If you’ve been following my story, you’ll know that in late 2017, I started asking questions to try and gather more information about my birth father and my ancestry. It started with a yearly checkup at the doctor’s office and a questionnaire I had to fill out about family history. Literally more than half of it was left blank because I simply didn’t know how to answer. I know it might not seem like a big deal to some, and I know it isn’t the doctor’s fault, but I felt such shame in that moment, shame that the gaps in my story made me feel like less of a person somehow. So I asked the question. Questions that had no answers, that left me feeling fragmented and unsure as to who I am and where I belong. Questions that resulted in ordering a DNA analysis kit. Questions that made me afraid of what I might find out.
Several weeks ago I got my results in an email, and I’ve been sitting with that email ever since, wondering how far I should take my search, whether asking more questions was even worth it. Much of my results were not a surprise:
- 99.1% European
- Of that 99.1%, almost 70% is British/Irish
- 13% is Southern European
Again–nothing particularly shocking there. However, there were a few things I found that were definitely unexpected:
- When they tested my genes against the Italian reference population, it came back as 0%. ZERO. PERCENT.
- That said, 23andMe’s Italian reference group seems to include primarily northern Italy/Tuscany, and it is not possible at this time to break that dataset down further “because the people in those regions mixed throughout history or have shared history, or we might not have had enough data to tell them apart” (23andMe). So my father *could have* been from southern Italy, or perhaps not enough of that DNA was passed on to me, or the Italian could have been represented in my 2.4% “Broadly Southern European” assignment.
- I have almost 10% Iberian DNA, which seems to include Spanish and Portuguese ancestry.
- My genes were almost .5% West African, and <.1 “Broadly East Asian/Native American”.
- 0.4% came back “Unassigned”. So mysterious!
So obviously there’s a lot to unpack there, and I’ll admit my initial reaction was feeling like I had been deceived somehow, for my entire life. I definitely had more questions than when I started, and I became quickly fascinated at the wealth of research, tools, and information I could find should I want to carry on with my search.
And that there, well…that’s the rub. As my husband told me, I needed to decide once and for all just how far I wanted to take this. Is learning my ancestry enough? Did I want to trace further, potentially find relatives? When would enough be enough?
In the first few days, I did a couple basic record searches with known names for my father’s side to see what I could come up with. I looked at family trees from my mother’s background to see what I could glean from there. I Googled. I looked through distant DNA relatives from my results report. And I found nothing. It was like chasing ghosts who could never be found, traces of the past destined to stay buried. And the whole thing left me feeling defeated and disappointed. Every dead end was another reminder that I don’t know where I belong.
So I made the decision to stop. Stop searching, stop digging, stop questioning–for now, anyways. Because being made well means I need to quit doing things that make me feel like crap in the long run, and I am not willing to sacrifice health and wholeness to satisfy my curiosities. I’ve decided I will access the health reports, mainly so I have something to pass on to my children when they ask about family history. But after that, I’m out. At this point in my life, I’ve resolved I will no longer spend emotional energy on things that are only going to hurt my heart. I will no longer run after ghosts that do not want to be found.
And I think that maybe there’s a lesson hidden somewhere in that, a story about how sometimes we need to look the things of our past square in the eye…and then let go. And the letting go can be terrifying, because we’re afraid our hands are going to remain empty, and that our lives will be marked by lack. But that’s a lie. Because sometimes letting go simply means that we’re making room for something new, something more rich, more deep, more true; more often than not, it means we’re creating space for something other than memories and what could have been; something holy, something real.
So I guess the last question is: was it worth it? And I’d have to say that even if I didn’t get the answers I was hoping for, yes it was. I was able to find out things about my ancestry I wouldn’t have known otherwise. I made sure I would have information to give my own children when they come asking one day about where they came from, about the ghosts of their pasts. And I learned about giving up without admitting defeat, about the importance of asking questions even when you know you won’t get answers. I set out on this journey to reclaim my story, and I think I’ve done that. I get to make my story what I want it to be, even more so now that I’m not living in the past’s narrative. I’ve learned that it is not my lot to come up empty-handed in the end. Instead, I get to taste abundance because I’ve learned the art of letting go.