After listening to countless (almost) ads for Ancestry.com on the radio, a few weeks ago I decided to take a plunge into the waters of my DNA.
Well, let's make that watery spit, since my saliva is what got sent off for testing.
I don't know what took me so long to learn what countries my recent ancestors likely came from. Procrastination, I guess, since my rather unusual family history seemingly would make me a natural for an AncestryDNA report.
I know quite a bit about my mother's side of the family.
I know almost nothing about my father's side, since (1) he was adopted as a baby, (2) I only spent one hour with him in my entire life, though we had some telephone conversations, and (3) all he told me about his parents was that they were Polish-speaking Germans who came to the United States in the early 1900s, after which his mother reportedly died in childbirth and his father deserted the baby. Namely, him.
So when Ancestry notified me this morning that my DNA results were ready for examination, I was excited to see what they showed. Here's the Ethnicity Estimate.
This generally fits with what I already knew of my genetic heritage. But I was thrilled to see that Baltic States was my top result, 41%. I've got nothing against Poland or Germany. I just find Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania to be cooler, being less populated and more unusual.
So I'm trying to develop a mild Lithuanian accent, though I'm handicapped by not having the faintest idea what a Lithuanian accent sounds like. I'll just have to trust my genes, I guess.
Regarding Norway, I'd forgotten that my maternal grandmother's father was from Norway. So that 15% seems about right, given that my grandmother apparently comprises 25% of my genetic makeup. (Don't trust me on that, since I'm pretty much DNA clueless.)
I signed up for a six month Ancestry U.S. Discovery membership, which entitled me to peruse family trees and contact people who showed up as possibly related to me.
The top "hit" was Patricia Hines, who indeed is a half-sister I only communicated with once, as far as I can recall. My father started phoning me when I was in my early 30's, so about forty years ago. Patricia must have gotten my address from him, since I remember getting a letter from her when I believe she was 16.
Science really is amazing. I spit in a tube, send it off to a testing facility, and soon I get a report showing that Patricia Hines is 100% certain to be a close relative. Even better, she had authorized people to send her a message, which I did. Don't know if I'll hear back from her, of course. Here's what I said to her.
Patricia, a voice out of the past from Brian Hines. I recall that we communicated, by letter I think, or maybe by phone, after our father, John Hines, got in touch with me shortly before he died. As you may know, I got to spend one hour with him in a Boston hotel room, along with Mike. The visit didn't go very well, as I related in a blog post.
I'd love to know more about you, your siblings, and my father. He only told me a few things about his parents, who he said were Polish speaking Germans whose last name was Mueller. Michael told me once that he'd send me copies of genealogical/family research our father had carried out, but this never happened.
A few days ago my birthday happened, as they do every year, and I became 71. I signed up with Ancestry because I'd like to know more about my paternal origins. Don't know why, not that why's matter in this case, really. It's just a blank spot in my life. Aside from my daughter and granddaughter, I'm not in touch with anybody from my mother's side of my family, mostly because of death.
My wife and I are living pretty happily in rural south Salem, Oregon on ten acres, though we have thoughts of moving into town as our property becomes more difficult for us to maintain. Our two dogs love it though. Squirrels! Deer! Coyotes! (well, they are more competitive and scared of coyotes)
I've got a web page that tells about me: www.brianhines.com I recently published a book based on some of my blog posts, and I'm working on another one, after writing three previous books. I enjoy Tai Chi and citizen activism here in Salem. Anyway, it'd be great to hear from you. My email address is [email protected]
I'll end with "Love, Brian" even though I don't know you, because I really do love coming into contact with my half sister. My other half sister, on my mother's side (from my mother's first marriage, before she married my father) died quite a while ago.
With the help of Patricia's family tree, and some work of my own, I was able to make a start on my family tree. There's quite a few blanks, but this is more than I've ever been able to construct, family tree-wise.
I was surprised by how good I felt while thinking about and investigating my genealogy, especially since I haven't been much interested in this subject previously.
Maybe it's because the older I become, the more I can relate to the photos of relatives that are displayed in our house. They're all dead now, but once they were alive, just as I am at the moment. One day I'll be a photo on the wall, a memory rather than a living presence.
So today I felt gratitude toward all of my ancestors who made it possible for me to be alive. It's an obvious fact of evolution that if any one of my countless ancestors, ranging all the way back to the Last Universal Common Ancestor (LUCA) of all living beings -- which could be as long as 4.5 billion years ago -- hadn't reproduced, I wouldn't be here.
Much more recently, if any one of my Baltic/Germanic relatives had failed to have children, there wouldn't be a me writing this blog post. Or doing anything else, because I wouldn't exist.
There's something beautiful about genealogy that I hadn't realized before today, how it reminds us of our connections to not only all people on our planet, but also every living being.
Ancestry.com lets you look at DNA matches that keep on scrolling for a really long time, with, not surprisingly, more people having shared DNA results the further down the "cousin" line you go. After Patricia Hines the strongest relative listed was, pleasingly, Al Capone. Yes!