Human heritages have always absolutely fascinated me and I’ve long sought answers about my own. Growing up I heard plenty of stories about Brittany (Breizh), France, Japan, Mandatory Palestine, even Bosnia. Japanese culture was actually very important to us at home, my parents were the ones to get me started on Japanese-language media. My dad had a big book of kanji he made me learn from (I still hate that book). We had an actual Japanese PlayStation which didn’t work properly with our PAL TV and would only display in black and white. We had Parasite Eve completely in Japanese. Honestly, I didn’t think my life would be complete until I moved to Japan. But then as an adult I was ill and also didn’t have as much money as I somehow thought I would!
Aside from generally being made fun of by people, my sister and I were asked by other kids why we had “chink eyes;” I have very hooded lids and my sister has full monolids. My brother didn’t so much get that look but he did have darker features than us. On the other hand, I also had massive curly red hair (which I chemically-straightened for a long time), the colour of which clearly came from my mum’s side (although she has only gotten blonder over time), but I don’t know where the texture came from as my mum’s hair is very straight. My dad had black hair and hooded eyes. As far as I know it wasn’t curly either.
Looking back, there are plenty of little things that are obviously Jewish, that I didn’t realise at the time, because I wasn’t raised Jewish. In fact, when I somehow wound up expressing an interest in Judaism, this was quickly shut down and I was told not to touch it with a bargepole. I always found my way back to it though, I firmly believe my soul is Jewish.
Mentioning Judaism resulted in a long ramble about the Mandate, and I used to be embarrassingly anti-Israel because I thought we were Palestinians in the way the modern word is used, until I eventually realised we were Mizrahi.
Another weird pulling towards Jewishness I had was that I used to teach myself Hebrew. At the time I had no idea why I wanted to learn it.
I speak French and Breton. Both were in our childhoods. Indigenous European Witchcraft and Celtic traditions were another important focus, particularly on the maternal side.
And, of course, I am English. I grew up in Hampshire. I speak English every day. I have English mannerisms and an English sense of personal space. I am quite culturally English although I do have some differences to other people, namely how serious some superstitions are taken and that I consider the possibility of an angry ghost being somewhere to be an absolutely serious adult problem, whereas the English seem to stop being afraid of that as teenagers.
We didn’t have a good family life and as such I never met any wider family. I don’t know my aunts and uncles. I apparently met my paternal grandmother once as a baby but she was asked not to return. I saw a photo of her once, a really long time ago, and I think she looked quite like Ofra Haza in it.
My dad always told me his family were dead. My mum disagrees and says they’re fine, he just didn’t want to speak to them, but then she in turn said that her family were dead. So I don’t know anybody.
SO, when I had delayed Christmas with Kadek and she gave me one of those MyHeritage DNA kits, I was very excited! Finally, the answers were literally in my hands! It would match me up to real, living relatives and I would work up the courage to speak to them!
There was a problem at the first hurdle, because there was only one cheek swab inside, and you needed two. So I emailed someone asking for a spare one to be sent. Instead, they cancelled the kit and sent out a replacement one. So I had to sit around waiting for that to come.
Eventually it did, and I eagerly rubbed the swabs inside my mouth before putting them in the vials, and having my husband send the envelope off via tracked post.
I didn’t think about it for a while, due to being preoccupied with moving house. But then suddenly, I got an alert about my results being ready.
I was extremely excited to open them, but also a little confused by some things that were a real surprise to me.
MyHeritage thinks my genes are:
Broadly Scandinavian (highlighted area of map includes Denmark, Norway, and Sweden, but not Finland)
Broadly Iberian (highlighted area of map includes Morocco, Tunisia, Malta, Italy, Switzerland, France, Monaco, Andorra, Spain, and Portugal)
and BALTIC! (highlighted: Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Belarus, North Ukraine, and West Russia)
I mean, dang, I have several questions! The English obviously wasn’t a surprise, but the rest was! I am also surprised by the lack of specificity, as I’ve seen plenty of example images where they list modern countries and even areas within countries. It couldn’t tell me whether I was Danish, Norwegian, or Swedish, but just broadly from Scandinavia as a whole. In fact, with everywhere except England, it’s given me a wide area that I could have genes from.
What’s missing is also important. No Japan was the first thing that jumped out at me, and you’d think that should definitely display in my genes in some way. I vaguely extend into Northwest Asia from the Baltic areas, but I expected Asia to account for a lot more of me. There is also a lack of West Asia in general, although there was a dip into North Africa in terms of the highlight extending to Morocco and Tunisia, but again, there was no specificity here so I’m not sure what I’m supposed to take away.
Although France is highlighted as part of a very broad area, I am (again) surprised that it wasn’t specified and that there was no separate mention of Brittany. Having said that, the indigenous English fled downwards and became Bretons, so it could be that being Breton would just also come up as being English.
It also says I am 0% Irish, Scottish, and Welsh; I managed to find Scottish myself when doing the genealogy, so I don’t know why it doesn’t show up.
HOWEVER, there are some interesting insights in my DNA matches!
I have a 3rd cousin in Japan, a 3rd cousin in Singapore, a distant cousin in Thailand, a 3rd cousin in Vietnam, I’m related to a lot of Americans and Canadians (some of which seem to have origins in German Jews, which I did find on the family tree a while ago), and I seem to have a lot of 5th cousins in Germany itself.
My matches include people listed as ethnically Japanese, Korean, Mongolian, Inuit, Mizrahi/Iranian/Iraqi, Sephardi, Polynesian, Greek, Chinese, and generally Central and West Asian relatives, which only serves to make me more confused about the way my own results are displayed.
My feelings at this point were, I am so clearly related TO these people so why don’t my results show clearly that I am also FROM them?
I look forward to going through it all with Kadek when she visits me because there’s pages of stuff to look at.
I also downloaded my raw data and tried uploading it to a few other sites to get their interpretations of the genes. Some of the bigger names actually wouldn’t accept DNA files from MyHeritage, but I found some smaller ones who would, with mixed results.
One just highlighted an absolutely massive area of map, including all of Russia, which has so many ethnic groups that there is no way that makes any sense.
One has me as:
So, some overlap but also very different! This one had me at 0% Iberian whereas MyHertitage seems to think I am very broadly from that area.
There’s basically a lot of different pointing all over the place from various providers.
One however was completely useless, has listed different areas of Britain that I am apparently from, and also says I am a bit Irish, when I am pretty certain I am not even slightly Irish.
Another strange thing about all this is that the percentages of Scandinavian estimated are definitely high enough to be an immediate grandparent, and I don’t know why neither of my parents would have mentioned a Scandinavian parent and have included that part of the world in the family lore. Our focus was Japan, Brittany/France, and the Mandate.
It could be that I just didn’t inherit all the key genes from either parent, and in turn maybe they didn’t get all the genes from their own parents, so on and so forth. By definition, in the way heritage works, there are always missing genes for each new generation.
Children tend to inherit different genes to their siblings, so testing my siblings would help, although my brother is in a residential hospital so that probably won’t happen, and I don’t think my sister has that kind of spare money sitting around.
There’s also the idea that, these tests don’t reveal your ancestry per se, but they reveal which populations you most share genes with. E.g. if a test says you are 17% Finnish, you might not actually be Finnish at all, it’s just that 17% of your DNA most closely matches that of the average tested Finn. Roughly paraphrased from an article I read once.
I’ve also read an explanation that race/ethnicity and nationality are not the same. E.g. you could believe that your ancestors were Dutch, but not have any Dutch results, which is actually because they immigrated to the Netherlands and had Dutch nationality but were ethnically from somewhere else. Paraphrasing again.
AND your results can change over time as more populations are tested.
The more mundane answer is that my parents lied to me, for whatever benefit that would have had, taking it so far as to affect our daily lives.
Or maybe my dad just isn’t my dad, which is something that was said and retracted several times over the years. And (family drama incoming) I actually found a completely different name for my father on my birth certificate when I had to order one for my first adult passport, and there were various explanations for that I’m not entirely convinced by. Honestly I could write a novel about family drama but I really don’t want to.
I’ve already received an email from a match and I’m trying to work up the courage to reply.
Certain places will always be front and centre in my heart, whether I have traceable heritage from them or not. They’ve shaped who I am.
And I’m quite intrigued by the idea that I might be Scandi and a bit of a Slav and a Balt; maybe this explains my love of Sweden and the Cyrillic alphabet!
Long live the human race in all its fascinating strands.