You may remember that I recently took a DNA test for a partnership with HISTORY and 23andMe to discuss how and if my identity shifts after learning my true genetic ancestry (if you want to catch up on that post, you can find it here). Today, I’m sharing the results of my DNA test and discussing some of the feelings brought up by learning my true ‘roots.’
I’ll admit that when I got the notification in my inbox that my 23andMe results were in, I felt nervous. Not bad-nervous, per-say, but excited nervous — kinda like that moment before discovering the gender of an unborn child. It’s like, no matter what comes out it will be amazing, but you’re so tripped out and curious because in that moment this new information might change your life forever.
So I took a deep breath and clicked over. 23 and Me provides lots of info from the tests, from trait reports (like facial features) to wellness reports, but I clicked straight to my ancestry report to see what the deal was. Another deep breath.
62.3 % European
36.5% Sub Saharan African
0.8% East Asian & Native American
Ok. This was not so far off from what I had been told except for the .8% East Asian and Native American. Ever since I was a little girl I’d been told that I have high cheek bones because of my Native American ancestry. I’d been told that my grandparents on my dad’s side were half Cherokee and Chickasaw, half black, but now that glaring teeny tiny .8% said otherwise.
Looking at this number, I felt surprised but I also somehow felt like it made sense. I had been told of my Native American roots, but always felt a disconnect since my family on my dad’s side mostly identified as Afro American. I’d never learned anything substantial about my Native heritage from my family. And while I feel both African American and Jewish-American (more culturally in both cases than ‘racially’) I don’t think that I ever felt Native American because I wasn’t exposed to the cultures in the same way. So in some weird way — the genetic testing results, although different from what I’d thought to be true my whole life, somehow matched up with my identity.
Not surprisingly, my mom’s side of the family came through strong with 49.3% Ashkenazi Jew. It’s as though when my mom had offspring with my dad she was the first Ashkenazi Jew in all of history to procreate with someone who was not also an Ashkenazi Jew –ha! Having grown up very rooted in Ashkenazi-Jewish culture and because in the Jewish tradition, the “Jewishness” is passed down through the mother, I haven’t spent a lot of time doubting my “Jewishness” (at least not from a cultural/ancestral standpoint). So the nearly 50% Ashkenazi Jewish result seemed to meet my expectations. But – this did get me thinking about the lives of my Jewish ancestors back in the Old Country. Very stereo-typical Fiddler-On-The-Roof-like images come to mind with very tight-knit communities and arranged marriages. It’s crazy to think that “marrying for love” is such a recent addition to modern-day culture. An addition which ensured my very existence–and the existence of my daughter–and so I am grateful.
When I saw the breakdown of my African Ancestry, it really hit home for me. Often times when I think about my Afro-American heritage it starts on a slave plantation in South Carolina. But seeing where in Africa my ancestors came from, reminded me that not so long ago, my ancestors were in Africa, West Africa mostly. For the first time, this got me thinking about the African people that I descended from, what their lives must have been like, and how they may have shaped me. Could they have been from Burkina Faso and decorated their homes in Tiébélé? Is that where I got my knack for pattern? Probably not, but it’s fun to imagine.
…All of these ideas and questions, all deriving from just a bit of saliva. I’m officially tripped out. It’s going to take me more time to digest all of this. While I’m still not sure how my identity is changed by learning about my DNA, one thing is for sure — this whole experience has taught me more about myself and got me to think in bigger, broader terms about who I am, how I got here, and all of the random and not-so-random acts of love and hate, freedom and enslavement, migration and marriage, courage and coincidence that brought me here.
Join me this Monday, May 30th at 9PM ET in watching ROOTS airing on HISTORY.