I’ll start off this post with a general update because I have some great news: I got a job! 🙂 It’s still within the not-for-profit sector, but this time I’ll be working in advocacy which is fantastic! My last real job was also in the NFP sector, but I was only ever allowed to do light and fluffy stuff. This is quite a departure from that. I have A LOT to learn and some big challenges ahead of me, but I am feeling quite confident and excited about the future. It feels good to be in a positive headspace again.
Okay. Now that that’s all sorted, it’s time to get to the content I actually wanted to discuss. I mentioned in a previous post that I have started researching my genealogy. I would like to get more specific about the things I’ve learned.
Growing up, I always thought of myself as your typical “American mutt” – a veritable smorgasbord of genetics. I figured that I probably had a lot of French in there due to my surname, and my great-grandmother on my dad’s side of the family claimed that her mother had been full-blooded Chippewa. You wouldn’t know the latter from looking at my skin tone. My skin doesn’t know the meaning of the word tan. I just think about the sun and get a burn. I figured this was probably due to my taking more after my mother’s family than my dad’s, who I knew had some Swedish in it. That information alone was enough to confirm that I just had a whole lot of random in my genetics.
As it turns out, my cultural heritage is a lot more interesting than I had anticipated. Late last year, I decided to take a chance and do one of those ancestry DNA tests. The first thing I discovered: I am one of the whitest people ever. 😉 Seriously though – my genetics indicate virtually 100% European blood primarily from Western Europe (France, Germany, etc.), Scandinavia (Sweden, Norway and Denmark) and Great Britain. There are also small percentages of Irish, Mediterranean and Iberian, and trace percentages of South Asian (India, Pakistan, etc.), Finnish, Native American and Middle Eastern which were all further confirmed when I entered my DNA test into GEDmatch and ran it through further admixture tests.
This experience kicked off a large genealogy research project that is still ongoing. The surprising results thus far:
There is no Native American blood to speak of. If my great-grandmother’s claims of being 50% Chippewa were correct, then I would have more than a trace amount in my DNA – more like 5-10%. My subsequent genealogy research ended up disproving this claim. Her mother wasn’t Native American at all – she was German! This is apparently a common misconception with American families of European descent. I don’t know if claiming this connection is a way for modern-day Americans to distance themselves from the abuse our European ancestors heaped on Native Americans so long ago or if it’s simply a way for people to feel more connected with their country, but most Americans you encounter will claim to have some percentage of Native American DNA when a good majority of them (myself included, it seems) don’t. Research indicates that it is more likely that my trace percentage of Native American DNA originated in the early hunter-gatherer populations of Russia who ultimately settled in the Americas after crossing the Bering Strait thousands of years ago.
Where the hell did I get Mediterranean, Iberian, South Asian and Middle Eastern DNA?! All of that must go back a really long time because I haven’t been able to identify any of that lineage so far.
I’m actually not that French after all. I have been able to confirm only one branch of my entire family tree that is truly of French origin, which is my surname’s paternal line. It’s not until my third-great-grandfather of that surname when both parties in each couple are fully French. There might be a bit more French through my great-grandfather’s line (my dad’s maternal grandfather) but because he was adopted we can’t know for sure. According to GEDmatch, I’m really only about 17% French. That blew my mind!
There are a number of Confederate soldiers and loads of slave owners on my maternal grandmother’s side of the family. As a white person that is VERY strongly outspoken for equality, this is a tough pill to swallow. My grandmother hails from Texas, so I definitely suspected this outcome to a certain extent. But I have to say: Reading records of wills where the person in question bequeaths slaves – actual living, breathing PEOPLE – unto their children with words like “irrevocably” and “forever” attached to them puts a sour taste in my mouth. And it appears that it may not stop with simply owning slaves. Going several generations back through my father’s side of the family, it looks like one of my ancestors may have been involved in the transportation of slaves from Africa to the Americas. It’s a very strange feeling to be proud that your ancestors were some of the USA’s first colonists but also really ashamed that they were involved so heavily in a deplorable trade.
I have an ancestor who was caught up in the witchcraft obsession of 17th century New England. My ancestor, Isabella Towle lived in New Hampshire at the time and was accused of witchcraft by a woman named Rachel Fuller. Rachel herself had just been accused of witchcraft. Since those accused of witchcraft at the time were told that their punishment would be lenient if they exposed other witches, Rachel said, “Okay! Then check out Goody Towle over there. She’s definitely a witch!” Gee…thanks, Rach! Rachel accused others as well, but only her and Isabella ended up being charged. They ended up spending close to a year in the local jail before being acquitted of all charges. This would have been a considerable hardship for Isabella, who was in her forties and had several young children at the time. All of this nonsense occurred several years before the Salem witch trials. I have no doubt in my mind that had Isabella been accused during or after the Salem incidents, she would have hanged. Mind blown.
There is a whole lot of German in my lineage. It comes from multiple branches of my family tree which, ironically, mostly originate in the same area of Germany (Hesse). The most surprising and interesting German connection to me is the “Russian German” side of my family. I heard a mention or two of this ancestry growing up but never any detail. It wasn’t until I commenced my genealogy research project and started reading my late grandfather’s memoirs that I discovered just how significant it was. In the mid-1700s, Catherine the Great published a manifesto that welcomed Germans to settle in various parts of the Russian empire. The German empire was vastly over-crowded and faced a number of hardships at the time. Catherine wanted to develop the eastern areas of her empire, so she lured German settlers to the area with promises of land and religious freedom. My ancestors were some of the first to settle in and establish the town of Norka (now called Hekpacovo) located in the Volga River region of Russia. Things went well for them for a couple of generations until Catherine’s grandson rose to power and started taking away their freedoms. My great-great-grandparents ended up fleeing Norka in the dead of night with their young children in tow and eventually made their way to the United States in 1900. My maternal grandfather’s mother was born on that journey. They ended up settling in Portland, Oregon which is where most of my family still lives. If you’re interested in learning more about this unique culture and their lives once they settled in Portland, there is a great website for Volga Germans in Portland that is definitely worth reading.
There’s also a whole lot of Scandinavian in my family tree. As mentioned above, I knew that my mother’s side of the family had Swedish in it but I didn’t really know the extent of it. That much has been proven: My maternal grandfather’s father was of Swedish descent. In the late 1800s, much of Sweden was facing famine and times were tough all around. My great-grandparents on that side both made the brave decision to immigrate to the USA to seek a better life. It probably wasn’t a hard decision for my great-grandfather, who was born out of wedlock to a hotel maid and whose father was a notorious abuser, but my great-grandmother left a very large family to follow a man she wasn’t yet married to halfway across the world. I don’t have any record of her having kept in touch with her family after immigrating to the USA, so I am actively trying to find descendants of her siblings to see if they have anymore information about that lineage. From what I’ve been able to piece together myself, both of those lines originate in the southern Swedish county of Skåne from parishes in and surrounding Lund. I’ve been able to trace back as far as about 1700 thus far, but it’s been really difficult. Hopefully I can track down a distant cousin or two on that side who will be able to verify or disprove my findings. Anyway, I’ve mentioned my mother’s Swedish heritage but I also discovered that there is a significant Norwegian heritage on my father’s side! My great-great-grandmother on his paternal side was from a parish just south of Lillehammer. Thanks to some invaluable assistance from a distant cousin I recently met, I have managed to trace that lineage back to the early 1700s as well. Unfortunately that’s as far back as I’ll be able to go unless I manage to find distant relatives in Norway.
Admixture aside, this project has helped me discover so many amazing stories about my ancestors. In a way, I feel like I understand more about my outlook on life and the way I was brought up because I feel like I know some of the people that have made my life possible. That is such a precious gift.
As mentioned above, my genealogy project is very much a work in progress. I’m sure that I will get more specific with names, dates, locations and stories as time progresses. In the meantime, I am going to spend the rest of my day off doing more research.