My mother used to tell me that some things are best left alone. That didnt always settle well with me as I was as inquisitive and curious as a child as I am now that I am an adult. A recent discovery while digging into my family ancestry has left me wishing I had heeded my mothers advice.
I have explored my familys roots for many years. Intrigued even as a child, I would listen to stories about my great-grandmother who brought her recipe for Scottish shortbread across the ocean on their voyage to America. My mother would recall stomping grapes in a wooden barrel when she was a little girl as she and her sisters helped make homemade wine with her grandparents who hailed from Sicily, off the coast of Italy. They carried their family recipe for spaghetti sauce that I still use to this day.
The information I have collected over the years doesnt go much beyond 1800. All of my great-grandparents, with the exception of one, were immigrants. A lot of the ancestry records are confusing. Some indicate one relative was born in Germany, and in the next census I find it shows they were born in Poland or even what was then Prussia. With boundaries readjusting in European countries, I suppose they were trying to keep up with all of the change. Its a nice thought, but very confusing for their great-granddaughter, over 130 years later.
I had mulled over the thought of taking one of the DNA tests that are available that breaks down your percentage of most of the different ethnicities across the globe. Initially, the tests were fairly expensive and I couldnt reconcile myself spending that kind of money, but with time, the costs dropped dramatically. I was sure what my genetic make up would be and really didnt anticipate many surprises. I was totally wrong.
I sent my little test tube off with saliva you collect after not eating or drinking for a half hour. The site says results are generally available in six to eight weeks. Surprisingly, after roughly three and a half weeks, my results were in. I could barely contain my excitement as I opened up the ancestry site to log into my account.
The results are broken down like a pie chart, showing the percentage of various locations your DNA indicates where your ancestors came from. The tests claims it goes back hundreds to even a thousand years ago. Your genetic makeup isnt just from your parents, but is passed along through the generations. I knew that my father was German and Irish, with maybe a smidgen of Scottish as his family left Ireland and headed to Scotland during the potato famine. Those results were there, just as I expected. I kept looking at the numbers, British Isles, 40 percent, Irish, 22 percent, Western Europe, 34 percent, along with some smaller amounts thrown in of Scandinavian and European Jewish descent. I am 100 percent European. But where was the Italian component? As many times as I looked, the answer was the same over and over. There was no Italian DNA detected.
According to this site, you inherit DNA from both your mother and your father. You may not inherit it in equal amounts, and it is possible to not have the same percentage you expected to have and your results can differ from your siblings. However, with my mother being half Italian, there should have been some indication I was a child of a woman with at least a few percentages of Mediterranean DNA. I called the company to confirm the accuracy of the test and they informed me its 98 percent accurate. That makes me believe it would be pretty difficult to miss that much DNA that should be floating around in that test tube.
One of the first things I did was call my cousin, Patty, and for those of you that know me, she is more like a sister. As I began to relay my test results to her, I started to cry, that hard, gut-wrenching sob that leaves you barely able to talk. It suddenly hit me that if I didnt have Italian DNA, then it meant our mothers werent sisters, or were maybe they were half sisters. What if it meant we werent really family? There is no question I am my mother and fathers child. While I dont look exactly like either of them, I see both of my parents in my features. So that leaves my mother. Who was she? Was she really my grandmothers child? Did something happen before Nanny married the man I always believed was my grandfather? Is it possible there was a mix up at birth and the wrong baby went home with the wrong family? My grandmother was 15 when she married my grandfather, who was 20. My mother was born when Nanny was just 16 in 1924. By the time she was 19, she had two more little girls.
My mother was a towhead, almost white blond hair until her late teens, light green eyes, fair skin and a multitude of freckles. Her mother, Edith, was olive skinned, dark hair and eyes. Her mother was English, with lighter skin tones but dark hair. My mothers father, Francis, had dark curly hair, dark eyes and his skin tone was very olive. His parents were also dark with classic Italian features. Edith and Francis had two more daughters, both olive skinned, dark hair and dark eyes. While they dont look that much alike, you look at their parents and can see the combinations that would give them their two girls. Thats not the case with my mother. I have looked at pictures of the entire family, mother, father and the three girls until they have become a blur. My mother doesnt fit. I
have placed the pictures side by side to see any glimmer of similarity, and its just not there. We have always wondered why Mom looked so totally different, and perhaps there is indeed a reason for it.
For now, all I can do is wonder and ponder. My brother is waiting on the test to arrive so he can take the DNA test, as are two of my cousins. Between my brother and I, if there was any Italian DNA, you would think one of us would pick it up. I cant begin to tell you how much I wish his comes back indicating he has those Mediterranean roots.
I realize this doesnt change who I am. What it changes is who I thought was family by blood may not be. Traditions you grew up with that you believed came from your familys heritage may not belong to you. It makes you wonder where is the family you never knew, who are they and where are they? If I had to go it again, I wouldnt take the test. I wish I had paid more attention to Moms words of wisdom.
Whatever the results, I am not giving up those family recipes. They are mine. They belong to me now.