|Ancestral Composition graph for Michael Lacopo|
05 September 2014, 23andMe.com
On 28 July 2013, I wincingly paid roughly two hundred dollars for two autosomal DNA test kits from 23andMe for my mother and me. For those who know me, I am frugal. Painfully frugal. I will shop at Goodwill and agonize over buying a shirt for three dollars, then I will wear it until it is so old it unravels. But I will drop $275.00 for copies of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century estate files in Mifflin County, Pennsylvania. Or thousands of dollars on a complete forty-nine volume set of Map Guides to German Parish Registers. I mean, really, a man has to have his priorities. So for $200 I was wanting my world rocked.
At about 1 a.m. that night I sent my mother a message. I knew she would receive it. The one thing I did inherit from her was the nocturnal habits of a vampire.
"Hey, can I have 1 ml of your saliva?"
Her response came at 2 a.m., as I had expected, "I've been wanting to do this! Yes, you can!"
This was followed by a 3 a.m. response, "Wait a minute! I just realized what you're up to. You're trying to find out who your daddy is, aren't you?"
My mother's life-long threat to me is to allow me to devote my life to genealogical research only to utter with her last dying breath, "You're a foundling." My response is that I will exact my revenge by planting her in the ground with only one of those bland, ubiquitous, anonymous tombstones over her head inscribed merely "Mother." But since I look more like the mailman than either one of my parents, the joke has run anywhere from being switched at birth to being the result of an immaculate conception.
And of course, since 23andMe was the only company in the DNA game to offer medical reports based on genetic markers, it made the novelty of the test even more appealing. There are no menacing hereditary diseases lurking in my family tree that I am aware of, but it seemed an interesting avenue to explore and to compare results. And although I certainly had my mother's paternity questions in the back of my head, the use of this as a long-term genealogical research tool was more in the forefront of my mind than to put the "Strukel vs. Miller" debate to rest. But trust me, it was there.
Of course, when the test kits arrived, I tore mine open, registered my kit, gave my perpetually dry salivary glands a pep talk, and produced enough spit required to box it up and throw it right back into the mail. Due to scheduling conflicts and out-of-town visitors, I was not able to get to my mother's house and gather her sample until the following week.
I couldn't help but see some sort of odd similarities to the events unfolding in the summer of 2013, compared to those in the fall of 1982. When we embarked upon the search for my mother's birthparents in 1982, my parents' marriage was ending. My mother, who had been a housewife and stay-at-home mother was tasked with reinventing herself. And the timing was right to initiate the search for her parents, because it answered questions long-held about her past, and gave her an extended family for support, and a new sense of identity to go with the new chapter in her life.
Similarly, in 2013, my mother's second marriage had just ended. Sadly, this one was not due to incompatibility or the inability to sustain a healthy, loving relationship. This one was the victim of a glioblastoma, a particularly sneaky villain of a brain tumor that once diagnosed becomes a formidable foe, and one who regrettably always wins its battles. What started as a freak dizzy spell in the fall of 2012 became a series of brain biopsies, radiation treatments, chemotherapy, trips to Mayo Clinic, and a rapid decline. Thomas Eugene Crumet died 23 May 2013 having just turned 70 years old. He and my mother were in their 24th year of marriage, and plans of a quiet retirement traveling the country or relocating to their beloved deserts of the southwest were terminally thwarted. They instead turned into a 66-year-old woman's struggle to begin life as a widow.
So then, although taking this test with my mother would serve the possibility of solving distant genealogical questions, it was also something I could do with her and share with her. It would bring her a little bit into my crazy world of the past, and tell her a little bit about herself. Because it was now time for another reinvention. And distraction.
My results arrived first. They started filtering in while I was speaking at the 2013 Federation of Genealogical Societies Conference in Fort Wayne, Indiana. The medical findings came initially, and my colleagues were relieved to hear that my chances of ovarian cancer were quite minimal.
All of my results were viewable by 23 August 2013, and at that time I was able to view my Ancestral Composition. These findings are crude metrics of your ethnic background, and they are origins based on self-reported information of places of origin and demographics derived from populations today. This part of the analysis is NOT hard and fast science. It is more fluff to be discussed at a dinner party. But it was interesting. And it made for a pretty graph.
My DNA markers indicated I was 99.8% European with 0.1% Native American or Asian and 0.1% undetermined. No surprises there. My further breakdown of French/German, British/Irish, Italian, and Eastern European was remarkably similar to what my paper trail would have indicated. Then again, it's pretty easy to make numbers fit when over 40% of your genome is labeled "nonspecific European." At least there were no alien populations that grossly differed from over three decades of research.
As for matches in the enormous database of people with whom I shared DNA in common, there were few. Those that were likely the most closely related were people I had corresponded to as far back as the 1980s on various ancestral lines. It was fun and interesting to see them there and to revisit our linkages and to see it written indelibly into our DNA, but I was presented with no earth-shattering revelations of my ancestry.
I was frankly underwhelmed.
My mother's test results were delivered on 6 September 2013. We both shared the same DeltaF508 mutation in our cystic fibrosis transmembrane conductance regulator (CFTR) gene that would increase our risks of having children with cystic fibrosis if our mates carried the same mutation. My father does not have the defect, and my cats are adopted, so everyone is safe. But it's always nice to know you are as defective as your mother.
Beyond that, my mother's Ancestral Composition was the most boring one I have seen to date. Although she supposedly had 0.6% Native American or Asian markers which I could not account for with my research, the bulk of her ancestry was labeled "nonspecific European." Bland. Boring. Uninspiring. And it could support just about any caucasian man on the planet for her father.
The struggle to get my father tested was won (which could be a blog all unto itself), and his results became available on 5 November 2013. The numbers did not lie. I was not a foundling. I was not an immaculate conception. Born only nine months and four days after my older brother, I am sure I was still a horribly inconvenient mistake in judgment, but I was still nonetheless the offspring of the parents typed upon my well-worn, tattered original birth certificate printed on official green paper that was neither colorful and bright, nor of the drab, Army-green variety. It is an odd green saved only for official birth certificates issued in St. Joseph County, Indiana, in 1967.
But along with the test I had purchased for my father on 26 September 2013 was also an additional test labeled "Dianne Moore." It sat on my desk for a while. During the blur of the approaching holiday season and the planning of a cross-country train ride to California with my mother, I joined her for a brief lunchtime meeting with her sister who had agreed to help her pick out a new pair of glasses. While my mother tried on a series of frames, I explained to Dianne my purposes for having her tested. Apparently I downplayed the "I am confirming Mom's paternity" part of the conversation, as later Dianne only seemed to recall my need to have multiple family members tested to make database matching more genealogically relevant.
On Christmas Eve, 2013, my mother and I left South Bend, Indiana, on an Amtrak train bound to Chicago, Illinois; and thence to another headed to Palm Springs, California. On 3 January 2014, Dianne Moore's saliva sample was received by the 23andMe laboratories. On 7 January 2014, an Amtrak train limped into Chicago's Union Station ten hours late during a polar vortex depositing two inappropriately-dressed, cranky mother and son passengers in forty-below-zero temperatures with no connection home.
My mother's paternity was the last thing on our minds.
And at the same time an email was received from another tester in the 23andMe database who saw that I was listed as a Štrukelj researcher. She was so excited to see another Slovenian genealogist in the database, as she too had Štrukelj in her family tree!
But she was perplexed.
Why didn't we share any DNA in common?