DNA And Heritage - How A Simple Test Completely Changed The Way I See Myself

DNA And Heritage - How A Simple Test Completely Changed The Way I See Myself

Do you ACTUALLY know your heritage?

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.

Cover Image Credit: Youtube

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A Thank You Letter To My Best Friend

All the things I should thank you for more often than I do.

To My Best Friend,

This thank you is long overdue. There are so many things I want to thank you for, and I’m sure I’m going to still be missing some by the end of this letter. But here is a small token of my gratitude for just being by my side in this life and making it all worthwhile.

Thank you first of all for accepting me and loving me for exactly who I am. This isn’t easy. I can be stubborn, difficult and confusing, but you love and accept me for me. There are days I wonder when you’ll finally come to your senses and move on and find a new BFF, one who isn’t so complicated, but to my amazement, you never do. You tell me you’ll take the good with the bad, and when I question whether I have any good left, you’re always there to reassure me and show me that I do. Thank you for loving me in my dorky and difficult moments, moments where if the rest of the world saw them, they’d probably walk away. Thank you for understanding me like no one else does; if we didn’t have the connection we did, I can’t imagine how lonely and big this world would feel. Because of you, this world seems like a little friendlier place, one I can see myself being a part of.

Thank you for being my biggest fan. Besides my family, you are my biggest supporter, and I know that when I win, you win, and when you win, I win. In this battle we call life, it doesn’t matter who’s in my opponents corner, because I know I am always going to have you in mine, and that’s the best asset I could ever ask for. You encourage me to chase my dreams like no one else does, and I can tell that you sincerely hurt when I hurt — not many people care about me in such a deep way. Whatever crazy dream I tell you I’m going to chase after next, you believe I can do it, even when the rest of the world thinks I’m crazy for even suggesting it. When something good happens, you’re the first person I want to tell, and when something bad happens, you’re the first one I go to for support.

Thank you for being you. You are incredible my dear, and I can’t wait to constantly remind your husband that he got crazy lucky and out kicked his coverage big time. You are beautiful inside and out. On the outside, you are so gorgeous; you’re very own unique and incredible definition of beauty, and I know I’m one of many who see it. You’re intimidating to stand next to in pictures because I know your light shines so bright, but I’ll gladly stand next to you and take a picture, because I’m so excited to show the world how breathtakingly beautiful my best friend is. On the inside you are even prettier, with a warm heart, a sharp mind and an unbelievable personality. You are hands down the funniest person I know, and I still can’t believe that someone as funny and hilarious as you chooses to spend her time with someone as dweeby and awkward as me. I mean, half the time we’re laughing at some fail I had or something stupid I did, so I guess I contribute a little bit to our constant laughing. You are so kind and so sweet, and have the biggest heart of anyone I know. God spent a little extra time when he made you, because you’re the total package: you’re beautiful, awesome and amazing, all wrapped in one, and I’m so lucky he put you in my life—he knows I’d be lost without you.

Thank you for being there for me whenever I need it. It was once said that “all that relationships are are being there for someone when they need you,” and you’re a pro at this. Whether it be because another boy is being stupid or I’m feeling alone, I know all I need to do is call you, and I’ll instantly feel better. You help my through the countless problems Lord knows I have trouble solving, and you reassure me that no matter what, you’re always going to be there for me. This is huge, and something very few people have been able to do for me, but you always have, and I know you always will be. And that is the most reassuring thing I know, knowing that if all hell breaks loose, the world falls apart and I have no one, I’ll have you. And that is all I need.

Thank you for being a spark, a light in my life that no matter how dark the world around us gets, is always there to light my way and show me the way home. Thank you for laughing with me when God blesses us with a funny moment, and crying with me when God is trying to tell me something. Thank you for standing beside me in the greatest of moments and the darkest of hours. Thank you for being the one I share my fondest memories with: all the nights we stayed up really late, all the exciting adventures we went on and all the inside jokes we still laugh about today. Thank you for growing up with me; for being there every step of the way and creating some of my happiest moments with me. Thank you for all the memories I've shared with you, and I can't wait for what crazy adventure we're going to go on next.

So thank you for accepting me, loving me, and supporting me. Thank you for being your wonderful self, and thank you for being there for me, through thick and thin, even when I'm at my lowest. Thank you for shining your brilliant light into my life and illuminating my world.

Oh, and thank you for being my maid of honor. I know I won’t need to ask you for a while, but you had to know it was coming, right?

Thank you for being the godmother to my future children, the sister to my family, and another daughter to my parents.

And finally, thank you for being the best to my friend.

Cover Image Credit: EnkiVillage

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Irish-American History Is Just As Important As Any Other Culture, You Can't Prove Me Wrong

I cherish being Irish and I will not let anyone let me feel bad for that.


Depending on when you're reading this, Saint Patrick's day has either just passed or is around the corner. For me, Saint Patrick's day is tomorrow. I've been debating this article for some time now because I didn't know how it would be perceived. At this point, though, I feel it's important for me to get out. No, Irish people were never kept as slaves in America, and I will never be one to try and say they were. However, Irish people were treated tremendously awful in America. A lot of people tend to forget, or just try to erase entirely, the history of the Irish in America. So much so that I felt shameful for wanting to celebrate my heritage. Therefore, I want to bring to light the history that everyone brushes under the rug.

In 1845, a potato famine broke out across Ireland. This was a big deal because the Irish lived off, mainly, potatoes. They were cheap, easy to grow, and had tons of nutrients. So when the famine struck, many people either died of starvation or fled to America in seek of refuge. When the Irish arrived in America they were seen as a threat to the decency of America. People viewed them as drunk beasts, sinful savages, barbaric, violent, belligerent, stupid, and white apes. When the Irish would go to look for jobs, many times they found signs that read "Irish Need Not Apply," even when the job was hiring. Therefore, the Irish did the jobs no one wanted, and even jobs African slaves wouldn't do. The biggest example of this is when Irishmen built canals and drained swamps. They were sent to do these things because of the enormous amount of mosquitoes; in the swamp, they would get bit and ultimately die of malaria.

Also, during this time, Irish people were poor and therefore lived in the same neighborhoods as the free African Americans. A lot of the Irish people were friendly with their neighbors of color and even got into interracial relationships. Because the Irish lived in these neighborhoods they were seen as dirty and even a lot of people at this time put African Americans higher on the totem pole than Irish. One person during the time even said, "At least the black families keep their homes clean."

The main reason American's outlook on Irish people changed was that most Irishmen took up fighting for the Union in the Civil War. I make this argument, not because I think the Irish suffered more than African slaves. I don't say this in means of trying to erase the struggles of the African slaves. I do not think that any of our ancestors should have been treated the way they were. I mean to say that the Irish did in fact suffer. Irish people were treated wrongly on the basis of...nothing. Simply because my ancestors hailed from the shores of Eire, they were treated with malice. And I write this simply because I want people to remember. I want people to understand what happened.

On Saint Patrick's Day this year, next year, and for the many years to come, I want people to embrace the Irish culture. I want the folks of Irish heritage to not be ashamed of where they come from; to not be ashamed to share their culture the way I have for many years. I want everyone to have a beer, wear some green, eat a potato or two, and dance the Irish step; to celebrate the history of Irish people with a bit more understanding than before.

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