I used to do a lot of genealogy research. I knew I was “Italian” in that my 4 grandparents all came to this country from areas of what is now Southern Italy. I was fortunate to have traveled to Italy a number of times during my corporate life. The town where my paternal grandparents were born and married, Toritto, had not been bombed during the war and the commune kept excellent records. Birth, marriage and death certificates were easily available. There was even a street, via Scarangella which indicated that while most of us were peasants, a least one member of the family was a member of the prominenti.
via Scarangella, Toritto, Italy
After a time I had constructed a family tree going back a couple of centuries for my paternal line. I met with family “old timers” and filled in some of the blanks. Visited Ellis Island. Did some research there. It got interesting when I began looking into the origin of our family name. There was a theory out there that it was a derivative of old Norse. I wrote about it here:
It remains one of my most widely read posts and uncovered a few cousins I didn’t know I had. Then came a comment from my doctor. I had “Viking hands!” I wrote about that too.
So after thinking about it for awhile I decided to invest in a ethnicity DNA test not knowing that my daughter had bought me one for Christmas. I suggested she keep hers and use it herself. So I received the kit, followed the instructions, spit in the tube and mailed it off. Yesterday I got the results.
I am not Norse! Notwithstanding the name origin theory and the Viking hands. Not Viking.
Seems I am 78 % – 96% Southern European, primarily Southern Italy and Greece. The DNA is primarily from Puglia – the firm doing the study calls the average 86%. Just about what I expected.
What else I am? Not Norse.
The DNA indicates ancestors from the Caucasus region, either Georgia or Armenia or both. Perhaps as much as 12%. The firm calls it average 6%. I have no information whatsoever on any Georgian or Armenian ancestors. But there they are – in the DNA,
Where else? The DNA says I have Middle Eastern ancestry, probably from the Eastern Mediterranean coast. Lebanon or Greater Syria / Iraq. The firm calls it 2% but could be as much as 6%. Who knew?
A couple of percent Eastern European is also in the DNA – that vast area including Poland all the way to Russia. Again I hadn’t a clue. And a touch of Ashkenazi Jewish – that is a real surprise. And finally a sprinkle from the Iberian peninsula. Just a touch.
Now all of these test results should not be taken as gospel truth.
Population based matching is what is known as “best fit.” This means that with few exceptions, such as some D9S919 values (Native American), the Duffy Null Allele (African) and Neanderthal not being found in African populations, all of the DNA sequences used for ethnicity matching are found in almost all populations worldwide, just at differing frequencies.
So assigning a specific “ethnicity” to you is a matter of finding the best fit – in other words which population now living in the world you match at the highest frequency for the combined segments being measured. Wars are fought. Areas are depopulated. Populations change. People migrate. People have babies. The DNA of the Huns is still found in the populations of Eastern Europe.
And what exactly is a “German” or “Italian?” Your DNA may match a current population in Germany but where did their ancestors come from? Who knows. DNA testing is very good a identifying origins by continent and distinct groups, such as Ashkenazi Jews but much less reliable .identifying European ethnicity.
After the Thirty Years War for example, vast areas of Germany were completely depopulated for decades. German Princes invited people to come live and farm. And many did move to “Germany” and settle there. And today your DNA may match this population in Germany or it may be a closer match to a population in Poland. Are you “German?” Culturally perhaps. But you may show trace DNA of Eastern European Slavic or one of the Balkan states.
My DNA results matched my expected ethnicity, – I am “Italian” from a specific province in the south originally settled by Greeks. The dominance of the percentage means my ancestors have lived there for untold centuries. In those lesser trace DNA results – the Caucasus, Middle East, Eastern Europe, Iberia and the Ashkenazi – these are perhaps indications of where some of those Italian ancestors came from perhaps fifty to one hundred generations ago. Our town was founded by Greeks, ruled by Romans; then Byzantines, Moors, Normans, Spain and France. The Bari seaport on the Adriatic saw trading ships from Greece and the Levant. It is easy to see how the trace DNA got to Toritto.
Also included in my results was a list of people who also have taken the test who turned out to be my 2nd – 6th cousins on a “very high” or “high” level of confidence. Over 100 “cousins” I didn’t know I had! We are all from the same region and genetically linked though a common ancestor.
Several had last names I remember from the “little Italy” of my Brooklyn youth although I had no idea we might be distantly related. One was my best childhood friend. Another two are related to my father’s older half sister who came to America wit h my grandparents in 1905. Another two have the same last name of a family, which like my grandfather, was in the coal delivery business in Brooklyn. Again, no idea we might be related.
So what you see here – the old man who was once the 5’7″ 120 lb. clever teen of the 1950s – a son of the Mediterranean – is the product of 500 years of marrying cousins in small Italian towns!
And no. apparently I am not a Viking.