My fiancé likes to surprise me with unique gifts. Recently, it was a DNA test from the company 23andMe. That, after he bought me an acre of land on the moon should we decide to fly up, up and away one day. We’d been watching a program on public broadcasting (PBS) called “Finding Your Roots” off and on for the past year and I suppose he’d seen the wonder in my eyes, and heard the longing in my voice, each time someone found out what story their DNA told of their ancestors. My own had been such a mystery and I think he felt sorry for me.
Like most of us in the United States, I had little idea of where I came from. Being a country full of immigrants it’s not uncommon for stories, histories, and even whole livelihoods to end abruptly. So many men, women and children, having poor situations abroad, left everything behind in search of a chance in the new world – America. My own relatives were no different. I knew from my family name I had a little Irish in me, and maybe a bit of English and Italian, but other than that, I would have called myself a Heinz 57 – meaning I likely had a little of everything in my DNA.
My mother had never known who her father was either, which didn’t exactly help her or any of us kids with our familial histories. The story was told that after hearing my grandmother was pregnant with my mother, her own mother (my great grandmother) sent her from New York to Jersey City to live in a home for “unwed” mothers until it was appropriate she return. The child’s father, my grandfather, was never spoken of and in the case my mother would ask, she was shushed. My grandmother would go on to marry another man and have five more children.
My fiancé on the other hand, knows exactly where he came from. He was born and raised in Amsterdam, Netherlands where his family still lives, and we will eventually live more permanently. His parents were born and raised in The Netherlands, as were their parents, and their parents’ parents, and so on and so on. He is a Dutch man through and through; from his accent to his extra tall, lanky body and facial features. When we’re traveling people don’t even ask where he’s from. One look at him, and they all think – Dutch.
Within a month of mailing my sample to the lab, I had answers I never dreamed of. And the DNA to prove it. I scoured the pages of my results to see where in the world I could claim for my own…
And it wasn’t what I expected at all.
As it turns out, I’m not a “Heinz 57” as I had thought. In fact, I am 100% European with a whopping 67.6% Irish/UK, 24.5% Lithuanian (my mother’s side) and 7.9% Southern European (Italian/Sardinian). I come from just three areas of Europe with the majority being Ireland and Lithuania.
The Lithuanian bit was new by the way….Completely new. And so the search for my grandfather began.