Where we come from…

…is a profound piece of our identity, whether its culture, DNA, ancestors, the town we grew up in – all of it plays a huge part in how we shape who we are.

I grew up in the multi-generational household of my mother in that I grew up in the household of my mother and her parents as she was too young to even sign a lease to live on her own when I was born when she was 16.

My mom was adopted into the marriage between a German Lutheran and Roman Catholic Italian (Yeah, for real.). My grandfather, the German Lutheran, has an interesting history given that nobody truly knew where his mother came from. She was “adopted” in the early 1900’s with no formal documents and there was some confusion as to what her actual birthday was. He told me several stories, some that indicated his mother may have been the child of an extramarital affair within the family with an underage girl and the child (his mother) was given to an uncle in the family. Allegedly, according to family lore via my grandfather – his mother, on her uncle’s deathbed (the aforementioned uncle entrusted with her care), asked him to tell her – no begged him – to tell her where she came from. Apparently, he cried and promised he would never tell and then promptly died a few days later. Is it true? Who knows? But we do know that she was definitely not the child of anyone in that family and possesses no formal adoption documentation which *did* exist as an institution since 1851 in the U.S. My grandfather always identified as “German” but upon completing a DNA Ancestry kit – he was such a negligible amount German…and even was marginally Asian. He got a good laugh out of it but to me, I think it was something else for me.

I have put off doing the DNA test for a good long while because in my head, even though my mom was adopted, and I know her family is Italian (my grandmother’s side) I had always identified as being part of a big Italian family. I didn’t want to take the DNA test and be proven otherwise.

That said, my dad received his DNA results and shared them with me thus ultimately showing me 1/2 of my DNA. He then purchased one for me since I had been reluctant to pull the trigger. I took the DNA test (spit spit spit spit in the tube, shake, seal – send off.). I anxiously awaited my results and got excited every time they texted me to tell me that my DNA had moved to a new phase in the process.

In the interim my mind would frequently go to that little DNA sample… Two people close to me found out that who they thought was their father was not their father by doing the DNA test on Ancestry. I never once doubted my father as my father, I don’t think he ever doubted me as his child since we share a fair number of features. But, given that my mother is adopted, and we *do* know all of her biological family, I wondered if my DNA was more valuable to my mother. I wondered, anxiously, if there would be any surprises, but couldn’t really work out what those could possibly be – given how much we already know and the fact that we trust and know her bio family very well – they are an active part of our lives. My mom’s bio father and bio mother are definitely her parents because her half brother and my bio grandmother popped up as two of my closest three matches.

I know my grandfather traced our family back to Wales I believe, their last name is Welsh – so we knew that. We knew his mother was 100% Irish, which my dad corrected as she was the child of two Irish immigrants right off the boat to the U.S. So, there were several fragmented pieces of my history that were verifiable, but once you know it – by DNA – you know it.

So, no, not even a marginal amount of Italian in my blood and even the women in my mother’s biological mother’s family who have some of the most Italian last names I have ever heard — have 0-4% Italian DNA present in their samples.

Yes, it did change some of my internal identity. I cannot even pretend that my weird ability to tan with very little burn repercussion (unless we are below the equator, and even then it takes a LOT of sun) and just a progressively darkening complexion is due to my Mediterranean heritage. I mean… that “skill” doesn’t lend to the Irish nor the Welsh… I have Irish coming from my mom’s biological father’s side, and my Dad’s side on, both, his mother and his father’s side (lots of ‘Mc’s on my grandma’s family tree).

I do feel “weird”, I do feel “different”. I do feel as I imagined I would. I feel like my identity has been degraded a bit, so to speak. I am not Italian. But how much of our identities are DNA and how much are culture? I think the argument is perhaps nature and nurture, respectively. Maybe its more so about how we see ourselves, how we identify, than it is anything else. Maybe the true opportunity here is to identify pieces of my heritage that would be interesting or intriguing to share down generations with my children? I mean, if we are being real… raised in an Italian family — but Mexican food is my favorite **hands down** and I don’t know that I even know any food that is “Irish”… except Irish Whiskey…that’s my favorite, so maybe there is a connection. 😉

Maybe its not about what is in our DNA at all… I am still trying to work it out.

Readers, did you have a DNA test – if so, what service did you use and what did you find out? Were you surprised? Had your existing family tree validated by DNA? Any surprises? Would love to hear your stories!

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