Some who know me are aware that I’m big into genealogy. I come from a fairly connected extended family who have mostly kept in touch with each other, and my relatives have done a fair amount of family history research. History never gets boring for me, and when it has to do with my own lineage, so much the better.
When I was living in Germany from 1985-87, I spent the holidays with my distant relatives in Rohrbach-am-Hahn as well as Freiburg im Breisgau. I’ve also done a fair amount of reading about European history (since that’s where I always assumed that my heritage sprang from), and I’ve collected sufficient details about the gyrations of the European continent, to make sense of things and better place myself in the context of history.
So, of course, I plunged into Ancestry.com. Traced one line back to a certain “Knight of the Goat”, while others terminated on battlefields in long-forgotten England. And I had my DNA analyzed. That was interesting… albeit a little high-level for my tastes.
What really lit my fire was when I discovered GEDmatch.com.
GEDmatch basically lets you analyze your raw DNA data (from Ancestry or 123-and-me, or some other source) and break it down to see where all you’re really from. It’s free. And it’s maintained by some extremely smart people who provide a lot of explanations and documentation for their own approaches to analysis.
As it turns out, my assumptions about being German-Swiss-Italian-French aren’t entirely accurate. There’s a whole lot of other DNA in there, from places I never – ever – expected to hail from.
Biggest surprise was the Balochi bloodline. Balochi?! I had to look that one up.
More on that later.
Individual populations aside, the thing that fascinates me, is knowing that I’ve got (give or take) 662 different global populations represented in my DNA. And interestingly, Sub-Saharan Africa has the most frequent presence. Seriously, I need to look up all these people and learn more about them. I’ve got DNA from Pygmies, Kongo, Borneo… even indigenous peoples of Taiwan… and Mixtec. Whoah – I studied them at university. That’s wild… Oh, and of course there’s all the northeastern European stock. Apparently, Ukraine has a strong presence, according to one test. And Bulgaria. And a fair amount of Roma. The Roma piece probably explains a bit about me.
Now, all these different tests have a way of producing slightly different results, so you have to take it with a grain of salt. There’s a lot of overlap, however some results do not synch with each other, so you have to just treat it as a collective work-in-progress. The most valuable thing to me, is how your understanding of who you are and how you’re connected to everyone else can shift from having just a general knowledge that you’re not only from one place, and one place alone.
With 662 different populations represented in my double helix, I clearly have a lot of biological ties to a lot of different peoples. Even folks in the Arctic. And parts of West Asia that I never knew existed — Balochistan, for instance. I’m apparently 16% Balochi. How about that.
I’ll be writing a lot more on this over the coming weeks, and posting my genetic breakdowns, according to different calculators. It’s not only fascinating and stimulating for me to see where my heritage lies, but it’s also got me thinking about all the different ways we fashion the stories, the myths, of our lives… and so derive meaning from the lot of it.
In the end, we’re a lot more connected than we think. And figuring out just how that happens, is one of the things that keeps the wheels in this head turning.