In section 23 of his Song of Myself, Walt Whitman exalts in science--"long live exact demonstration!"--yet I find myself feeling closer to these lines that come a bit later:
"Your facts are useful, and yet they are not my dwelling,
I but enter by them to an area of my dwelling."
I recently had my DNA tested, something I was not planning on doing, resisting technology as is my wont. I have traced and followed my family line back many generations through research and documents (albeit many found online, not being as much a Luddite as I protest), and have a fairly comprehensive idea of "what I am." Or so I thought.
The catalyst for my volte-face was two newfound cousins who came forward, independently, after the new year. They both had found me through this blog, happily enough. And they both had questions for me that only DNA could help answer. That coincidence--and an online sale price--convinced me to submit a sample.
|Another of my 5xggs, John Conley (30 Aug 1776 - 31 Jan 1853), and Absalom Fender |
appear a few lines apart on the 1830 U S Federal Census for Lawrence County, Indiana.
Conley's grandson married Jacob Tolliver's daughter.
Sad to say, the Tolivers and their extended clan were slave-owners. It is not suprising, as they lived in the south in the early 1800s, but disappointing nonetheless. I like to think they had a change of heart, though, because many of the Tolivers and allied families moved north in the 1830s and '40s (as seen above); and many of the sons of the next generation fought--for the Union--in the Civil War.
My cousin wrote asking if I had had my DNA done, and if so, did I have any percentage of African ancestry. He does. His family even has passed down the familiar myth of a half-Indian ancestor--so often, great-grandma was a Cherokee princess!--a common deception used to hide indiscretions, either for propriety's sake, or to avoid miscegenation laws. At any rate, that family tale had not come down to me, so only DNA would reveal if our common Toliver forebear was the source, or if perhaps it came from my cousin's Fender side.
Meanwhile. Out of the blue, I received a message from another fella, in regard to one of my brick walls, Clarissa Adams (31 Jan 1791 - 7 Feb 1872), a maternal 4xgg whose lineage is far from proven. I was excited to hear from him, hoping he would have additional information that would confirm her parents. He didn't. What he did have was a DNA connection to one of Clarissa's purported brothers. So if my DNA matched theirs, it was likely I could confirm her parents. What was in it for him is that he was adopted, and signs point to one of the Adams' descendants as his biological father, my match giving him further evidence. Got it?
So I bought my kit, sent in my spit, and waited. Until my results arrived, Ancestry.com occasionally fed me little titbits of information, like this one about my last name:
Coincidentally, my mother's maiden name is Brown. And both my sister and I were naturally blonde most of our childhood and young adult lives. Anyway....
The results finally arrived, just in time, because I was wearying of the fun facts Ancestry kept dropping: I am in the majority--68%!--because I do not have dimples, etc.
Not to bury the lede: I do not have African ancestry, at least as far as my DNA results show. Of course, that many generations back, it's possible I could have a slave ancestor, but whose genes did not redound to me. If you're interested in a crash course in how that all works, you can go here.
As for my other potential cousin, we do not share DNA, so our hoped-for Adams connection is not proven. Again, it may exist, but DNA does not confirm it. We'll both keep searching for other records or documents, hoping to find our answers.
So, if I'm not black, what am I? Through my research, I thought I had a pretty good idea, but it doesn't sync up with the results I received. Based on my thirty-two 3x great grandparents, the oldest generation for which I have information on all of them, I should be:
50% United Kingdom
12.5 % Danish
6.5 % Polish
but here is what came back:
Or as my hubby said: "Wow. You are so white." Indeed. But what shade?
The "Germanic Europe" percent matches just about perfectly, encompassing my Danish Severin, Thorsen, Nissen, and Christensen surnames; Polish Miller (and LKU); and respectively, French and German Runser and Brunner. "Sweden" is pretty spot-on as well, what with my Erickson, Jansson and Larsdotter ancestors, among others.
My gripe is about that 27% "Norway." Going back several generations, there is no one in my family from Norway, at least modern-day Norway. I have not looked into the connected histories of Sweden and Norway; perhaps one was part of the other at some point, but even allowing for that, and the geographic overlap of the chart, I still shouldn't be more than 38% Scandinavian, and that's only by throwing in the 12% "Germanic Europe" Danes!
I will admit to an anglophilic bias, but I expect I must be more than the 28% "England, Wales, & Northwestern Europe" that is claimed. Sixteen of my thirty-two 3x ggs are either of English descent, or have veddy British surnames like Squire, MacDonald, Conley, and Cherry. It may just be that those genes didn't come down to me.
I didn't learn anything surprising, or especially conclusive, but I'm not going to let a little thing like science deter me. Time to pour a stiff Bushmills and soda, pop the Elgar Enigma Variations into the cd-player, and resume reading Trollope's He Knew He was Right.
UPDATE April 2021:
My DNA analysis was refined a while ago, and looks much more like what my research indicates, although again, due to the haphazard way DNA comes down through generations, it is never an exact match. The update came as Ancestry gathers more data, and consequently can become more detailed. You'll note, for example, that Wales has been dropped from the original category of "England, Wales, and Northwest Europe" seen above.
Scotland, apparently, is a new "region" for Ancestry, so was lumped under the "England" category previously. More about Scotland later.
Thankfully, Norway dropped from 27% to a mere 10%, despite there being no obvious basis for any Norwegian DNA in my line. Not that I have anything against the Nordmenn. In fact, one of my favorite relatives was my wonderful great-uncle Thor (Thorald Paul Moe, 30 June 1905 - November 2000), husband to my maternal grandmother's sister, Gleva Marcella Severin (15 January 1904 - 4 August 1982). He made wonderful wood carvings, and whenever we would visit, cooked the most wonderful spaghetti dinners--not a recognized Norwegian specialty, perhaps, but so delicious.
So with Scandinavia better managed, what about these newfound Scottish genes? Och aye, that bears investigation. Visions of kilts and cabers, haggis and highland dances to the skirl of bagpipes jigged in my head.
I already knew--and have posted about-- my Scotch-Irish ancestors, mainly found on my maternal side. But they really couldn't represent such a large proportion of DNA. And certainly none of them were Highlanders, being primarily from "the Borders," the name for the swath of land that encompasses northernmost England and southern Scotland.
Common to both my maternal grandparents' ancestry is the surname Maxwell. On my grandfather's side, the person closest to me generationally is Elizabeth "Betsy" Maxell (1801 - 25 September 1850), a 4x great-grandmother. Her parents were William Maxwell(6 August 1765- 1832) and Lucy Toliver (23 May 1768 - 1832). It is believed that William's father was David Maxwell (1720? - before 1784), a Scottish émigré, although from where more precisely is unknown. The Maxwell name originates in Roxburghshire, a historic county of the Borders, so no kilts there.
On my grandmother's side, although details are sketchier and more research is needed, the Maxwell surname's most recent appearance is with Margaret Maxwell (1579 -1597), a 9x gg, who married John Wallace (1581 - 1615). These Maxwells are from Dumfriesshire, another of those historic Border counties. Scratch the bagpipes. There are lots of John Wallaces throughout that branch of my family tree; the name lived on through generations, as recently as my 4xgg, John Wallace Cherry (27 May 1788 - 10 February 1857). You can read more about him here (and elsewhere on this blog). I have a soft spot for him because visiting his grave and environs was one of the first genealogical Road Trips I made. Anyway.
The Maxwells, both branches, are the best documented of my Scottish forebears. But many more ancestors seem to lead there, some simply needing more research to verify, others through Scottish surnames (McDonald, Morrison, Wallace), not least of which is my own: Burnett.
Although I have not been able to find the connection, my farthest back verifiable Burnett ancestor, paternal 4x gg Isaac Burnett (1780 - May 1860) being a horrible brick wall, the Burnett name is Scottish, dating back--in variants--to the Norman Conquest.
Originally Lowland/Border Scots, some of the Burnetts finally made it to Aberdeenshire and baronetcies, where the Burnetts of Leys are still present, and their former home, Crathes Castle, can still be visited under the auspices of the National Trust.
And guess what: with an assist from Sir Walter Scott (!) the House of Burnett, although not actually a clan per se, was issued a tartan in 1822, when King George IV made the first royal visit to Scotland since 1651. If I can find the connection from grandpa Isaac to Aberdeen, I'm going to order myself a kilt.