recommend taking a DNA test from a reputable company.
So if you go down this road Good Luck and Bon Voyage!