Thanks to our flat screen TV and Apple TV box, we have discovered there is life beyond Netflix and Acorn. There is YouTube.
Good old, ordinary YouTube provides regular access to our latest indulgence: ancestral searches of the somewhat famous.
We discovered the UK version of Who Do You Think You Are by accident (try the audio search, asking Who Do You Think You Are. The response: I’m Siri, but enough about me.) and are now absorbed in the genealogical findings of the likes of Annie Lennox (Scottish), Stephen Fry (Jewish), and Andrew McGowan (thought he was Scottish, learned he’s Indian). The discoveries and stories are human and moving, filled with poverty and forbearance. Paupers and Dickensian workhouses feature in the ancestral pasts of many, except for Boris Johnson who traces his line to King George ll. Figures.
Unlike the US version, which is pretty much an hour-long advertisement for Ancestry.com, the UK program relies on old-fashioned archives, musty tomes, and documents requiring white glove handling.
Anyway, the program is riveting and appeals to a generation of us who forgot to probe our parents or grandparents for their knowledge of our lineage. In my own case, I’m pretty sure I was told and just wasn’t listening.
But here’s the question everyone is asking these days: Have you done your DNA test? People inquire in the same way they ask whether you’ve had your shingles vaccine. It seems everyone’s doing it. And if they haven’t yet, they’re considering it.
My friend Linda took the test and wasn’t surprised to learn her ancestors were centered in Ulster and Eastern Norway – the results can be that focused — but the bit of Polynesian in husband Dan was unexpected. Likewise Bob of Inverness roots, wasn’t expecting to learn he has African ancestors way down the line.
Deep in a family trunk I’ve come across a worn and much-thumbed-through leather album of plated pictures, a gift to my grandmother when she left England to follow her man who’d come for the gold rush. It is inscribed To Maggie from Eliza, August 14, 1902. It is a remember-us gift; pictures of friends and, presumably, family she was never to see again. There are no names. And I wonder: the women with dark hair and complexions . . . family or friends? The stern looking woman . . . are we connected? The family groupings: my family? And who was Eliza?
I haven’t done the DNA test yet. If I do, it won’t be the one that tells me about my family health predispositions. I expect to die of something.
But tell me, have you taken the test? Have you learned where you come from?
It’s a fascinating era in which a wee bit of spit, helps unravel our family stories.
I’d love to hear yours.
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My Granny’s uncle was the organist at Canterbury Cathedral and a friend of Elgar’s. He (uncle) wrote organ music but not so great I guess. Me? I prefer Louis Armstrong and Benny Goodman.
and one old relative did some bookkeeping for Queen Elizabeth I. Ho-hum.
Holy. You’re up there with Boris Johnson. Graham would love to hear about the Elgar connection. We stopped by Elgar’s grave in the Wye Valley. Big stone devoted to his wife…he’s a footnote.
Luckily the roots of my family tree have been long exposed by rigorous documentation by my predecessors. Finland and France dominate. And knowing what I am predisposed would only serve to ruin the mystery of days to come. So I think that instead of DNA revealing my past or my future, I will concentrate on making the present the best I possibly can.
I get that! I’ve no interest in knowing what will end me, either. I believe 23andme specializes in that. I’m solely interested in the genealogical piece…although I’d be surprised if there were surprises. Finland, eh?
Yes, I’ve done the DNA /health predispositions / ancestry thing, and so has my son. Not surprisingly we were found to be closely related 😉 Very surprisingly, I was also connected with a first cousin in Ontario that none of us knew about. She and I have exchanged curious emails and hope to meet someday to do some sleuthing…
The test tells you about cousins? Interesting. Any surprises in your DNA mix?
Ancestry was as expected— mostly European (half Swedish) — and nothing too scary in the health department. Super interesting.
Like you, I have an album or two from my father with intriguing photos and no labels! Some of the relatives can be recognized but many people are a mystery even my dad couldn’t solve. However he was interested in genealogy so did trace his family tree back a few generations through his dad (Irish probably Scots Irish) and his mum 2nd generation Canadian but further back….Hmm, could be anything! And then there’s those secret off shoots! Mum’s family is also traceable back a few generations only in Britain. Seems like something fun to tackle when retirement happens!
It does intrigue. I think I’ll get the test done just to see if there’s anything more exotic than the English/Scot/Irish mix.