I can’t count the number of times I’ve been asked, “What are you?” My dark curly hair, almond-shaped brown eyes, freckles, and olive skin that pales in winter have many guessing Brazilian, Italian, Greek, or Jewish. For most of my life I simply just considered myself half-Mexican, a quarter English, and a quarter Irish. I knew that my mom and her immediate relatives came from Texas and Mexico and that my late father’s Byrne family settled mostly in Ohio, close to the Kentucky line, after emigrating from Ireland. But, I finally took a consumer DNA test from 23andme.com this month and was truly amazed to discover just how much shared heritage so many of us must have!
Before sending off my saliva to be analyzed, you hardly could have convinced me that, whoa!, I’m about 80% European, with 30% British and Irish and even small percentages of Finnish and Scandinavian ancestry. Add to that slivers of Ashkenazi Jew, Italian, smidges of West African and Middle Eastern, with robust Native American, Spanish, East Asian, and Russian (holy Tolstoy!) DNA contributions. I suddenly felt more connected to the entire world than ever before and instantly saw how it underscored the very concept of the first seven letters of this website: I am them, I am the mountain! I also had the slightly sordid thought of all of these ancestors sleeping together so that I’d be here today to spit in a test tube.
The DNA test revealed even more fascinating information about my maternal and paternal lines. My maternal haplogroup is A2 (the same as Eva Longoria), and my paternal haplogroup is R1b1b2a1a2f* (the same as Stephen Colbert and very close to Malcolm Gladwell). Since I have two X chromosomes, I needed to enlist a male relative with a Y chromosome to access information about my paternal haplogroup. The conversation with my older brother went something like, “Hey, will you do me a favor and spit in this test tube for me, because you have a Y chromosome?” Turns out he and I only share 41.3% of the same DNA, and his DNA composition shows some French and German, whereas mine didn’t (maybe it’s somewhere in the “broadly Northern European” and “broadly Southern European” noted in my composition). The 23andMe.com results also informed me of my DNA Relatives matches: so far 214 2nd and 3rd cousins and 715 4th cousins (at least two of these matches have so far reached out to me through the site)! After this experience, it will be hard looking at people as anything but potential relatives.
What a trip picturing my ancestors making their respective ways through the world, imagining what sorts of people they were and how they met. In the absence of more specific information, and until my late-night trolling on Ancestry.com and findagrave.com reveal otherwise, it’s certainly tempting to believe they were all fabulous and damn good-looking people!
Just to compare the results, I also did a DNA test from Ancestry.com. While their ethnicity estimate was similar to 23andme.com's, their breakdown of regions varied slighty. Here is my Ancestry.com ethnicity estimate.