Born in the Right Time

My brother took one of those gene tests. Think he got a three-fer deal because they were checking out his adopted baby’s wayback past. The results were kind of darkly hilarious in their banality.

The family tales of a Native American great-whatever on mom’s side? Pure bullshit, of course. Relation to anyone famous they had in the database? Absolute ignominy. Earliest common relative with anyone famous was over five thousand years ago. I have as much relationship to, say, Darwin as I do to every white person in the United States.

The weirdest thing was just how white I am. The spiciest my ancestry gets is 25% Iberian European, so, like, one of my grandmas was secretly Spanish or Portuguese, maybe? No spice.

Why is that weird? Think about it. We all have exponentially increasing numbers of ancestors. Every generation it doubles. Go back a few hundred years and you can have over a thousand people who contributed in some small way to modern you.

Descendants of Attila the Hun have turned up in England. There were so many black folks in Elizabethan England that her Racist Majesty couldn’t feasibly kick them all out. The British Isles also had Jewish and Romani people living there for a long time. During the Victorian era there were enough Indonesians living in London to have a riot.

And I’m related to none of that? Not even a little? Out of tens of thousands of my ancestors, not one of them got with a not-completely-honky person? Not even a Sephardic Jew that converted to Catholicism during the Reconquista to avoid exile or death? Nothing at all?

I’m made out of thousands and thousands and thousands of racists. Oh, but I’m the end of the line. No babies, the buck stops here.

Socially speaking, we’re products of our times. Some people say they wish they were born in a classier looking era. Putting aside Renn Faire types and steampunks, even laundry machines looked sexier in the thirties than they do now. But who would you actually be back then, surrounded by lovely design and people in cool fashions? I can tell who I’d be. Don’t like it. I’m glad I’m alive right now.


  1. StevoR says

    Are these gene tests really that accurate though?

    Can’t say about the specifics of the one you took but there’s his funny / disturbing story y’may have heard already :

    Plus I vaguely recall reading somewhere that some racist sites provide DNA “test”results that are basically set to say the person is all white with no past ancestry of any other group breeding producing you. Now I’m not saying its one of those sort of companies – sure you wouldn’t deliberately pick them – but just how confident are you that the test is really accurate?

  2. says

    I’m not sure but I think the one he used was 23&me, and it could tell he is a honky and his baby is mostly African, so that’s something. But I am rather uncertain. I don’t know about their methodology, certainly don’t know how they can try to turn that information into percentages. No way something as complex as genetic recombination is that clean cut.

    I really just have no idea, but this conclusion isn’t completely unbelievable.

  3. says

    I suspect if you have one ancestor from a particular group the further back that ancestor is the more likely you are to lose any trace of that genetically.
    my sister had a test done, she has 30 percent native Mexican genes that traces back to northeast Mexico. Since my dad’s parents came from Germany that all came from mom, so my sister only has one copy of any gene from the Americas. So any children she might have with a European descended person could have anywhere from 0 percent native Mexican genes to 30 percent, with the most likely being around 15 percent.

  4. M.Currie says

    I had a similar result when a relative gave my wife and me 23 and Me tests for Christmas last year. She’s Cuban and had been given to believe there were all sorts of odd bits in her background, but it came back almost entirely Spanish and European. I’m old New England WASP, with a little bit of Irish and a smattering of French, but there were numerous stories about at least one native American ancestor told with such assurance that it was presumed likely. My mom at one point suggested that she should try to claim enough distant native ancestry to get a piece of Connecticut’s gambling windfall, and seriously presumed it would be possible. Nope. Not according to 23 and Me, at least. A huge preponderance of British Isles ancestry with so small a smattering of other stuff that it’s insignificant. Of course there’s the possibility that the gene tests were wrong, but it seems also pretty likely that the stories were fanciful. It makes me a little more forgiving of people like Elizabeth Warren, who may well have been brought up on family lore that was never questioned.

  5. says

    robert – Thanks for the info.

    m,currie – For real. It’s frustrating though, the way humans are so capable of making up and then making themselves believe utter nonsense, passing it along, so on. I bet all those false family stories originate in the twentieth century, when romanticization of the “noble savages” kicked into high gear. The fact it seemed pleasing / believable on some level to me, I think, is evidence that I have those hokey “positive” racist feelings on some level. And the experience is helping me discard that.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.