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All sorts of surprises on the family tree
October 7, 2013 - Andrea Johnson
A few weeks ago I decided to have my DNA tested by a company called 23andme, largely because I hoped to find more information about where my Finnish great-grandfather was from in Finland. Unfortunately, I am no closer to finding out where he was from than I was when I started, but the process itself has been fascinating.
When the results came back, the company also provided me with a list of nearly 1,000 "DNA relatives" who are probably distant cousins several generations back. The Finnish "DNA relatives" are spread across Finland, from Helsinki to the former Soviet Karelia. I have had some interesting conversations with these Finnish cousins, none of whom recognized my great-grandfather's name but were interested in helping me solve the family mystery. One distant cousin even looked up the name I gave him on an emigration website. It probably isn't surprising that they don't recognize the family name. Who among us know or could name family members who are less closely related than first or second cousins?
My ancestry composition is pretty much as I expected, though there were a few surprises when I looked at the map and the list of so-called DNA relatives. Where on earth did the South European DNA come from in my profile? I thought it must be a glitch. Both sides of my family are solidly Northern European going several hundred years back, with ancestry largely from the British Isles, France, Germany and Scandinavia. So, utilizing some online resources, I dug further into my ancestry than I ever had before. Along the way I found a story about a many times great-grandmother who died along with several of her children during a Mohawk Indian raid in Deerfield, Massachusetts back in 1696, just one skirmish in the lead up to Queen Anne's War.
Further back on another side of the family I found several foreign names among the solidly British ones, a sign perhaps that this family had been involved in the ship trade and had done a lot of traveling. One of my many times great grandmothers on this side of the family had a decidedly Italian name. She was the daughter of a historian and shipping family from Florence. Some genealogy buffs even claim that branch of the family is descended from an English earl and other noble families, which may or may not be true. While it's always possible that someone has gotten the family tree wrong, especially going back so far, it might explain how I came to have that smidgeon of Italian DNA so many generations later. That branch of the family settled in the Virginia colony, unlike other early ancestors who settled in New England.
I can only wonder what other new information I might learn.
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