DNA Travels – Part IV

History, musings, Travel

Part I, II, III

Here is my conclusion, and its not a concise one.

Let me start here: I have white privilege. White privilege in that the color of my skin, my ethnic background, does not cause me to deal with the prejudices and racism that plagues many people. My ancestors, the ones I know of, did not face the horrors of slavery and have not been considered and treated as lesser than because of their skin and ethnicity.

My family was maybe poor, half of them dealt with the oppression and patriarchy of being female. But we have a level of white privilege that many people never have. It’s not just in my day to day life, but when it comes to genealogy, there is a glaring problem.

While I can spit in a tube and end up with detailed results on where my family LIKELY came from, many people that are not entirely white get very different results. The reasons are just as much about continued oppression as they are about poverty and a lack of consideration. It is also a part of a story where many people of color have a lack of records and stories of their past. Because no one was keeping track, and because a lot of people were striped of their identity in the name of progress.

So, when a person of Asian or African ancestry spits in a tube, they will not get the wide range of information that I do. This is because there are holes in the record, Africa is at best lumped into regions. Asia looks much the same. So a region the same size of Europe has nothing but a large colored blob to represent its entire region and a massively diverse group of people.

The other issue is that this information is so new, and so ever-changing that it has a lot of holes in it. Holes that are slowly being filled with each new DNA test, each new set of samples, new surveys, and as the science improves.

In a recent Terry Gross Fresh Air interview with journalist Alex Wagner, I learned a lot about the problems of the tests for people looking beyond a Euro-centric story. As mentioned in the interview Alex Wagner talked to DNA scientists and many of them said these tests are like looking into a crystal ball. You just see yourself and the fantasy of smoke and mirrors. It’s maybe not that fantastical, but there is a lot of room for improvement.

So my conclusion is that my own experience, and the experience of others is that there are surprising chapters in one’s DNA story. Sometimes those chapters may need to be rewritten and edited when new evidence is found. This is the way science, history, journalism, and all other information-based research should be understood and shared. An asterisk with “to be amended” in the footnotes.

Therefore, I have landed as I think these tests are mostly good, reminders that we are all more interconnected than we imagine. We are all cousins of cousins of cousins. We have mysterious relatives with deep stories and backgrounds that are as significant from one to another. Maybe that is the true story.

It’s less of what percentage point and what country someone came from, and more of the individuals that happened to connect to create a person living in an age where we can find these pieces, easily, on an electronic box that is also connected to the world.

Happy Travels!



DNA Travels – Part III

History, musings, Travel

Part I and Part II

23andMe is distinct in that it goes beyond looking at DNA markers for ancestry, but it also finds information on genetic aspects such as risk for disease.

23andMe also works to look at DNA markers from historical DNA data as well as current aspects. However, this doesn’t mean that it doesn’t lack for problems in its own collection of information. 23andMe still relies on information that it has, and the growing collection of it. However, as it still lacks for information on many parts of the world, there are gaps in the story.

It also means I got additional and surprising results from this test.

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Screen Shot 2018-05-12 at 9.06.30 AMFor me this test’s surprise is the drop of West African and Sub-Saharan African, and the higher amount of Native American. While in part II we learned about my native relative, this new data is surprising, but I have a theory….well two.

My first theory is that we had a relative in the 1700 to 1800s that was from somewhere like Spain or Portugal, which means that they were close to Moorish rule of the area. Meaning they were also part middle eastern and African.

My other theory is that someone was a slave, and forced into a relationship with someone in my family. This part is a horrific reality of colonialism, the slave trade, and other facts of  the white American past. I am proud of having a part of this in my existence, I am appalled at the potential reasons that lead to this.

I hope to have more insight on this when I get my parents to take the DNA tests, to see which branch this has more of a match to. My suspicion is my father’s side as they have a little more getting around, and a longer time in the United States over my mother’s side. Yet, I may be surprised even further. Stay tuned!

For a historical understanding of this 23andMe offers a timeline understanding of where what relative came into the picture. Which also adds some scientific backup to my paper trail.

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However, and here is the caveat, the information and details have different levels of certainty available for the test. When I adjust from 50% certainty to 90% certainty then I see where there are holes in the research. The reasons of which are that these details are ever changing and more and more data will increase our understanding of these elements.

More on this in Part IV


DNA Travels – Part II

family, geek, History, musings, Travel

Part I

For my own tests I started in 2016.

First off was Ancestry. As I had done my genealogy research on there I figured it would be beneficial to have DNA data to match with the paper trail available in Ancestry.

Ancestry pulls much of its data in comparison to the gene pool of today. Meaning it takes DNA samples from around the world and matches it based on location, genetic markers, etc. giving the user a general idea of where their DNA matches in the world.

This is a little murky in that DNA changed in parts of the works due to the mixing of cultures and people resulting in more diverse peoples. So DNA markers change from year to year, decade to decade etc. You get the idea.

However, in Ancestries defense they are always updating their methods and means in which they track DNA and how it connect to the larger world. So this will continue to reveal more information for users new and old.

Here are the results:

As expected I’m mostly European.

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The surprise was this Iberian peninsula, Eastern Europe, and Middle East. All of which I had no information on in the paper trail.

The other surprise was this little less than 1% Native American. Being that family had pushed the Native Princess narrative for so long I was surprised that it wasn’t more.

Then I dug deeper into the family tree and found a relative in the 1700s that was Ita Ha Ha (Barton Married Name) she married one of my white relatives Joab Barton, common for the time, but an exciting find none the less. She was Shawnee, born and living in Missouri in the 1700s. For that time, Missouri and the surrounding areas she lived such as Maryland, West Virginia etc. would have been something of a wild frontier, a borderland to much less familiar Western United States. This was a time before Lewis and Clarke, and the Louisiana Purchase. She passed away in Virginia in 1807, around 40 years of age.

Some records (maybe myths) indicate her marriage to a white man, Joab, was intwined with him being adopted into the Shawnee tribe after a conflict with his parents. I am not convinced that find grave.com is the best information for this type of thing. However, these incidents were common. Conflicts between settlers and native populations were not uncommon, and not unjustified. I might be pretty pissed if someone just waltzed in laying claim to my life too. However, a lot of people also died from diseases, injuries, and plain human violence among each other. Therefore, it’s not uncommon for native peoples to adopt orphan children, raising them, caring for them, nurturing them; the same that any of us would do.

The princess narrative came in as a way to inflate egos and ideas around white identity and intermarrying with native peoples. I’ll address this in a different blog.

When I took the 23andMe test around a year later the results were slightly different.

Part III


DNA Travels – Part I

History, musings, Travel

I love this commercial from 23 and Me. The one where this gorgeous young woman traverses the world to find her roots, all found in a 23 and Me kit. She’s freckled, all smiles, grooves and moves. She has a new identity from the test, and it’s something profound and beautiful.

From the dozens of people I know that have taken the 23 test or similar most of them have this idealized reaction. Okay maybe there is less dancing in the streets and swimming in Fjords, but they are happy. They’re happy because they find out pieces of themselves that were lost and now found, thread to the tapestry of them.

My own thread had unexpected backgrounds. I went into both my Ancestry and 23andMe tests pretty aware of what the results would be. Mostly British Isles and sprinklings of Northern Europe. I had a paper trail to Scotland and England by some 17th century puritans and 16th century Stuarts (yes those famous ones). I had paper trails to German peasants and Swedish great-great grandmothers.

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I’ve always loved going to places my family supposedly came from.

Then there were gaps in the story. Gaps that had no paper trail. Gaps that were legends with no proof. More than a few family members told me we were part Native American (Cherokee Princess type of story(more on this another time)), and others touted we were CLOSELY related to the Royal Family of England (also questionable). Yet when I began digging the records showed some falsities, the DNA had no reason to lie (but more on this later).

The problem with records and paper trails is that they are not sure 100% truth. The problem is that means we don’t have solid evidence of familial bonds, and paper trails are the best we’re blessed with. They’re the best historical evidence we have, and even DNA is only solid for about 500 years.

Why are records not 100% ? Well people are people and sometimes lies are told. Sometimes women slept with other people than their husbands, sometimes children were adopted and it was never recorded. Sometimes kids die and then another child shares the same name, but sometimes these dates get jumbled. Sometimes records are digitized incorrectly. Sometimes the records are illegible. Sometimes records are totally falsified. Then many times records are totally destroyed, we’re never created, or have gross mistakes.

For instance, if you look at even one family’s census records over 50 years (taken every ten years) you will see changes in the information. In 1860 someone’s age may be 25, but in 1870 it may be 32. Or a birth place may change from Germany to Alabama. These are examples of sometimes lies that were told to protect the person being interviewed, because of social stigmas, or sometimes people forgot information. The older I get the harder it is to remember my age and those around me, if it weren’t for Facebook I think I would be in big trouble.

So when I went into my DNA tests I assumed I would get some surprises and even inconsistencies between the two.

More in Part II