Testing DNA is a national craze.
Eighteen months ago I succumbed to the temptation. Like thousands of others, I ponied up the fee and mailed off my saliva sample to Ancestry.com.
A few weeks later learned that I am 43 percent British, 34 percent Irish and 12 percent Scandinavian. The Scandinavian bit threw me. My family paper trail shows I’m decidedly German and Dutch, not Danish or Norwegian. So I decided to test the test.
This time I used the 23 and Me test and opted for the health reports (more cash of course), though I was most interested in solving the riddle about being a Viking.
Turns out 23 and Me categorized me as 62% British and Irish, 15% German-French and less than 1% Scandinavian. But….another 17% of me was classified as “broadly European,” which covers a lot of bases, including possible Norse heritage.
Vikings aside, my DNA experiences have been fun and thought-provoking. Every so often I receive email updates about “DNA relatives” who share some genetic material with me. One of my DNA relatives was a “Fell,” a surname I recognized from my mother’s family tree. I ended up talking to this man in northwest Iowa, He toldme when his great-grandfather, Mr. Fell, died in the 1880s, his great-grandmother “fell” on hard times. She and her children became servants for a wealthy farmer. Years later he bequeathed much of his fortune to her children. Karma.
Meanwhile, my DNA health-related reports have been impressive. The science accurately predicted details about my toes, my earlobes, my hairline and chin. The tests predict the odds for me having dimples, fair skin and freckles. Some of the other trait reports told me the likelihood of whether I’m repulsed by “chewing sounds,” whether I’m apt to sneeze in sunlight, whether I prefer a salty vs. sweet taste, whether I like cilantro (coriander). I don’t know what the big deal is about cilantro…maybe it’s the popularity of Mexican and Thai restaurants.
23 and Me accurately suggested that I am not a deep sleeper, and that I am predisposed to wake up at 6:37 a.m. Seriously. They have it down to the minute. And, like a self-fulfilling prophecy, I have checked the clock every morning since, and 6:37 a.m. is correct within a few minutes.
One of the most intriguing reports claims that I have a specific genetic variant related to muscle tissue. It’s the same variant possessed by elite power athletes such as sprinters, throwers and jumpers. I have never considered myself athletic, but who knows? Maybe my destiny was to be an Olympian.
They also claim that I share a Haplogroup with Benjamin Franklin. Haplogroups are comprised of people who share a cluster of genes from a single parent. Presumably my Haplogroup shares a prehistoric mother who wandered into Europe around 10,000 years ago. It so happens that my Haplogroup is most common among people from Northern Scandinavia, which brings me back to that Viking question.
I must point out that my DNA results have been “relatively” correct, which raises deeper questions. If DNA determines so much of our physical traits and abilities, how much free choice do we really have? How much of our life is pre-determined by ancestors who lived hundreds and thousands of years ago?
I think the answers are “not much” and “a lot.”
Me in Viking Land: a 1,000-year-old stave church, Oslo, Norway