Spit and Tell
You’d have to be living under a rock not to know DNA ancestry testing is all the rage, especially among the celebrity set. Everyone wants to know if he or she is related to Napoleon or Nefertiti. Whoopi did it. Snooki did it. Even Yo-Yo Ma did it. It wasn’t until the Internet rumor about Welsh singer Tom Jones getting tested to see if he had any black ancestors that my ears perked up.
Truth told, I’ve been mildly curious about my roots. Like Tom, I’ve sometimes wondered if there might be a reason other than good taste to explain my love for soul food and Barry White records.
So, I took the leap and ordered a DNA testing kit from Ancestry dot com, the number one online source for family history information. There are a number of tests on the market. I opted for cheap ($99) and quick. All I had to do was spit into a tube. Easy enough, right? That’s what I thought until my results came back saying I had no DNA.
Actually, they just couldn’t analyze my sample and kindly suggested I might not have followed the simple spitting instructions. Guilty as charged. Seems I was sipping red wine the night I provided my saliva sample. At the least I’d have thought it would have labeled me full-bodied Bordeaux with peppery accents and violet nuances, along with an understated elegance and fine tannins.
I spat again and sent the tube back.
A few weeks later, a new set of test results arrived. According to my DNA, I’m about as white as white bread: mostly Anglo-Saxon, with a bit of Celt and a pinch of Scandinavian tossed in for good measure. It certainly explains my Downton Abbey fixation… Here are the numbers.
47% Great Britain
39% Western Europe
I have to say I was rather disappointed. Despite my cavalier attitude toward all this, I had hoped my DNA would show a trace of Native American blood. My great grandmother, you see, was named Pocohantas Pruden and her father was James Powhatan Pruden. They hailed from the Tidewater region of Virginia, which is precisely where the real Pocohantas saved Englishman John Smith from beheading by her father Chief Powhatan in 1607. She married a man named John Rolfe and they had a baby boy. Today there are more than 200,000 Americans claiming to be descendants of Pocahontas, including the Bush family. Yes, the Kennebunkport Bushes.
Of course, my Ancestry analysis doesn’t paint a complete picture because DNA is randomly passed down from generation to generation. According to Ancestry, each of us inherits only one-half of the DNA of each parent. This also means one-half of each parent’s DNA is lost in each generation. As a result, bits and pieces of DNA disappear from each generation. The reality is we each have two family trees. One is called the genetic tree that contains only those ancestors who contributed to your DNA. The other is the genealogical tree consisting of all your ancestors.
Certainly this explained the lack of Native American blood in my genome. I can’t imagine it’s due to a “family myth.” We all know good Southern families never embellish the past….
I sent off next for the National Geographic test. This one required me to swab the inside of my cheek for 45 seconds then seal up the swab tip in a small vial. I swabbed for a good minute and I didn’t drink, eat, or chew gum for at least an hour before I began taking samples. It cost quite a bit more and it takes weeks longer, but it goes deeper and touts its ability to test for Native American roots and—get this—for Neanderthal ancestry.
National Geographic claims that most non-Africans are between 2% and 4% Neanderthal. DNA scientists say that when modern humans began migrating out of Africa more than 60,000 years ago, it wasn’t uncommon for them to mate with Neanderthals. Neanderthal genes, especially the production of hair, might have helped the Homo sapiens adapt better to the northern weather. Don’t tell the Baptists, though.
When my National Geographic DNA results arrive, I don’t really expect to see anything radically different. Sort of like those Republicans running for President, there’s little anyone can seemingly do to move the numbers. That said, I am hoping for a surprise—a little “sumpin sumpin” to spread on my white bread.