Yesterday, I noticed I had a new relative on 23andMe, this one even closer to my DNA than the one I wrote about yesterday. Her name is Pat and she’s my first cousin once removed on my mother’s side. She and my mom were born during the same year, which makes her an octogenarian. Her father was my mom’s Uncle Herbert. I never knew most of my mom’s relatives because they had a smaller family and weren’t as social as my dad’s people were. I do remember meeting my mom’s Uncle Walter, who was married to an Irish woman and lived in northern Virginia. I remember Walter was always well dressed and drove nice cars. Pat also knew Walter well, although she only met my mom once or twice.
I can hardly fathom not knowing my cousins. I grew up going to family reunions every year. I know my twenty-one cousins on my dad’s side pretty well, and I know a lot of their children. I only have one cousin on my mom’s side, though I am finding out I have more distant relatives like Pat, who now lives in Washington State. Like my mom, she married an Air Force officer and he moved her all over the place. When he retired in 1979, the year after my dad did, he worked for Boeing in Washington State. She’s apparently been out there for many years.
I called my mom last night to tell her about these discoveries I’ve made through 23andMe and she was very interested. I passed my mom’s phone number to Pat, since mom doesn’t use computers. I hope they’ll get to talk to each other.
Meanwhile, although I had resisted Ancestry.com for years, I finally ordered a DNA test from them, just because I want to see how close the results will be to 23andMe’s. Then I started making a family tree. I was amazed by how far it went back. I found relatives of my maternal grandfather’s as far back as the 1500s. I found German relatives I didn’t know about, some of whom were from Hesse. Sure enough, my people on both sides have been in Virginia for many years, but before that, they came from Massachusetts and Pennsylvania. I found one from Delaware and one from Connecticut. I guess they arrived in Boston and made their way south right around the time people started coming to America from England. I found one branch from Ireland, including County Donegal, which is where the Crossens came from (Crossen is my married name).
I decided not to sign up for Ancestry.com’s subscription service because it’s pretty expensive and I don’t need another subscription. I also read a lot of negative reviews of the service and people having trouble quitting it. I may change my mind eventually. It’s amazing what you can find. I found an old yearbook photo of Bill’s on Ancestry.com, along with our marriage license. He was very cute as a high school JROTC cadet. I probably would have had a crush on him back then, too… of course, when he was in high school, I was in elementary school.
It’s mind boggling to realize that if any one of the 300 people I’ve found so far who are my direct ancestors had made different choices in life, I wouldn’t be here today. It’s even more mind boggling to know that my particular branch of the family tree will end with me. This new hobby ought to keep me busy for awhile. Every time I think I’ve found everything there is, I fall down another rabbit hole. At the very least, it gives me a chance to connect with other people, which is a very rewarding thing… especially since I have been feeling pretty divorced from my family lately.
23andMe just updated their algorithm again. According to them, I no longer have Spanish or Italian DNA. I’m a little bummed about it. Now, instead of Spanish and Italian DNA, I have gone back to having Scandinavian DNA.
Back in September 2017, Bill and I submitted saliva samples to 23andMe. These were my original results.
About fourteen months ago, 23andMe updated again. This time, they said I had Scandinavian DNA to go with my majority British heritage.
But then they updated again… and until a couple of days ago, they had removed the Scandinavian connection and added .7% Spanish, Portuguese, and .5% Italian ancestry. I also went up a trace in British and Irish ancestry, as well as Native American. I could believe the Native American connection, given that my people have been in Virginia for a couple of centuries. I figured at least one or two of them must have gotten with a local. And I could also see the Spanish connection because of the Spanish Armada. There is such a thing as “Black Irish” people– those are Irish folks who have dark hair and dark eyes because they made babies with people from Spain. Also consider that Spain actually isn’t that far from Britain or Ireland as the crow flies… and that they got their dark features from people in Africa. Southern Spain is not so far from Morocco, you know.
I kind of enjoyed thinking I might have a dash of spicy Spanish or zesty Italian in my DNA. But, then 23andMe ran their data again and, wouldn’t you know it? I’m not only no longer Spanish or Italian at all; I’m also a tiny bit more Native American.
All of these tests are done at a 50% confidence interval, so chances are excellent that these results are mostly bullshit anyway. What they do know is that my origins are almost 100% European. All you need to do is look at me to know that. I’m actually glad to see the higher concentration of German ancestry, since I know for a fact that I had German relatives from the Rhein and Karlsruhe relatively recently, as in the 1800s. You can change the confidence interval on 23andMe to see your actual raw data if you want to– up to 90%. I have always sucked at statistics, even though I took six classes in the course of my seven years in university studies. What I know is that at a 50% confidence interval, researchers are only 50% sure of their results. The overall results become less specific at 90%, though they are definitely more accurate.
Bill’s results changed, too. He’s no longer got Nigerian roots. Instead, he has links to Ghana, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. I never thought I’d be in an “interracial relationship”, but I guess I am… Looking at Bill, you’d never know he has any African genes, but apparently, he does. He has Dutch ancestry and the Dutch were quite involved in the African slave trade, which means some of them were having sexual relations with African locals.
I can’t help but remember studying slave narratives in my African American and Women’s literature classes at Longwood University and learning about the “tragic mulatto“. That was a fictional character that appeared in literature back in the 19th and 20th centuries… a character that was sad or even suicidal because he or she was “mixed” race and did not fit into either black or white worlds. In the slave era, many white men got black women pregnant. The children that resulted from these sexual trysts were considered “black”, as one drop of African blood supposedly meant a person was black. Naturally, some of them “passed” as white people and enjoyed more privileged lives. It kind of makes me cringe to think about that today, but it was the law in parts of the United States back in the 1800s. The “one drop” rule was never federally codified and is now, thankfully, a defunct law.
Unfortunately, it hasn’t even been 100 years since my home state of Virginia passed the Racial Integrity Act of 1924, which made interracial marriages illegal and required all birth and marriage certificates issued in the state to declare a person either “white” or “colored”. Even today, there’s still controversy about racial relationships in Virginia. Just recently, Rockbridge County, which is where most of my family is originally from and where Bill and I got married, was in the news because the marriage licenses issued there required applicants to state “what they were” racially speaking. Virginia was recently sued due to requiring marriage license applicants to list their races. It’s not the first time Virginia has been in the news regarding its attitudes about interracial relationships. Until 1967, it was illegal in Virginia for a white person and a black person to marry. It took the Supreme Court to make the decision to lift bans on interracial marriages.
I’ve spent over half of my life in Virginia, never fully understanding just how racist a past it has. And this is even though I had the benefit of education and a normally functioning brain. What’s funny about these DNA tests that anyone can take is that people are realizing that we aren’t as “pure” as we think we are. People with racist attitudes are finding out that many of them have genetic links to the people they most disdain. We are more alike than we are different. And yet, even in 2019, we have plenty of white supremacists around, proudly showing off their racism to the masses.
I suppose I shouldn’t care so much about where I came from. I find genealogy and DNA testing fascinating, especially since there are so many stories connected to it. I recently wrote about how I found a DNA relative through 23andMe. Her mother was the biological daughter of my great uncle Edward, whom I never knew. He was my paternal grandmother’s brother, and he died six years before I was born. My relative, who writes that I am the only one on 23andMe from my great uncle’s family who has connected with her, explained that her bio grandmother had a “fling” with my great uncle and got pregnant. She was originally from Farmville, Virginia, the town where I went to college and where Virginia’s great teaching college, Longwood University, is located. It’s likely Edward’s girlfriend was a Longwood graduate like me, since she was a teacher by profession.
Bio grandma gave up my DNA relative’s mother for adoption in Roanoke, Virginia, not at all far from Natural Bridge, Virginia– which is where my father’s family is from and many relatives still live. My new relative’s mom had a fling with a man who worked at the Uruguayan Embassy in Washington, DC back in 1944. In 1945, my relative was born. She grew up thinking she was half Hispanic, but she learned thanks to 23andMe, she is actually half Ashkenazi Jewish. Her father, who had “passed” for Uruguayan, was actually most probably someone whose family fled Europe to escape the Nazis.
I love a good story, and this lady is now sharing her story with me. And it’s all because of 23andMe, she’s learning about her mother’s father… a man whom I never knew, but I knew his sister, my grandmother, quite well. I am providing a link to that part of her history, all thanks to DNA testing. Still, I have to admit that having done the test, I have a lot of questions I never considered before… and it’s very interesting to see how the guesses as to what and who I am are changing as more people get DNA testing done. My new relative even found pictures of our great grandparents– Rebecca and Edward Barger– my granny’s mom and dad and her grandfather’s mom and dad. It amazes me that until very recently, making this connection with my relative would have been very unlikely. I wish I could connect her to some of my older relatives, whom I know could answer more of her questions than I can.
Anyway… writing about this keeps me from watching bad TV and eating junk food, which according to 23andMe, I’m probably statistically more likely to do, thanks to my DNA. I’m just kidding. I don’t think they’ve yet made that determination. However, it wouldn’t surprise me if, someday, they did.
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