I Haven’t Got a Spitting Chance
Okay, I’m about to spit into a tube and mail my saliva to Utah.
As a result, many weeks from now, Ancestry.com is going to tell me my genetic heritage. I don’t expect any surprises, as I’m pretty sure I’m the product of Eastern European Jews who emigrated to the U.S. in the late 19th or early 20th century.
But I’m not sure. I know my mother’s parents came here as children; I think my father’s parents were born here. I say I think, because in the 1950s, 60s and even early 70s, when my family and I might have been discussing these things, nobody ever talked about it.
Assimilation was key, the past was past, and after World War II, many people wanted to distance themselves from their heritage, staying closeted, as it were. My father, an ad man on New York’s Madison Avenue worked with many men who changed their names to avoid still-rampant anti-Semitism. My father did not change his name, but neither he nor his parents ever discussed a word about their heritage or history.
On my mother’s side, I heard only two tales. The first was how my mother, daughter of Jewish immigrants, came to have the Irish maiden name Kelsey. “When our family came to this country, the immigration clerk couldn’t pronounce my grandfather’s name Onakelski so he scribbled “Kelsey” on the immigration form. That’s her story, and she stuck to it.
The second story surfaced years later, just before my Aunt Marion, the last of her generation, passed away. I told her I’d just visited Ellis Island, saying “I felt close to my roots.” She answered “Didn’t you know dear, we came in illegally through Canada.” Nope, didn’t know. Seems I’m barely three generations removed from the DACA program.
Like many people, I learned of the immigrant experience from movies, books, history class, and politics. The only personal thing on my father’s side was meeting my Great, Great Uncle Leo when I was six. My dad pointed him out, noting “That’s Leo, he fought in World War I—on the wrong side.” I had no clue what he was talking about, but I pictured Uncle Leo on a horse, wearing one of those black helmets with the pointy brass thingie on top.
So sadly, by the time genetics drove the popularity of genealogy, there were no family elders left to question.
So, two weeks ago Bonnie saw on ad on TV for Ancestry-dot-com, offering a sale on their spit-in-a-tube kits. Knowing how much I love a bargain, Bonnie suggested I send away for the packet for the spit test. So I did.
While awaiting its arrival, I read that hidden in the output from unsuspecting spitters might be information to nab a murderer, like the solving of the “Golden State Killer case.” I don’t think I need worry about unearthing a family serial killer; serial scofflaws with unpaid NYC parking tickets, maybe.
Likewise, I’ve been warned that my DNA could unearth paternity surprises. It would be grand if my DNA tapped me as Rothchild progeny but my luck I’d come up related to Bernie Madoff.
So the little box arrived, I signed on to Ancestry.com to register my collection tube and worked to produce a saliva sample. It’s not as easy as you’d think. I needed several tries to collect enough liquid. And, my spitting sounds were similar to what happens when I see POTUS on TV.
I also wondered if the sample remained tinged with happy hour’s Grey Goose. Might it inadvertently reveal my relation to Russian potato farmers?
Nevertheless, I sealed up the tube and got it ready for mailing.
The final step in the process was checking the online box for “I consent to the collection and processing of my DNA data and other sensitive Personal Information as described above.”
Puleeze. There really cannot be any sensitive personal information left for me to spill, having written about my life on these pages for 23 years, publishing most of it in five books since 2004. What’s left to know?
As for the family tree Ancestry.com says I can fill out, the branch stops here. I can go back and add some ancestors, but from this point forward it’s all Schnauzers, all the time. Although it’s very possible that Windsor had a distant relative who fought for the Germans in World War 1.
Now I just wait for the report about my ancestral origins, ethnicity estimate and geographical sub-region details. Honestly, I think my choice of dining at Rosenfeld’s Deli or Lori’s Oy Vey Cafe a couple of times a week tells pretty much the same tale my saliva sample will reveal. Here’s hoping I find a long-lost cousin in the deli business or better yet, an heir to the Stolichnya vodka fortune.
Meanwhile, I wait. Just the offspring of illegal immigrants, paying my taxes and being the nemesis of the GOP. I could just spit.▼
Fay Jacobs is an author of five published memoirs. Her newest is Fried & Convicted: Rehoboth Beach Uncorked. As a humorist, she’s touring with her show Aging Gracelessly: 50 Shades of Fay.