Kendall Hulet said I shouldn’t get my hopes up.
He said everyone wants to have some proof that they have native heritage in their blood; everyone wants to be exotic. He’s the senior vice president of product management for Ancestry.com, which processes thousands of genetic DNA tests, so he should know.
Still, when the results to my DNA test popped up in my email inbox at midnight, my heart skipped a beat. I was lying down, all tucked in and ready for bed, when I checked my email one last time, and there it was: actual results and proof that I come from somewhere, that those places are marked in my body, and that the people who brought me here are actually a part of my being.
It’s hard to explain. Family history research isn’t new to me. My dad has been telling me the names and places of people I’m distantly linked to for years, and I’ve always brushed it off. Slowly, those names and places have grown into letters and patterns that mean something to me, but it’s still intangible. It’s stories and memories, century-old anecdotes of someone else’s interpretation of someone else, and sometimes it feels so distant.
Sometimes I wish I could just travel back in time and show up on my grandparents’ doorstep. Sometimes I wish that for just one day — one hour — I could touch and see and breathe in the firsthand evidence of my heritage.
But that’s impossible. So a DNA test felt like a close second.
I opened the email, the screen of my phone lighting up the darkness in my room. I quickly scanned through the results to see if the exotic marker in my blood was there, and sure enough, there was the answer I had been waiting so long to see: Ethnicity estimate — America, Native American, 0 percent.
I wasn’t surprised, but I was a little disappointed. And now I wonder more than ever about my great-great-great-grandmother Keziah Dawson, who has no records linking her to any family anywhere back in the 1800s.
It’s possible my family’s theories that she migrated from Tennessee to Texas in the early 1800s and forsook her native ancestry to escape persecution are true. According to Ancestry.com, “If you have a great-great-grandparent with Native American ancestry, you would theoretically expect to have 6 percent Native American ancestry. However, the pieces of DNA you inherited from this great-great-grandparent are random.”
It’s possible pieces of Keziah’s DNA were lost by the time they reached me.
It’s also possible that that’s not part of Keziah’s story. Maybe there is some other reason none of the avid researchers in the Choate clan have ever found records of Keziah’s parents or siblings, never found where she was born or why she moved to Field Creek, Texas, with Ephraim Choate. I’m going to keep working on that.
In the meantime, glancing at my genetic makeup was fascinating. My brain rolled the percentages around as I drifted off to sleep, and in my dreams I found people to tell the fascinating news of my “ethnicity estimate.” At one point, in my dream, I ran into an old friend and I couldn’t wait to share the news. My heart was swelling with the excitement that comes when you’re about to say something really juicy. Just then, I woke up.
It took me a few minutes to figure out if my excitement was just a dream or reality.
My results were pretty typical for a Caucasian with European descent. My family came from England when Sgt. John Choate brought his family to Massachusetts in the late 1600s. I’ve always heard a lot about my English and Scottish heritage, and I knew there was a little Irish history there, but I was surprised to see my actual genetic background: 17 percent Great Britain, 18 percent Ireland and 41 percent Western Europe. There were a few other trace percentages mixed in, coming from Scandinavia, Italy, Greece, Portugal and Spain, but the thing that I wanted to communicate so much in my dream was the fact that my numbers for Western Europe were at 41 percent. According to the results, an average person native to the area (born in France, Germany, the Netherlands or Switzerland) has about 48 percent of their DNA linked to the region.
So I didn’t find out what I wanted to hear, but I found out something entirely new and exciting.
And I’ll just go ahead and say it: I think it’s pretty exotic.
Amy Choate-Nielsen is a full-time mom and part-time writer. She spends her days at the park and her nights at the computer. She writes about family history and her quest to understand life while learning about her deceased grandmother Fleeta.