For Christmas, our eldest daughter ordered me an ancestry DNA kit. Through analysis of my genetic source code, I will soon know exactly where I come from and whom to blame.
That’s really what we look for when we begin researching our ancestry: culpability. Up to now, I’ve only been able to attribute my shortcomings to my parents, but soon I’ll have an entire Old World to pin them on.
When I open a new package of English muffins before finishing the old one, I’ll be able to say to my wife, “It’s not me, it’s my Germanic roots. Don’t you know the Germans traditionally leave a pastry behind for Saint Adalbert of Magdeburg? What: oh, the blob of jam on the counter? Das ist ein Potsjammer Splatz.”
Curiously, Deb and I have already had our DNA tested. We are both carriers of a mutation that resulted in our youngest daughter’s metabolic condition, tyrosinemia. As part of medical research to track the provenance of the mutation, we both gave a blood sample a couple of years ago. Tyrosinemia is relatively common in Quebec, and there is a corresponding Quebec mutation. There is also a northern European mutation. Deb’s family has been in Quebec for a few generations, so we assumed she had the Quebec variety, while I, an interloper with Scottish roots, would reveal the European variety along with a high tolerance for haggis.
The opposite turned out to be the case. I have the Quebec mutation, Deb the European variety. That’s essentially all we learned. Neither of us discovered, for instance, whether we were descended from a Romanian viscount or even what exactly is a “viscount.”
My cousin Jeanne, meanwhile, has been doing Murray family research, and about a year ago she told me that one of my ancestors was a Scot who was a member of the 78th Highlanders in Quebec City. Did he marry a French-Canadian girl? Is there a little French in me? Am I all out of excuses for speaking French so badly?
This new DNA kit may offer a few more details about this and the further commingling of my genes. Moreover, the company, with my permission, will put me in touch with other people who share my genetic roots. Pretty cool, but I tell you right now, I am not sending them Christmas cards.
The sample kit arrived this week, and I excitedly opened it to see what was involved. It turns out the “D” in “DNA” stands for “drool.” To complete the testing, I was required to fill up a small vial with my saliva. I don’t know why I couldn’t just send them my pillow.
Before dribbling into the plastic tube, however, I had to wait a half hour after eating, no doubt to ensure that I don’t get results indicating that I am 90% Dutch and 10% Moroccan chicken.
Next, I shook the sample up with some blue stuff. It said it was some kind of stabilizer but I think it’s to make the sample look less spitty, because some poor slob is going to have to handle this saliva of mine, someone clearly living the dream foretold by his or her high school guidance counsellor who, one afternoon during Period 5, uttered the fateful words: “Have you ever considered spittle…?”
This someone is in Ireland, it so happens. That’s where I’ll be mailing my tube o’ goober. Sadly, this will be the closest I’ve ever come to traveling abroad.
What will having this ancestry information change? Nothing at a practical level. But establishing that connection to a time and place going back generations creates a sense that we’re not merely some momentary speck of existence in history. We’re a continuation. There’s something reassuring in that. Plus – and, again, I can’t stress this enough – more cultural stereotypes to pin my faults on.
I’ve completed my kit as of this writing. Through a mix-up in the order process, Deb has one too. She’ll likewise be able to track her ancestry and, between the two of us, our children will have a complete picture of their ethnic and geographical roots.
As I was sealing up my sample for mailing, Deb said, “Whoever came up with this idea is bloody brilliant.”
“Spitty brilliant,” I corrected.
She glared at me.
Don’t blame me; it’s the Flemish talking.