Some time ago, my brother asked if I'd sign up with 23andMe.com to get my DNA analyzed. He'd done so and learned that he was more Irish and French than anything else. Which flew in the face of the family myth of us being through and through German: Prussian on our father's side, Bavarian on our mother's. He also learned that he was 2.8 percent Neanderthal (a little over the average for people with European background). Now, that figure I found interesting. The rest, not so much. I told him so.
He waited. Then he tried again. Pointed out that my niece, his daughter, was participating.
This time I thought, oh, what the heck. So I sent off 99 bucks, and soon a box arrived with a tiny plastic vial—for saliva—and instructions. Within the hour I had my sample sealed up and sent. Easy.
My results arrived within a month. They look like this:
Oddly, I'm a few percentage points more Eastern and Southern European than my brother, and less Scandinavian and otherwise Northern European. Um, how does that work? (He speculated it's because there's a larger database now. Okay, that makes sense.)
When I started thinking about the family myth—all that Teutonic blood and brawn—it occurred to me that in fact I know very little about my ancestry. We don't have old stories about relatives, either illustrious or infamous. The only such stories that come to mind are of (a) one man who worked as a janitor in Prague when it was ruled by the Hapsburgs and (b) another who was an ambulance driver in the Civil War. I never met my father's parents or his sister. As for my mother's parents, she was adopted, so although I knew my grandmother (but not my grandfather), her parents don't show up in my DNA. My mother did search for information about her birth mother when she was in her sixties, and learned a name: Klara Klöpfer. Pretty darn German. But there was nothing about a father—who certainly could have hailed straight from County Cork, for all I know.
So okay, maybe I have Irish or British blood. In the end, I don't much care. What I've identified with all my life is German, and I'm sticking with that.
Curiously, I ended up more Neanderthal than my brother as well (2.9 percent). Which I take some pride in. And all that Eastern European heritage? Maybe that explains my Gypsy nature. Plus, 23andMe tells me that I am "distantly related on my maternal side" to Marie Antoinette, Napoleon, and St. Luke. So there's that.