Surprising Dip in the Gene Pool


200px-gilbertarms_mediumI’ve recently received an ancestry composition report from 23&Me and, much as I expected based on earlier paper-based research, my genetics are mostly Northwestern European in origin – to the tune of about 83%. Of course, English/Irish ancestry dominates the scene, the venerable old Gilbert line being of English origin 800 years ago. Naturally, Scandinavian and French weigh in, the Gilberts being of Norman French, and therefore some Viking, descent. And, perhaps ho-humedly, German comprises a huge chunk of my DNA, with families recently contributing to my line having names like Scheetz, Krouse, and Kahl – pretty standard for Northern Indiana. However, just as some white supremacists have recently discovered African or Jewish ancestors in their DNA, I had several surprises of my own: no Native American showed up, but I’m probably 15% Bohemian!

Like many Americans, we presume to have at least some trace ancestry that links us with the extirpated-yet-not-gone Native American peoples. These days, since the reexamination of race relations throughout the 60s and 70s, it is not only acceptable but downright a matter of pride to be of Native blood. However, this was not always the case. Apparently, in some circles anyway, Native ancestry was something to conceal as a social stigma. Weirder yet, it may have been the case that descendants of immigrants from poorer countries would actually tell their children that they were of Native American stock to conceal their humble or embarrassing roots in the Old World. While it might be the case that today’s genetic testing services self-select to exclude Native DNA samples from their databases due to cost, and therefore cannot identify such in my own sample, the family legend was that Great Grandma Tarant was Blackfoot. The significant Balkans/Central European component to my genetic profile, however, along with the absence of Native American ancestry, compelled me to track down where that came from and where the Native American went. As it turns out, Coni possessed the document written in Great Grandma’s hand that lists her parents as having both been born in Bohemia. So, surprisingly, I have Slavic ancestry – news to me.

A little cherry on top of all this genetic testing came as I searched 23&Me’s quite useful ‘Genetic Relatives’ database. This is an opt-in database where people can share their 23&Me results with whomever else is on the same database and shares at least some component of their DNA. Most of the 1056 people sharing my genes on there are people I never heard of and have no idea of how we would be related. I did come upon one Ulrich surname on there, which intrigued me since one of my oldest and closest friends shares that name. From chatting with this person, I found out her family is originally from Northern Indiana and Southwest Michigan. Happily, then, I am likely distant cousins with the woman I’ve been calling “Little Sis” all these years! This, along with all my other genealogy research has really enlightened me to a single important fact: the farther back you go, the bigger your family gets!

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