Our Ancestry Test Results: 50 Shades of White

written by Angelica Engel, SWCHC Website Coordinator

My parents, Dave and Kathy Engel, recently received the results of their Ancestry.com DNA heritage test. Because both of them took it, I have all the relevant information about my own heritage. No need for me to take the test! In the future, scientists may develop a more precise procedure that could yield more specific information and perhaps I would participate in that.

My mother received specific results that showed we have relatives in Ulster, Ireland, as well as among the Pennsylvania Dutch, who are actually German. My father’s results yielded nothing this specific, simply “Europe West,” “Europe East” and “The Low Countries.”

When I told my coworker Ben about our results, he, a white person of Swiss and Irish heritage, said, “Oh, so 50 shades of white.” True, no one had brown skin, no African, no Native American, not even Asian or Jewish. My sister Elly has felt strongly that we must be at least a little bit Jewish, but these results would seem to declare otherwise.

Drawn to the Ulster result, I read a bit of a book called “The Red Branch Tales” about ancient Ireland. It’s a translation of the myths of the Ulster Cycle. Alcohol abuse and sudden war-related deaths are the main themes. Women are portrayed as cunning leaders who use their womanhood as bait in many circumstances that result in them attaining power. It is difficult to avoid pondering the violent acquisition of other people’s land and resources by Western and Northern Europeans. What role did my distant relatives play in this narrative?

A big surprise in my mom’s ancestry came in the form of “Scandinavia 32%.” No one in her family seems to have known this. Ostensibly, through the aforementioned warlike tendencies, Scandinavians may have intermixed with her “Ireland/Scotland/Wales” or her “Europe West” long before anyone emigrated to the United States, thus losing the thread of the narrative.

For me, the Scandinavian aspect of my lineage paints some of my college friendships in a different light. For example, my freshman year roommate Drew had already been to Sweden by the time I met her, and would travel there frequently over the next two years to visit her Swedish boyfriend. She had met him when he was a foreign exchange student at her high school. Eventually Drew left the Swedish boyfriend for an American who had studied abroad in Oslo, Norway. Drew also had a friend who studied in Helsinki, Finland. For my part, I dated a guy who had studied abroad in Copenhagen, Denmark, and who was about to return there for another semester after which he, too, studied in Helsinki.

You would think by this point that I would have been to at least one of these countries. Maybe if I had known I have ancestors from there, I would have gone already. Which Scandinavian country did they come from, though? Sometimes scientific tests create more mysteries.

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