I suppose it’s only fitting that I received my DNA test results during Black History Month.
I used 23 and Me to do my DNA test and they give you plenty of warning that your results might turn up some surprises. Mine sure did! It turns out I’m .4 percent black. That means a fifth-great-grandparent was of sub-Saharan African origin, probably Congolese.
Having done some ancestral research on my family, my mind immediately went down my paternal lineage to my fifth-great-grandmother. She had two out-of-wedlock sons, one of whom is my fourth-great-grandfather. There is no record anywhere of his father. There are, however, photographs of the two boys as adults and they are as lily white as they come. There are no visible signs of African heritage in them. (Seeing how they lived in the early 1800s in Virginia, I doubt either of them self-identified as black either.)
So the mystery is afoot. Where does my black ancestry come into play? That’s going to take some serious investigation. I can trace my paternal line to England. The first Southern to arrive in the New World came from England as part of the Second Virginia Charter in 1609. His son followed 11 years later on a ship called the George. If my black ancestor is paternal, it will likely be on my grandmother’s side and I haven’t been able to trace that line very far.
It’s doubtful my black ancestor is from my maternal side. Both sets of my mother’s grandparents came from Scandinavia and what little I have learned indicates those roots run deep in that part of northern Europe. Still, anything is possible and I’m not ruling it out.
I do find it exciting to know that I’m much more diverse than I grew up believing. Knowing that my family line runs the gamut of American history, I have a lot to learn. I wonder if this is how Alex Haley felt when he was researching his book “Roots.” I loved the TV miniseries made from the book and I’m inspired to watch it again.
Although much of my DNA didn’t reveal anything I didn’t already know, there were a few areas and percentages that now have me questioning everything I’ve learned about my heritage. My mother always said she was part Spanish, and sure enough there is 1 percent Spanish DNA in me. Unfortunately, she and her parents have passed away so I’ll probably never have the opportunity to investigate that side of my family very well.
As I sit here writing this I realize that life is a great mystery. One of the oddities about 23 and Me is that they test for Neanderthal variants. I have 288, which is pretty high for their current customer base, but it is less than 4 percent of my overall DNA. They test for 2,872 Neanderthal variants. How they can do that is beyond me because there haven’t been any Neanderthals around for several millennia.
I have to assume that the largest known assemblage of direct Neanderthal descendants can be found in Washington, D.C., and Hollywood because they seem to be bent on taking us back to the stone ages, at least in terms of behavior. But I digress.
One of the main things I’ve been learning about DNA and ancestry isn’t how much we are different but how much we are alike. What sets us apart isn’t our physical features or what part of the world our ancestors are from. What sets us apart is our attitude about it. Genetically, I’m a European mutt – a regular Heinz 57 blend. Ultimately, we are all human. All of us are made in the image of God. To disrespect that is to disrespect the creator and, by extension, ourselves.
I doubt we will see in our lifetimes a true colorblind society that is welcoming and accepting of all humans. There is far too much hate and prejudice to overcome. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. As the human race expands and intermingles, we are growing closer to a global citizenship. America is at the crux of that movement.
This really is a melting pot of races and ethnicities from around the world and it grows more diverse every day. Here in the Greater Houston Area and specifically Fort Bend County, we are on the cultural frontier. There is still a long way to go for there to be perfect harmony but I think we are on the right path and making excellent progress.
I recall reading an article several years ago about how some experts predict that many centuries from now humans will have interbred to the point that the extreme lights and darks will vanish and we will all become shades of brown. It makes sense. We’re seeing plenty of evidence in that direction with so much interracial mixing in our culture.
If, as science and religion both tell us, that all humans descend from a single ancestor or group of ancestors, how did we become so diverse in race, color, and ethnicity? If we could grow so far apart in those regards, it’s only logical that we could return to our roots. After all, it’s in our DNA.
I can’t say that I even begin to understand the complexity of DNA and genetics, but I can appreciate that magnitude of information we are learning about ourselves. The things we are learning can help us cure diseases, birth defects and such. I just wish it could help us cure prejudice and hate. Who knows, maybe with a better understanding of what makes us what we are on the outside will lead to a better appreciation of what we are on the inside.
Last week I learned that a very small fraction of me is black. That made my world a whole lot bigger. Suddenly I have something in common with a whole race of people that I didn’t think I had much connection with. The thing is, I like that very much. I’m proud of my newfound black heritage. It may not show on the outside, but I’m feeling it on the inside.