Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Ancestry Part II

Well, the results are in.....

I am 91% Ashkenazi Jewish.  Hardly a surprise.  One interesting factoid I learned: most Ashkenazi Jews are ordinarily in the 96% range in their DNA, so there were a few more trace regions in my DNA.

Now the trace regions were the surprise:  Not an ounce of Asian DNA.  Or even Central Asian.  This is surprising because my mother's family always just assumed there was some Asian in there somewhere (based on my grandmother and aunts eyes, and a very very faded picture that existed somewhere of my great-grandfather).

What was represented on the trace region DNA:
  • Great Britain 3% (no surprise, my mother's maiden name is a big give away)
  • Eastern Europe 1% (someone from the Shtetl intermarried in one of those countries there somewhere)
  • Scandinavia 1% (HUH!?!?)
AND.....wait for it.....
  • North Africa (Morocco, Algeria, Sub-Sahara) 2% 

Aha!  This explains my Dad - who is often mistaken for Spanish, and probably my ability to tan.

The Viking's results are in too, and they are striking because he is in fact ONLY 16% Viking.  So while he looks completely like a dude you would see walking down the street in Stockholm, in fact he is mostly Eastern European.  With some Scandinavian and Irish thrown in for good measure.  I love this because it illustrates so well the power of family lore and perception.  Here's why:  To hear his mother talk, he's the bi-product of a line of a race of Stoic Hardworking Protestant Swedes who ended up tilling fields in Minnesota and thriving during the Great Depression.  Yeah, sure, that's part of his story, but there's also a line of people who tilled fields in Hungary (or whatever Hungary was at the time) who strongly influence his DNA.  And my point in all of this, is that the Scandinavians can't claim ownership on stoicism and hard work.

I think the coolest thing about the story our DNA tells, is that our stories are universal.  Sure we carry cultural perspectives and traditions.  But we also like to kid ourselves into believing highly suspect Nationalist-y arguments as to "why we are the way we are." 

All of this has gotten me to think about the story of my family, as told by my DNA, and the issues of Jewish identity.

Can I go back a little and be honest, and admit that I breathed a huge sigh of relief when Niblet started identifying as Jewish?  We did not really indoctrinate her into either religious or cultural tradition, she honestly had many questions about Judaism and got there on her own.  In Judaism, your Jewishness is determined by the matrilineal line, so if Mom is Jewish technically, you are too. But for Viking and I, we both believed that whatever tradition our child connected to was somewhat out of our hands.  We agreed that I would expose her to mine to the extent that I observe these traditions (attending High Holiday services, hosting Seders at Passover, etc.). Niblet took great interest in all of this.

I've always felt greatly connected to my cultural heritage as a Jew.  But now the DNA is getting me to understand that there is an ethnic heritage there as well.  European Jews lived in segregated communities for centuries  - regardless of the nation-state they landed in.  They married each other.

I changed that for sure.  Before I even considered carrying a baby that wouldn't have this genetic make-up, I carried a baby who has a much wider swath of ancestral stories in her DNA.  Some Jews disdain this choice of mine, saying I have betrayed my ancestors.  I think a lot of things when I think about my ancestors.... pain and fear come to mind first.  But my love for someone with a different set of DNA memories, and our resulting love for Niblet, well, that's pretty far from betrayal in my book.

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