23 and Me and My DNA

Double helix by Peter Artymiuk

It’s pretty amazing what you can determine from a little vial of spit.

A few weeks ago, Derek and I submitted our samples to 23 and Me, the health and ancestry DNA company. It was something I wanted more than he did, curious as I am about things like family history and DNA markers for diseases.

Results came in and they’re fascinating.

They company tells you over and over again that the health report isn’t meant to diagnose or predict anything for certain. For example, my father died from complications of Parkinson’s. Testing shows I don’t have the marker for Parkinson’s disease but that’s not a guarantee that I won’t get it. I also don’t have the breast cancer genes. But someone who does have those genes isn’t guaranteed to get cancer, either. It’s information, pure and simple. The risks are given in percentages.

It does show I’m 33% more likely than the average person to develop diabetes. I have a strong family history so that’s not a surprise. It’s up to me to do all I can to reduce lifestyle factors that contribute to diabetes.


There are many other bits and pieces to do with one’s health. But it was the genealogy that intrigued me.

All human DNA traces back to a woman who lived between 100,000 and 200,000 years ago in southern Africa. She’s known in scientific circles as “mitochondrial Eve”. She wasn’t the first woman but every other female lineage eventually had no offspring. So, everyone alive today can trace their lineage back to her.

Not surprisingly, almost half of my DNA makeup is British-Irish. I knew that. My father’s side of the family were United Empire Loyalists. They were the British ex-pats who remained true to their homeland during the American Revolution. At the end of the war (1783) they settled in Canada.

The second biggest chunk of my DNA is Polish with some Ukrainian mixed in. Again, no surprise as my maternal grandparents were both born in Poland and immigrated to Canada. My Polish roots are deep.


However, someone in my family tree a couple centuries ago was pure Italian. And someone else was Ashkenazi Jew. My Polish Grandma was Catholic, as were her parents and those before her. So this intrigues me. Who were these people and did their integrations into the family tree go smoothly? I sure hope it did. But if it was on the English/Irish side, that’s iffy. One half of that tree’s population were slave owners. The other half, abolitionists. I learned this from research conducted by a relative. So, I’d say it’s 50/50 that the Italian and the Jew faced racism and a rough time.

I also have less than 2% Neanderthal DNA. Yes, we all have a little Neanderthal in us. Less than 2% is pretty average. About 60,000 years ago a group of humans left West Africa for the Americas. Those folks interbred with Neanderthals in western Asia. As for why there are no Neanderthals now, they were either victims of climate change, violence, low fertility, or were absorbed into the human population. By all accounts, they were kind of dumb, but apparently not too dumb to breed with.


Those were the highlights. The next step was to see whether I matched with anyone on the site. My top match is a woman I’ve never heard of who is listed as a likely first cousin, although I don’t see how that’s possible. I’ll need to look into it further. In the 50+ names I checked, I only recognized one. The son of a cousin I haven’t seen in decades. And while I’m not about to organize a reunion, DNA doesn’t lie. And I think mine has more stories to tell.

There’s no one famous or powerful in my lineage, that they found. But Derek has a genetic connection to Alexander Hamilton. The same US founding father the hit musical Hamilton is based on. But I doubt my husband can turn this newfound knowledge into residuals. Or even free show tickets!

4 thoughts on “23 and Me and My DNA”

  1. I got my DNA done, too. It was kind of surprising: It turns out I’m 100% purebred miniature German schnauzer.

  2. But seriously, these results are fascinating! My father is very much into tracing the Brown family lineage. A few years ago, we visited a parcel of land in Ireland where one branch of our family originated, it was quite a moving thing. I have been meaning to give my folks DNA kits as gifts . . .

  3. Wow – this stuff is amazing! Thanks for sharing it – now we’re curious too! We had the medical stuff done years ago but no family history. Again – wow!

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