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Where we live: DNA and me

Published February 09. 2019 06:51AM

By Karen Cimms

Last year my two youngest kids had their DNA tested. They’ve shared the results with me and usually include me in their conversations about our ancestry.

It’s fascinating, especially learning things we never knew before.

I grew up with an Italian mother — both her parents were born in southern Italy — and a Slovak father whose parents were born in the United States, but his grandparents were born in Czechoslovakia. And while I had the possibility of experiencing two very different cultures, my father deferred to my mother. I grew up as Italian as if both my parents had sailed into Ellis Island from Naples themselves.

It’s not that I didn’t have any influence from my Slovak grandmother. She taught me to sew and how to make the best apple pie. I probably spent more one-on-one time with her than I did with Grandma and Grandpa Lombardi. But if you asked me my nationality, the answer was always “Italian.”

So imagine my surprise when my kids got the results of their DNA tests and found out they had very little Italian in their ancestry. My daughter’s DNA registered 8.5 percent, while my son’s was 12.2 percent. Amanda actually had more French and German (12.3 percent); Greek and Balkan (9.8 percent); and British and Irish (9.7 percent) than she did Italian.

Amanda is 99.3 percent European, with the vast amount of her DNA — 37 percent — originating in Poland. As for Garrett, 42.3 percent of his DNA is Eastern European, encompassing Poland and Russia.

My husband’s father was Polish and his mother was English and Scottish. But none of our parents were French, German, Greek, Asian or Native American. As far as the Balkans are concerned, I had to look up where they were located.

I’m no scientist, so the whole process is more than a little confusing. For example, Amanda’s DNA showed a trace of Eastern and Western Asian, Native American and North African. Garrett’s DNA also shows trace amounts of all but the Native American link. It doesn’t mean he doesn’t possess that lineage, but since he’s more closely aligned with my husband’s DNA thanks to their Y chromosomes, it’s likely that negligible Native American DNA comes from me.

Despite how confusing it is, it’s also fascinating and exciting, and in my opinion, it makes the world a whole lot smaller.

While there are only trace amounts of Asian, African and Native American DNA, it’s there. Which means somewhere, hundreds or maybe thousands of years ago, my children have ancestors from three different continents.

It proves we have more in common with the people who populate this planet than we may have believed.

To that end, I have a close friend who received his DNA results last December and was thrilled to learn that he had roots linking him to Ashkenazi Jews and North Africans. It was the first time in more than six or seven years that he wanted to connect with his estranged racist, anti-Semitic, Islamophobic parents so he could crow about a background that linked them to the same people they shunned. (He didn’t, of course, but he did think we should buy him Hannukah presents.)

Not one to be left out, I recently sent my DNA off to be tested. My results should be in any day now, and while I know some of what to expect, it’s exciting to dig a little deeper into my primordial roots and maybe reach out to some newly identified extended family members.

I know there are people who are rabidly opposed to DNA testing for lots of reasons, including the possibility of samples being sold to pharmaceutical companies or confiscated by the government. I’m not concerned.

Anytime we’ve had a blood draw, that information could be used in ways we may not be aware of. Insurance companies are aware of our medical history, so that’s not really private information.

And if a drug company uses my DNA to create drugs to treat fibromyalgia or fight breast cancer, that’s a good thing. While they’re at it, I also have crappy knees. If they want to work on that, I say go for it.

But foremost, I’m OK with anything that has the potential to make the world a smaller, kinder, more tolerant place to live.

It’s a lot harder to disparage an entire race or religion if you’re hosting a few threads of DNA that link you to the same people you want to hate.

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