Have you ever wondered where you came from, where the distant branches of your family tree might lead, what kind of marvelous and profound bonds with your fellow human beings might be revealed? Me neither, but I took a DNA test anyway.
I always figured that my lineage must go back to some Middle Ages dude who would dye people’s clothes. A guy would walk up, covered in feces and bubonic plague, and say, “Ay, you, Dyer, dye my frock silver or I’ll slit your throat!” And my great-great grandpa to the 10th power would say, “As you wish, m’lord,” and dip the frock in his trusty vat of mercury while muttering that old age is no fun and frankly he didn’t even care if he lived to see 23. That was my father’s side.
On my mother’s side, my nana came over from Italy in 1908, which I know because she told me all about it. Back then, if you only worked 80 hours a week, you were some kind of lazy 10-year-old. She thought she was from somewhere around Naples but didn’t really know. And probably didn’t care. Because if early-20th-century Manhattan was a step up, then her part of Italy would’ve gotten a really bad TripAdvisor rating. “Ugh. Mafia and garbage fires. Take the first boat to Ellis Island. One star.”
So, of what I know, I’m Italian and British. Yeah, I like pasta, but I also get sunburns. So what? Enter AncestryDNA, which promises to reveal your genetic blueprint and paint a more detailed picture. As far as I can tell, the business plan is to let boring white people think that they’re mildly interesting. I wish I’d thought of that.
Soon after I ordered the test, a small cardboard box arrived in the mail. Inside was a vial, for dribbling spit into, and a blue fluid that acts as a preservative. The instructions said to avoid eating or drinking anything for a half-hour before the test, a condition that I found surprisingly hard to obey. The first thing my DNA test revealed is that I’m a grazer all day long.
The second thing it revealed is that I come from a long line of people who don’t follow instructions. A few weeks after I mailed back the test, I got an email informing me that the sample was unusable. They sent me another test kit, but this time I needed to wait an hour after eating. They didn’t elaborate on what happened, but I imagine a white-coated technician squinting at a test tube and declaring, “Well, either this sample is tainted or his uncle is a ham sandwich.”
I got it right the second time. An email informed me that my results were ready, and I logged in with no small amount of trepidation. Who am I? What am I? And it turns out… mostly British. No surprise there. But in second place, with 12 percent: Iberian Peninsula. I’m only a little less Iberian than the guy on an AncestryDNA ad getting his Portuguese passport! I once bribed a go-go dancer in Barcelona to chase me up a stripper pole and pose at the bottom like she trapped me up there, so now I know exactly where that impulse came from: my British side. Brits love doing stupid stuff in Spain. It’s their Florida.
Further down in the results, I discovered that I’m 3 percent European Jewish. I haven’t decided whether I’m going to be 3 percent Jewish all of the time or 100 percent Jewish 3 percent of the time, but I guess it’ll depend on how busy I am with Iberian stuff. I’m also less than 1 percent from the Caucasus, which is a great excuse to write “Caucasus.”
Once you get your results, you can choose whether to share them with any distant family that might’ve taken the test. Uh, no thanks. I’m pretty sure that if I share my results, I’m not going to learn that Jeff Bezos is my long lost uncle and he wants to give me a free Prime membership. No, I’ll find out I’m second cousins with a guy named Skeeter who just got paroled and is looking for some pet-sitting help because it turns out ferrets can get addicted to nicotine just like anyone else and then they’re a real handful, believe it or not. So I decided to keep my results private.
For a week or so. Eventually the curiosity got to me and, against my better judgment, I shared my info with whatever family might be out there. The closest match is a second cousin, but so far neither of us has contacted the other. Probably to our mutual relief.
While my results were interesting, I’m leery of a private company owning my DNA and I question the wisdom of making that information visible to strangers. My impulse is to shut down the account now that I have the results, but I think I’ll keep it active for a while. Sooner or later, I might need someone to watch my ferrets. ◆
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