I’ve grown up knowing one thing for sure - I’m European. My whole family is from Europe, and the only relatives I have living in the United States immigrated here themselves. I’m actually the first of my family to be born in the United States. Now of course, that makes me an American Citizen - and by many standards, an all-around American. But my dad is Italian, and my mom is British. So thus far, I’ve spent my whole life believing that I am more or less 50% British and 50% Italian. I believed the same for my older brother, who was born in England. I’ve spent a lot of time hopping back and forth across the pond visiting my relatives, and my brother and I actually both have dual citizenship between the U.S.A. and Great Britain. I've never really felt like I belong to one nation. My life is so intermixed between continents. Having grown up and lived in the United States my entire life, with my heritage and the majority of my family still living in Europe, I've always felt a bit torn between cultures. I have appreciation for different aspects of each - my American life, and my European heritage. But I've always had trouble defining myself - American, English, Italian. How can you be all of them at once?
While I've struggled with how to identify myself, I’ve never really questioned my heritage. I never for one second thought that I was anything other than British and Italian. That is, until a video by Momondo popped up on my Facebook newsfeed. It said something about DNA and heritage. Bored and curious, I clicked on the video and hit play. The video showed a research team that was running a DNA test on a group of participants to trace their genetic heritage. Prior to the test, they conducted an interview with each participant to ask them about their heritage. Most of the participants were relatively certain of their heritage - just as I was. That is, until the results of the test came back a few weeks later. Many of the people discovered that they were a mix of different ethnicities, with heritage from all different kind of backgrounds. It is truly an emotional and moving video, and I would recommend that anyone and everyone watch it.
You’ve probably seen a commercial or two for the Ancestry website on tv before. And chances are, you probably ignored it, like you do with most other commercials while you’re waiting for your program to come back on. I did too, until I watched the Momondo video. I researched various companies that offer DNA testing, and Ancestry appeared to be the most promising. So I ordered the $100 test, and a few days later, it arrived in the mail.
Because I watched the Momondo video, I knew what to expect. They send you a little test tube that you have to spit into, and then you screw on a cap with some kind of blue preservation solution. Pack the tube up in the pre-posted return box, and send it on its way.
I anxiously awaited my results. I checked my email obsessively every day, and in the meantime, I watched dozens of other DNA result videos on Youtube.
About two weeks after mailing my test back to Ancestry, my results were in. They were shocking, to say the least.
So much for being 50% British! The map above displays all the different regions where I come from. When cross-referenced with the list of percentages, the solid circles represent the areas where the majority of my DNA comes from, and the open circles represent trace regions. I never expected this kind of mix, and I definitely didn’t expect to be more Irish and Middle Eastern than British. In fact, I didn’t expect to find any Irish or Middle Eastern at all, let alone so much. Western Europe, South Asia, European Jewish, Scandinavian, Irish, Middle Eastern, and Spanish/Portuguese (Iberian Peninsula) were all a shock to me.
I imagine that the Irish, British, Western European, and Scandinavian genes are all from my mom’s side, whereas the Italian, Middle Eastern, European Jewish, Spanish/Portuguese are from my dad’s side.
But what puts a big question mark in the middle of my genetic identity is the mass of Western Europe - Ancestry describes the region as including; Germany, France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Netherlands, and Liechtenstein. That is a big area, with a wide array of differing cultures and people. So - what am I? French? German? Swiss? Either way, I never expected to find any of it in my own blood.
And now, my results have actually tossed my mother into somewhat of an identity crisis. If I’m an average of 2% British, she can’t be much more. And I doubt she ever expected to be more Irish than British. She has spent her entire life believing she is British - she was born there, she grew up there, she lived there for much of her life before finally moving to the United States with my dad after they got married. My results also reveal that my dad probably contains a hefty amount of Middle Eastern DNA. My parents have never mentioned even the possibility that I may have Middle Eastern relatives - probably because they didn't even know about that branch or genealogy of the family. So now, both of my parents and my brother have also ordered DNA tests from Ancestry. Hopefully it will help my mom and I fill in some of the blank spaces in our heritage that the mixed mass of Western Europe presents, and help trace deeper roots within the Middle East.
The results of a test don’t change who you are. They don’t affect or change your culture, your religious beliefs, or your family structure. I am still the same person that I was before I got my DNA results. But now, I finally have an idea of where I actually come from. And Ancestry has provided me with hundreds of DNA matches - I have 68 pages of people that I could very possibly be related to. People that I share blood, history, and origin with. I now have family members that I didn’t even know existed before, in corners of the world that I previously thought had nothing to do with me. I have a newfound respect for the regions of the world that were found flowing through my own flesh and blood. And it has helped me come to terms with the fact that I will never belong to just one nation, one culture. In fact, I belong to more than I ever could have thought possible. I've realized that you don't have to define yourself by just one place, one culture, one ethnicity. Nothing is ever that simple. So instead, it's best to embody everything - accept and embrace every part of yourself, and revel in the fact that your heritage is beautiful and diverse in its own unique way - and that makes you pretty special.