The spit is in the mail

My grandfather Harry Murray.

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.

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About rossmurray1

I'm Canadian so I pronounce it "Aboot." No, I don't! I don't know any Canadian who says "aboot." Damnable lies! But I do know this Canadian is all about humour (with a U) and satire. Come by. I don't bite, or as we Canadians say, "beet."
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31 Responses to The spit is in the mail

  1. markbialczak says:

    May your results reveal great bloodlines and whatever it is you want them to reveal,
    Ross!

  2. Potsjammer Splatz? Pretty funny.

    A friend of mine had her DNA tested through Ancestry and it came back with 35% “unknown”. There has been a lot of teasing since then. Aliens? Yup. Just check out my friend’s orange eyes.

  3. pinklightsabre says:

    I like the line about the Moroccan chicken best. Hey, you need a Tagine? I have one and it’s not really practical but it looks expensive. Maybe you could use it? Good spittoon at least.

  4. I was going to give my spiel on privacy and issues with this kind of DNA data collection, but I have to believe that people have some inkling of the risks involved. As my daughter often says when I see the downside of something she is excited about, “mom ruins everything”. I’m sure the waiting-for-the-other-shoe-to-drop gene is deeply embedded in my ancestry.

  5. I had DNA testing some years ago, for the National Geographic genographic project, and couldn’t wait for the results. I received an elaborate map and charts, indicating I was descended from early man, and that at some point, my family had left Africa, and then followed several bold red arrows throughout Eurasia. None of this surprised me. My family has always been terrible with directions, and the wandering around continents, and getting deported, is pretty typical.
    I later had the DNA forwarded to a commercial outfit for much more detailed analysis, which revealed…that I am related to a whole lot of people, scattered all around the planet. I’d always kind of suspected that, but really appreciate the detailed confirmation of humanness. It’s official, it’s scientific, I’m human.
    Even knowing that I substituted my dog’s spit, I still feel validated somehow.

  6. byebyebeer says:

    We did ours too and I got a kit for my dad. He had a trace of American Indian, while I got none. It is interesting and I’ve had distant cousins email me trying to figure out how we’re related. There are all sorts of confusing rabbit holes to fall into.

  7. ksbeth says:

    how exciting. you’ll be able to explain away all sorts of habits and ‘quirks.’

  8. Why do I picture someone in their mom’s basement, surrounded by cases of spit vials, randomly assigning each one as they smoke and eat Doritos? “Eh, this one looks German-ish. I’ll call this one Native American with a splash of Scandinavian and a dollop of Transylvanian.

  9. R. Todd says:

    I thought of getting one of these tests and doing it. Although, two things occur to me. One, the conspiracy theorist in me is just thinking… someone is going to use my DNA to clone… wait, I’m not that important… but they could, right? The other is why don’t I just give it to one of my kids. That way, I can get both me and my wife’s DNA for the price of one! Brilliant!
    Which does beg the question about the mix up in the order process… like, I’m really curious as to what mix up occurred. Inquiring minds need to know. /leans forward and waits.

    • rossmurray1 says:

      But in the divorce, you’d be fighting over who owns what genes.

      My daughter in Montreal wanted it shipped in my name here, but she already had created an account, and when she called customer service, the woman was a dolt, but ultimately in my daughter’s favour. So, no, not brimming with confidence here.

  10. Loved this! Interesting to hear how the DNA testing works and funny too!

  11. So you have mutated DNA? Like, a Canadian X-Man? Hope that comes with a superpower in addition to the writing one you obviously harbor.

    Aren’t we all hoping for wealthy relatives we didn’t know we had who are SO HAPPY to meet us?
    I’m skeptical about those hereditary tests. How do we know they’re accurate and not just fake news? Can you believe fake news is part of our lexicon?

  12. Letizia says:

    “90% Dutch and 10% Moroccan chicken” Haha, best line.

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