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?
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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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Austin Alexander Burridge, Volunteer Advocate, Shares 3 Great Reasons to Volunteer and Help Others

Austin Alexander Burridge is an avid academic who studies Environmental Science at Winona State University and believes that work in the service of others is a key pillar to personal development.

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Sometimes it's easy for someone to adopt a "me, me, me" attitude. While focusing on oneself, a person may feel nice in the moment, but serving and helping others will bring lasting benefits. While there are many great reasons to serve and help others, there are three universal truths that resonate with volunteers around the globe.

Austin Alexander Burridge's 3 Reasons to Volunteer:

1. Accomplishment

Often, people fall into a trap of focusing on themselves when they are feeling down. Maybe someone did not get a job they wanted. Or perhaps a person gets dumped by an expected lifelong companion. Maybe someone feels they have underachieved after looking at Facebook and seeing great things a high school classmate has accomplished. When feeling down, helping others is a proven way to improve one's mood and attitude, and it can provide a sense of pride and accomplishment. The act of giving to those in need is an inherently good action and leaves people with a wonderful feeling of joy.

2. Gratitude

One can become more appreciative of life by serving others that have less. Whether volunteering at a soup kitchen, visiting the elderly at an assisted living center, or helping families after a natural disaster, service enables people to be grateful for what they have. Seeing people who have fewer advantages, especially those who are spirited and thankful for small things, allows one to realize just how fortunate he/she is in life.

3. Friendships

Volunteering is a great way to build meaningful friendships, not only with other volunteers but also with those who are served. One of the most profound and fascinating aspects of these relationships is how volunteers will learn from those served and vice versa. As these special bonds are built, they lead to impactful connections that last for years to come.

Of course, these are just a few reasons to volunteer and serve others. One can never go wrong by helping others as opposed to merely focusing on oneself. Volunteering invariably and inevitably contributes to personal growth, development, and satisfaction.

About Austin Alexander Burridge: Helping others has been of paramount importance to Austin, and as a part of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA), Austin gave back to the community around him. He also has participated in annual peanut butter drives, The Minnesota Sandwich Project for the Homeless and collected canned goods for local food shelters. Additionally, Austin has a passion for the environment, which he pursued when visiting the Galapagos Islands, Ecuador, and the Amazon Rain Forest while studying at the School of Environment Studies, which investigates ecological systems and their sustainability

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Saying You "Don't Take Political Stances" IS A Political Stance

All you're doing by saying this is revealing your privilege to not care politically, and here's why that's a problem.

bethkrat
bethkrat
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I'm sure all of us know at least one person who refuses to engage in political discussions - sure, you can make the argument that there is a time and a place to bring up the political happenings of our world today, but you can't possibly ignore it all the time. You bring up the last ridiculous tweet our president sent or you try to discuss your feelings on the new reproductive regulation bills that are rising throughout the states, and they find any excuse to dip out as quickly as possible. They say I don't talk about politics, or I'm apolitical. Well everyone, I'm here to tell you why that's complete bullsh*t.

Many people don't have the luxury and privilege of ignoring the political climate and sitting complacent while terrible things happen in our country. So many issues remain a constant battle for so many, be it the systematic racism that persists in nearly every aspect of our society, the fact that Flint still doesn't have clean water, the thousands of children that have been killed due to gun violence, those drowning in debt from unreasonable medical bills, kids fighting for their rights as citizens while their families are deported and separated from them... you get the point. So many people have to fight every single day because they don't have any other choice. If you have the ability to say that you just don't want to have anything to do with politics, it's because you aren't affected by any failing systems. You have a privilege and it is important to recognize it.

Martin Luther King Jr. once said, "history will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people."

We recognize that bad people exist in this world, and we recognize that they bring forth the systems that fail so many people every single day, but what is even more important to recognize are the silent majority - the people who, by engaging in neutrality, enable and purvey the side of the oppressors by doing nothing for their brothers and sisters on the front lines.

Maybe we think being neutral and not causing conflict is supposed to be about peacekeeping and in some way benefits the political discussion if we don't try to argue. But if we don't call out those who purvey failing systems, even if it's our best friend who says something homophobic, even if it's our representatives who support bills like the abortion ban in Alabama, even if it's our president who denies the fact that climate change is killing our planet faster than we can hope to reverse it, do we not, in essence, by all accounts of technicality side with those pushing the issues forward? If we let our best friend get away with saying something homophobic, will he ever start to change his ways, or will he ever be forced to realize that what he's said isn't something that we can just brush aside? If we let our representatives get away with ratifying abortion bans, how far will the laws go until women have no safe and reasonable control over their own bodily decisions? If we let our president continue to deny climate change, will we not lose our ability to live on this planet by choosing to do nothing?

We cannot pander to people who think that being neutral in times of injustice is a reasonable stance to take. We cannot have sympathy for people who decide they don't want to care about the political climate we're in today. Your attempts at avoiding conflict only make the conflict worse - your silence in this aspect is deafening. You've given ammunition for the oppressors who take your silence and apathy and continue to carry forth their oppression. If you want to be a good person, you need to suck it up and take a stand, or else nothing is going to change. We need to raise the voices of those who struggle to be heard by giving them the support they need to succeed against the opposition.

With all this in mind, just remember for the next time someone tells you that they're apolitical: you know exactly which side they're on.

bethkrat
bethkrat

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