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I’m a total white girl. And not just because I monogram stuff and live for that day in September when Pumpkin Spice Lattes become available, or because I write thank-you notes. I do all those things and am not convinced that they are exclusive to white girls, 🙂 but I am a literal total white girl. I know because I took an Ancestry DNA test and found out.
As we enter the home stretch toward Christmas and everything is so frantic and can be all about the “stuff,” I would like to offer you a suggestion for a different kind of gift. It can be for yourself or a friend or someone in your family. It is the gift of knowledge about your past.
Ancestry.com is a genealogical website where you can research your ancestors and connect with others who share your family tree. It is fascinating to peruse the myriad resources available to you like census records, ship passenger lists, military records, and so many others.
Shows like Who Do You Think You Are on TLC and Finding Your Roots on PBS have only helped fuel our collective curiosity about where we come from. I personally am so interested in these shows because I love seeing where people come from and I love how they inevitably “find” themselves in the story of their past. For instance, a celebrity who is an actor may find a performer in their past. Or an activist may discover they come from a long line of folks who strove to make a difference. If you have never seen either of these shows and are even remotely interested in genealogy, I would encourage you to check them out.
My one problem with both of these shows is that because celebrities are profiled, someone else does all the work for them. They show up at libraries and halls of records where someone is waiting for them with all the paperwork in hand to guide them to their next step. The rest of us peasants have to do the work ourselves. 🙂 And it is not always easy.
I started researching my ancestors about ten years ago when I wanted to see if I qualified for membership in the Daughters of the American Revolution, which is an organization of women who can trace their lineage and prove they are a direct descendant of someone who served in the American Revolution.
Fortunately for me, my family is full of ancestry hoarders, which made my job easier at first. They save paperwork, birth and marriage records and old family Bibles, and write the names of everyone on the backs of pictures. For you kids out there who only know of digital photos, back in the day we had hard copies of photos that we kept in boxes or albums that were not on any phone. 🙂 I was pretty sure I descended from Revolutionary War patriots, but you have to be able to PROVE it, linking one generation to the next. This is a fun part of the process because you always find out surprising things, and you can also prove or dispel family legends. Every family has those stories about how they come from some exotic ancestor, and it’s fun to find out whether or not it’s true.
It starts to get dicey once you get back further into the mists of time when you have to rely on church baptism records and other handwritten documents to research your family. (Yet another reason kids need to learn cursive. How else will they read all those great documents from our past?) 🙂 But if you stick with it and rely on genealogy researchers who can help you, you will be amazed how far back it is possible to trace your roots. A librarian at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. helped me research my family and found a page in George Washington’s diary where he mentioned spending the night at my Revolutionary War ancestor’s home when he was a young surveyor. So all those signs that say “George Washington slept here”? That’s totally TRUE for my family! 🙂
But records can only tell you so much. A DNA test can take you back centuries and show you where all of your genetic makeup began, where written records no longer exist, if they ever did. It fascinates me that I still carry the blood of my Viking ancestors. This is where the Ancestry DNA Genetic Testing Kit comes in. Last year we gave ourselves the gift of our pasts by purchasing DNA test kits. You can order them directly from Ancestry.com or even from Amazon.
A box arrives with a saliva collection vial in it. You spit into it, filling it up to the line on the tube. Then you seal it up and follow the instructions to return it to Ancestry in the prepaid mailer. You are assigned an activation code that identifies your sample and are notified when your results are available to be viewed online. You wait a few weeks (the website says 6-8 weeks, but our results were available sooner) then log in to the site using your activation code to view your results. Ancestry’s DNA database includes 6 million people who have participated, therefore making their information available for comparison with yours to identify common ancestors. The test scours 167 regions around the world to determine where you began.
Here are some of my results. You can see the DNA percentages by region.
And this map shows the migration pattern of my ancestors in Europe to Virginia.
And then from Virginia to points west.
It is just so fascinating to see where you come from and how you got to where you are. And you know how I talked about how I love watching the genealogy shows where the person “finds” themselves in their past story? It happened to me too. I had visited Virginia many times over the years on vacations and eventually had the privilege of living there for several years. I could never quite put my finger on why it had such a pull on me over the years before I researched my past. And then when we bought our home in Virginia I was stunned when I found out it was in the area where my Revolutionary War patriot was born. I didn’t know that when we bought the house. Also, I found out that my ancestor who first came to the United States from Ireland became a widow and went on to own land in Maryland on her own and had a will, which was rare for women in the 1600’s. So if you’ve read my About Me page, you know I mention that I come from a long line of determined women, or “mules,” as my uncle calls us. 🙂 My determination comes from, among others, a very strong woman from Ireland who didn’t give up in the New World.
My husband and daughter’s profiles are far more exotic than mine, with connections to Europe, the Iberian Peninsula, Northern Africa, Middle Eastern countries, and Native American peoples. My daughter was thrilled to learn that not only is she a native Texan, but that Texan blood courses through her veins from centuries before her as part of her Native American DNA.
One thing I love about Ancestry DNA is that they are constantly updating their database and refining their research. They send me updates when they find a new relative for me, or when they have new information on my DNA. An Armenian friend of my daughter has a theory that all of us are Armenian since Noah’s Ark came to rest on Mount Ararat, which while in modern-day Turkey now, was originally Armenia. He says we all descend from Noah and are therefore all Armenian. I was looking at my updated results recently and discovered that my Caucasus heritage, while unspecified before, now shows my DNA comes from Armenia. I can’t wait to tell him he might be onto something. 🙂
If you would like to try a different DNA test, there are others available from 23andMe who can test if you descend from Neanderthals, which is AMAZING,
or MyHeritage, which uses a cheek swab to conduct the test.
The test kits range in price from around $70 to $100. Ancestry DNA is running a special through December 19th for the holidays where you can get the kit for $79 instead of the usual $99.They also usually run a similar special around St. Patrick’s Day so everyone can find out whether or not they’re Irish. I am, are you? 🙂
I think our pasts resonate very deeply within us, and as they say at Ancestry, our DNA holds our story. So in the midst of all the giving of Christmas presents, I hope you’ll consider giving yourself the gift of your past.
I’d love to hear about your discoveries about your ancestors. Share your story in the comment section!
And I’d love for you to follow me on Pinterest!