The Swift Days of Summer, or What’s in Your DNA?

As I write this, it’s the last full week in August and September is staring me in the face. It seems like Memorial Day wasn’t that long ago. Now Labor Day looms on the horizon.

Summer has passed on swift feet.

I did have some travels, including day trips for birding. I’ve been camping, on the coast, up in Oregon and in Northern California. I’ve been to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, where I saw a terrific production of Guys and Dolls. Fabulous music and a wonderful cast. How can you go wrong with Damon Runyan and Frank Loesser?

The big out-of-town, get-on-an-airplane trip was to a family reunion, on my mother’s side. My paternal great-grandfather married three times and had a herd of kids from two of those marriages, so I have lots of relatives sprouting from that particular branch of my family tree.

It all makes sense to me but I’ve had outsiders get that deer-in-the-headlights look when I try to explain how this or that cousin is related to me. It’s just easier to say they’re all cousins.

Anyway, the reunion was great. I saw cousins I hadn’t seen in a long time and some I’d never met. It was fun to be in a room full of people, all related to some degree. Photographs were displayed and put into a huge PowerPoint show, as we gathered around computers identifying long-ago relatives and guessing when and where the pictures were taken.

One cousin showed up looking quite dapper in his kilt with the family tartan. He talked about his research into the family genealogy. He’s traced us all back to a boy and his mother in Baltimore, circa 1746. He knows they were there because he’s found a piece of paper with their names on it, but he hasn’t been able to figure out when or how mother and son got to this country.

This prompted me to take one of those DNA tests from Ancestry.com. Once upon a time my maternal grandmother told me her mother was part Native American. I’ve always been curious about that particular family story. So I figured I’d finally investigate.

Sorry, Grandma. Less than one percent Native American in the family bloodline.

Which goes with the less than one percent from West Asia, the Caucasus region.

As for the larger percentages, no surprises there. I’ve always known I am a British Isles mix. The family last names tell that story, which was why that cousin at the reunion was wearing a kilt. More than 60 percent of my genes are from England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

About 30% or my genes are Northern European, with soupçon from Scandinavia. My paternal grandmother’s birth name is German. A cousin on that side of the family told me that she’d heard a story that one of our ancestors was a Hessian soldier who came to this country to fight on the British side, then stayed. That makes for another intriguing family tale.

Maybe there’s a book in that.

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