i come from a large, tight-knit family that’s deeply rooted in their cultures. i grew up knowing (very specifically) what i “was”. my husband’s heritage seemed to be just as accessible to him, despite having a small family and little information. in the past, from what i remember growing up, DNA tests were only talked about on episodes of “the maury povitch show”… but thanks to 23 and me, everyday people with curiosities about their genetic lineage have access to answers they didn’t even realize they needed to know. read on to see what i thought i’d find in my results…. vs. what actually came back! you might be as surprised as i was!
every sunday before my paternal grandmother passed away we’d have “italian sunday dinner” (which happened at, like, 2 o’clock in the afternoon). it was multi-course. pasta, meat, salad, rice balls, cold cuts & cheeses, wine… all the men went into the living room to watch football while the ladies did the dishes and the kids ran off to play. it was stereotypical, but it was mine to cherish. my father was born in a little town called san vito, italy – nestled in the mountains of calabria. for those of you who don’t know the geography… calabria is the “tip of the boot” – the southernmost point of the country. my dad moved here when he was around 9 or 10 years old. the family made a life for themselves in new jersey, without losing any of the rich culture or tradition that they brought with them from italy.
my mom’s side of the family was split in two. her mother, american-born, has parents of irish descent. nearly everyone on my maternal grandmother’s side of the family has freckles and/or red hair. they are as irish as it gets. my maternal grandfather, however, was born in poland. like my dad, he moved to the united states as a child. therefore, my mom is of mixed european blood lineage.
so what does that mean for me? 50% italian… 25% irish… 25% polish, right? but it turns out, no matter how obvious your genetics may seem – there’s always something that sticks out.
take my husband for example: he labels himself “a black jew”. his mother, of european jewish decent… and his father, an african-american. 50/50, right? … wrong. his 23 and me reads 54% european and 46% sub-saharan african. meaning his mother was all-euro-jew…. but his father, however, had a tiny sliver of “white blood” in him somewhere down the line, which would explain my hubby’s handsome blue eyes. (pictured: stephen doing his best “italian hand” impression, a close-up of his baby blues, and a photo of us from our most recent italy trip. that, my friends, is what a “black jew” looks like!)
in my case, i began wondering about my ‘italian half’ on this very trip to calabria. walking around the tiny town where my father was raised, we happened upon an old black & white class photo hanging in the window of a shop. in the picture was my great uncle’s father. (my great uncle is still alive and resides in canada). check out the photo:
there he is, in the bottom left corner. “peppino froio”…. that’s my dude. i looked at this photo – and at my dad (who’s skin is at least three shades darker than mine) and thought to myself “…. there’s NO WAY these kids are 100% italian.” i always speculated we’d have some middle eastern or north african in our blood, simply because of san vito’s proximity to egypt. when the moors invaded sicily, a lot of the sicilian and southern italian bloodlines were diluted, hence the joke (among most italians) that sicilian people are the “african” italians. calabria is next on that list, because of it’s geographic proximity. so between my dark hair, hereditary dark-circles, light eyes and full lips…. i’ve been secretly wishing i was a part middle eastern for, like, years. i think their many cultures are so beautiful! (i also was holding out to be another member of the kardashian fam…. but…) unfortunately for me – MY HYPOTHESIS WAS INCORRECT!
well ok not totally incorrect – turns out i’m 1.5% middle eastern (a small but mighty ‘win’ for me). check out my full DNA analysis as i discuss:
so we can rule out south asian, east asian & native american because “less than .1%” is basically zero. oceanian…. not happening. sub-saharan african… an obvious no. for lack of a better description, i’m 98.4% european, 1.5% middle eastern, and a 1% mixture of randomness. if we break down the european, 17.6% of that is eastern european (coming from my grandfather’s polish roots). 19.7% northwestern european coming form my grandmother’s irish roots. that’s 37.3% of what should be 50% from my mom’s side! that means 12.7% of my mother’s heritage comes from somewhere in southern europe. interesting, but not surprising. also something to note – the german and french influence, which makes up 4.3% of my mom’s half, would have my irish grandmother keeling over at the thought! it’s amazing how we identify so strongly with one culture/heritage – if you asked my grandma right now she’d say “i couldn’t possibly have french in me! i’m 100% irish!”
moving on to dad’s half of my gene pool: i am 55.7% southern european. however, i am only 29.7% ITALIAN. the italian culture, heritage, genes and family dynamic are SO STRONG in my family that – despite it only coming from one parent – if you asked me “what are you” i’d immediately say “ITALIAN” without any hesitation. i am italian to the core. even my poor mother, who’s spent more than enough time surrounded by italians, practically could be mistaken for one herself (if it weren’t for her blonde hair and blue eyes!!!!). the italian culture has implanted itself in my soul – and after spitting into a vial, i come to learn it only makes up basically ONE FOURTH of my dna. wow, wow, wow, and wow.
a whopping 12.1% of my father’s side is labeled as “balkan”.
my aunt says we had a distant relative that spoke fluent albanian – and i wouldn’t be surprised at all to know that there was greek & turkish influence in my blood…. but never would i have thought it would be such a strong, sturdy percentage. i believe, if i read my results correctly, that this comes from my paternal grandmother’s lineage. come to think of it, she did appear to look very greek! the last 2.4% of my father’s side is ‘iberean’ which is the area surrounding spain & portugal.
… so there you have it! i’m so happy that my husband and i took the plunge and did 23 and me. it was really interesting to read what we’re made up of, and confirmed my suspicion about my great, great uncle’s class photo. whatever you think you “are”…. there’s a really good chance the story goes deeper than what your living relatives have told you. in my case, the strong balkan lineage is as recent as 1840-1900, meaning a great grandparent was of 100% balkan descent. so freakin fascinating.
if you’ve ever been curious about your lineage – or better yet, if you think you know exactly what it must be… i urge you to try this out. our kits came back so fast, they were super easy to use, and stephen & i have had a blast discussing and comparing them at length. it also makes an amazing gift for a parent or grandparent! many thank you’s to 23 and me. keep following along on instagram for more posts like this one!