I know where I got my red whiskers.
I learned in an e-mail yesterday, with a link to my results.
About a month ago I spit in a tube and mailed it to Ancestry.com, hoping to learn my genetic genealogy. I’ve always been interested in my roots, and I’ve done a fair amount to research them, but for a year or two I’ve been particularly curious about DNA. Somehow, smart people with big computers can look at your DNA and look for similarities in it to known strains of DNA from around the world and see which strains you’re related to.
It’s a way to pull back the curtain, to see what’s beyond the censuses and parish records, the birthdates and the death dates. It’s a chance to flesh out the dark corners of your family history.
Or to turn everything upside down.
Like happened with me yesterday.
For all of my adult life, when people have inquired about my ancestry, I’ve said that it was English. In 1632, my progenitor, Richard Lounsbury left Loundesborough, England, for the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam. He settled in Rye township in current Westchester County and his descendants stayed there until shortly after 1800, when they moved to the frontier, to the town of Pulteney, above Keuka Lake in Steuben County. By the Civil War, my line of Lonsberrys had moved one county to the west, to Allegany County, and stayed there into modern times.
So I’m English, with a good, long sojourn in what is now New York. Soon, we will have spent a couple of centuries in the outskirts of New York City, and a couple of centuries in the mountainous Southern Tier.
When I was a boy, my grandmother told me that we had Indian blood in us. She didn’t know the tribe or the connection, and my subsequent research couldn’t find any Indian intermarriages, but from childhood on I have fondly hoped of some blood connection to Native America. All of my life I’ve been interested in Indian history and heritage, and I spent two years as a missionary to Native Americans.
And I’m a little dark.
For a Caucasian with blue eyes, I have a darker tint and I tan quickly and darkly. For the last six generations along one line, there has always been a darker person among the fair and light complected. My daughter, my mother, her father, his mother, her mother, and I, all distinctively colored.
I hoped my DNA test would tell me why, I hoped it would connect me to some tribe of American Indians.
Or to some hint of African descent.
Because while you can’t pick your ancestors or heritage, I have always thought that being descended from African slaves would be a noble and empowering heritage. To know that blood of your blood had made the horrific passage in the belly of a slave ship, been subjected to the horrors of slavery, and still survived, that would be amazing. A heritage of endurance and strength. Something to live up to.
But that all turned out to be crap.
The whole thing.
It turns out that though I can tell you a fair number of names in my ancestry, I didn’t know much about blood.
At least according to the DNA.
According to the DNA, I’m an Irishman.
My genetic ancestry is 47 percent Irish, 35 percent Western European and 6 percent Scandinavian.
The remaining 12 percent is “trace.”
Specifically, 4 percent each from Great Britain and what they call “Italy/Greece,” 3 percent from Spain or Portugal, and the remaining fraction of 1 percent is European Jew.
To be honest, when I opened the link, I was crestfallen.
I was almost sick.
First, there was no hidden treasure, no black or Indian. Second, the heritage I had embraced in my mind – English – was marginal, washed out and meaningless. Third, my family heritage has always been so completely un-Irish. We don’t – to tick off the stereotypes one by one – drink, fight, sing, vote Democrat or believe in the pope.
And I grew up in the era of the IRA troubles in Northern Ireland, when the Irish name was stained by bloodshed. Most of what I know about Irish people I learned watching Bing Crosby and John Wayne movies.
But now I’m a Mick.
And I have to pretend to be offended when somebody says “Paddy wagon.” My wife – an alabaster-complected girl with red highlights and freckles – says she’s going to loan me a “Kiss Me I’m Irish” button.
I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.
As I think about it, Kaple and Royce are two of my family lines – and Irish names – and my second-great grandmother’s first husband fell in an Irish regiment in the Civil War.
Plus, I’m a bastard.
The genealogy and maybe the identity of my father are unknown. I met the man who married and ran out on my mother when I was 30. I was always told he was my father, and I looked a lot like him, but he was a bastard himself – his mother conceiving while an inmate at a state asylum – so there’s no real answer about his origins.
But I’m thinking Irish.
On the website of the Ancestry people, they talk a lot about science, but nothing about psychology. The science I understand, the psychology I don’t. In learning my heritage, I lost my heritage. I don’t yet feel empowered and informed, I feel stripped.
But being stripped of ignorance is a precursor to learning truth.
Richard Lounsbury did come here from Loundesborough, England, in 1632, and I am his direct descendant. But there is a lot of breeding done over near 400 years, and the blood bonds of the human family are deep and wide.
And I am in significant part an Irishman, at least by American standards.
Now I have to figure out what that means.
Do I learn a history and a culture I was not raised with? Do I study a nation and a people I had felt no connection to? Do I reach through my ignorance to feel the embrace of blood? Do I seek an ancestral reunion after generations and perhaps centuries?
But not today. Today I am still stunned.
But at least I learned where my red whiskers come from.