My DNA Journey: the path to finding and saving myself
(Drafted in April 2023 and completed and published in June 2023)
[Image: Ancestry DNA results Map]
I’m sitting at my laptop, my phone pinged a minute ago letting me know there is an email with the subject line: “Die Ergebnisse deines AncestryDNA-Tests sind da!” (The results of your Ancestry DNA test are here!) staring back at me. I left the pot on the stove bubbling away, sprinted the 5 steps across my tiny one-room flat to my desk and I am waiting for my sister to pick up her damn phone. My body is shaking with excitement yet simultaneously I feel a bit paralyzed. So much for being able to get hold of people instantly in this modern world. Pick up, girl! Goddamit! No one ever picks up when you need them! I don’t want to be alone when I read the results. I’ve been in a state of obsessing about what and who I am made up of for the last three months watching every episode of My DNA Journey and Finding My Roots I can track down on YouTube. At the end of February, I did a DNA test and after five weeks of waiting, my own Ancestry.com DNA results are in!
If you read my last post, Hello from the other side, you’ll know that the last couple of months have been rough. I’m battling gastritis now due to stress and too many antibiotics and meds last year, (I was sick pretty much every two weeks for the entire year after getting the covid vaccine) and I’m still processing my grief of losing my bunnies.
But I am slowly turning a corner and I’m excited about finding out about my ancestors and this has sparked a glimmer of hope. There is light at the end of the tunnel and maybe some answers or direction to my future.
I’m hanging onto the hope of some positive news like a lifeline. I need something good to happen because I am at rock bottom.
I’ve been looking in the mirror and wondering if my eye colours (Heterochromia) or features are inherited from my mum or dad’s side. Is my personality like one of my ancestors? I’ve never really fitted in. Older than my time, the black sheep of the family. I certainly don’t feel like I fit in with the German and Russian lot. I’m too British for the Germans, too German for the British and the Russians see me as a capitalist from the West and are cagey around me. I’m tired of people pleasing to fit in. Even my ex-mother-in-law wanted me to be a local Ukrainian girl and was disappointed in her son’s choice.
I am a nomad, always on the outside looking in, trying to see where my tribe is at. I don’t know where I belong. I need to know my story. How did I get here? Did one of my ancestors feel like me? Will I cry when I find out my DNA results? Will it just say English, Scottish and/or Irish? How boring if I am. I’ve always felt different in my bones. I’m more European-minded, broad, and liberal. Not to say that British people are boring and aren’t liberal but my soul feels more traveled than my body if you get that. For example, the reason I moved to Germany has to be something like the spirit of my ancestors guiding me. (OK, Pocahontas, you say.)
What if I am German?
I discovered a couple of Germanic names on my family tree. I know German and British history are intertwined back to the early pagan days. Our English language has many Germanic (and French Latinate) roots. I have dual citizenship with Germany but that was such a weighty and difficult decision for me to make because I don’t really feel German and cannot identify with them. I couldn’t make the decision until the absolute final deadline and got my application in just in time before Brexit. I only needed to have lived and worked here for 5 years. It was Brexit that made me think about citizenship. I got scolded by immigration here for being tardy. The deciding factor was based on economics. I have earned the right after working here for so many years paying taxes and partaking in local votes to claim citizenship and secure a future and keep my options open post-Brexit. After all the crap I went through here I deserve to have something to show for it. I kind of feel like an imposter.
But what if I am German? How would that make me feel knowing my time here has been awful and I have been miserable? I had no success here in both my private and professional lives despite working my absolute hardest and giving up everything. Family, friends, selling all my personal things to put food on the table. My family are not fans of Germans or the country at all and visited once in 14 years. I have to fly home to them.
My mum says my grandfathers would turn in their graves knowing I moved and have citizenship with the country they fought against. I think about this often. But then I also think about how one of my grandfathers hired a German girl as an au pair for my mum after the war. Is this my mum projecting her desire to have me come home and guilting me into it? Family do emotional blackmail so well. I find myself often complaining about German manners, customer service and their rudeness and their communication methods frustrate me no end. That’s definitely for another post later though but is there some level of xenophobia in me inherited from my family that is stopping me from connecting to this country and the people? Quite possibly. I don’t want to be like that. Do I want validation and positive support from my family for my life choices? Yes. There have been many arguments and awkward discussions about my moving here. For years. When my family all voted for Brexit there was an almighty row. I was angry and took it personally. I was living in Germany and married to a Ukrainian and it felt like they were saying loud and clear, “We don’t approve.”
I have always liked the idea of being Egyptian
(see my fascination with the Goddess Isis) or from the Middle East (yep, I love Princess Jasmine, too) and my dad spent many years working out there. One of my friends is from Lebanon and I visited her twice when she moved back there and I was blown away by the beauty, hospitality and food of the country. I love Italy and the food but my personality certainly isn’t anything of a stereotypical Italian and I am way too tall and lily-white! I love the exotic, olive or tanned skin, just being different. We all want the opposite of what we have right? But looking at British history, my chances of being those things were going to be pretty slim.
I wondered why my dad chose my name? Was there a mystical ancestral message telling him to call me Charlemagne? Am I related in some way to the famous Emperor or am I destined for greatness? I think a name is so important and meaningful. Maybe I am trying to work out my life’s purpose. I think we all secretly want to be related to Royalty or a famous person in some way, it’s romanticism and a claim to fame.
I need to know.
And I need to find out if the rumour that we have a black ancestor in the family is true. One of our ancestors was described as having thick, coarse black curls and light skin that tanned quickly in summer. To get a comb through her hair, her mother would have to hold her head over the kitchen sink and comb it through running water. My brother has thick coarse dark hair and the men in my family all tan ridiculously fast and dark that you wouldn’t think they were British but more Mediterranean. It’s just my sister and I who turn lobster red and then peel back to white again.
We are the St. George’s flag, literally! *facepalm*
If I know my ethnicity, then I know where to look on the family tree and can try to uncover individual stories and see if there are any similarities.
- Did any of my ancestors like to dance? Paint? Write?
- Did they travel?
- Could they speak different languages?
- How did they die? Are there genetic health complaints?
- Were they a daydreamer and romantic?
- What hobbies and skills did they have?
- What was their occupation?
- Do I look like any of them?
- Would they have liked me and been proud of me?
Of course, most of the answers to these questions would be conjecture and distant third-party and very subjective reviews if you could find out. But it’s fun to ponder.
Now sitting at my laptop, I have my sister on a video call via WhatsApp and all I have to do is log into my Ancestry account and I’ll be a step closer to finding out these answers. My future will never be the same again. I cannot undo and erase what I learn. This is the moment of truth. A few short weeks ago I submitted saliva in a tiny tube to Ancestry.de (as I’m based in Germany) and here I am about to know for sure where I come from.
Nervous, I take a deep breath and click the login button.
There are multiple tabs and buttons and charts and a lot of information to process. I can catch up on that later. I just need the breakdown first.
No friggin’ way?!”
My sister is demanding I tell her and is on the edge of her seat.
My eyes are scrolling the results. My face probably has a weird expression of a half-frozen smile, shock, and disbelief.
Then I break out into a beaming smile and am laughing.
“Ahhhh oh my God, oh my God!”
I am not just a plain old English gal, not that there’s anything wrong with that but I have a cool and totally unexpected mix:
- 64% England and northwest European predominantly Devon and Cornwall 1700-1950 (knew I was always a coastal girl! It’s my happy place)
- 17% Scotland (ok, can’t do much about that as everyone from England is either Scottish or Irish)
- 10 % Wales (ooh interesting, I studied in Bristol and really like Cardiff and my non-blood related Auntie is Welsh!)
- 8% Sweden and Denmark (whaaat?! I know next to nothing about these countries other than minimal design, clean, tidy and err Ikea!)
And the real surprise curveball:
- 1 % North Africa (West Sahara, Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia and Mauritanian and Libya. I knew it! This is the missing “exotic” piece in the puzzle)
I am so happy with my results. Not that I could do much about it even if I didn’t like them. But seeing them on the screen makes me feel connected, grounded even. I have a history even if I don’t know much about my ancestors yet and who they were, I am part of something bigger than myself.
My sister and I compared and chatted about the results then I told my family. Now they all want to do DNA tests! I think they caught the bug! I compared my results with my British friends who have done them and they, too were surprised especially at the North Africa gene. None of them had that. I feel special! They all had Scottish, Irish, and German roots which is pretty accurate based on British history. I am amazed that I have no Irish actually.
A few days have passed and I have come back to this post to update you on how I feel about the results now the dust has settled.
For days I kept looking in the mirror and trying to work out which of my features and stature is part of which ethnicity. Is that even possible or do your features just blend into one melting pot? I was wondering how my ancestors from Denmark, Sweden and North Africa came to be in England or how their DNA ended up there. What were their stories? How hard must life have been for them to leave and travel 300-1000 years ago? To move to another country with primitive transportation and a lack of hygiene and comforts, life must have been dire in their own countries. I remember watching the Julia Roberts episode on, “Finding your roots” and learning about her Swedish heritage. The hardships her family faced with extreme poverty and their decision, resilience and strength to move away to try to create a new life. Were my Swedish and Danish ancestors like hers?
I was a little unsure about the North Africa gene.
I was hoping for Egyptian but it’s close enough. I was both happy and concerned. In the bank I used to work at, we offered Western Union services. We had customers from all over the world and from all backgrounds. I think I have seen every country’s passport. But if I ever had an issue with anyone it was always Tunisian and Moroccan men. They refused to be served by women. They flew off the handle so easily, incredibly temperamental, that they went from chill to ballistic violent in a matter of seconds and seemed generally emotionally unstable. They did not tolerate waiting and wanted everything done at lightning speed. The women weren’t any better. Miscommunication or lack of being able to speak German or English, on their part, resulted in anger and frustration with them physically slamming their fists onto the counter. I feared and loathed serving people from those two countries and was always on edge every time they came in. So finding out I am made up of DNA from potentially their countries– that was a tough pill to swallow. Do I have their bad traits in me? I can be snappish at times.
I pondered on this for a while and thought to myself, maybe this is a test? Maybe God is reminding me that I cannot judge a nation by a few individual bad apples. Perhaps that is just how they communicate and compared to my super polite and non-confrontational nature I am just reading arm gestures and tone of voice, pitch and body language as aggression when really this is a normal every day cultural thing? Like Italians and their hand signals? Maybe my North African ancestor was liberal and open-minded like me and chose to leave in the hopes of discovering new things and meeting new people because they, too, didn’t feel like they fitted in. Or maybe I dislike them so much because parts of my own character are like them and they reflect that back to me like a mirror. The difference being I hold in my inner rage and frustration like a well-behaved saving-face Brit. Who knows. But I decided to go with the liberal ancestor leaving theory to make me feel better. As it is only 1% and so far back in my DNA I think it would be virtually impossible to find documented records of them. But it leaves the imagination open to dream-up scenes. I hope in heaven when I get there I can finally meet them and know them.
Interestingly, I noticed a wave of relief when Germany failed to appear on my results.
I think that was the thing I was looking for most. Trying to understand why my life didn’t work out here. It pretty much answered that. I have no history here. No connections. No family. Not one shred of evidence dating back 1000 years shows my ancestors being connected to Germany. And almost like a lightbulb illuminating a dark room, I realized what deep down I had been avoiding to admit, that I don’t belong here, I couldn’t connect that’s why it didn’t work, and I need to leave. This country is not working for me and my future is also not here. And this denial, this stubbornness to try to make it work, the arguments with my family, has only cost me time, money and heartache.
It has been a journey I’ve needed to go on though; to grow, to learn who I am and how I tick, to be broken down and learn humility only to be rebuilt with resilience, determination, patience, to realize my strengths, weaknesses, and talents, to become the person I am today, and to give me enough damn material to write the number one bestseller book(s) I said I would as a child. (Be careful what you wish for!—Liz Hurley in Bedazzled, 2000)
But staring at my DNA results just confirmed what I was already feeling and probably knew all along deep down. And that is probably what my parents could see but I refused to acknowledge. And that realization, despite its cost over the years, bought me so much joy and relief.
I have since uploaded my DNA results into a Swiss Ancient History database to try to trace my ancestral history back beyond 1000 years and interestingly it splits into two main groups: Celts and Danish Vikings. This is even more fascinating! And while I almost got the chance to go to Denmark once, I haven’t really considered and looked much at the Scandinavian countries and cultures. I think I need to remedy this in the future and take a trip or few there to discover this part of my DNA and what messages the universe and God send me when I am there. And of course, I now have so much more work to do on my family tree.
I know you might think that life is what we make of it, we don’t have to get family approval and we can choose to set roots in new countries and be successful if we really want to. And that is the key. You have to want to move to a country for yourself, because you identify with that land, people, culture or you truly feel a calling to go there.
If you move, as I did, because I was running away from personal trauma and because a boy asked me to, you won’t be successful. They are the wrong reasons. Or at least they were the wrong reasons for me and my path. You move because you want to (I am not talking about refugees here as their situation is completely different). You don’t move to compromise in a relationship. You have to be happy and know that you are moving for you because you’ll be giving up all your family and friends to start a new life. And if the relationship doesn’t work out, you will be alone and you will have to deal with that and be ok in that country.
Nothing is guaranteed to work out in life. And nothing ever stays the same. Change is the only consistent thing we can rely on.
Over the last few years, I am realizing I am someone who looks for signs. I am letting spiritual messages guide me in my life; career and relationships. I have been getting into astrology and horoscopes more. I am being open and honest. I don’t have my life mapped out. I don’t need to. I just need a direction. I’ll let the universe and my ancestors speak to me, show me the way and teach me the lessons I need to learn. And I kind of like that. I’ll happily wear the Pocahontas dress. Before, I would always make decisions with my head, sensible ones that other people think I should make, and never listened to my heart.
Now I am choosing to listen more to my gut, heart, and soul. The little vibrations of energy. What makes me feel energized? What zaps me? What things bring me joy? I think changes are happening because I am finally listening and being honest with myself. I am taking inspired action instead of waiting for life to drop into my lap and just get better on its own. Instead of running in a panic state from A to B and just trying to survive, I have taken time to note down what things I want in the future. Brainstorming if you will. Reconnecting to my inner self.
I have decided I am going to move into a new career, try something fun. It might not pay as well to begin with and the entry could be bumpy but if you do something you love, that brings you joy, then you can only ever be successful with it. And life will fall into place and you will find your calling, your inner peace and happiness.
That is what I believe. And it is time to start following my heart and make a change because how I was doing life before didn’t work out so well. I don’t have anything to lose and who knows how long I have here on planet Earth. Trying something new means collecting data and more experiences. Crossing off the list what works and what doesn’t. I’m an eternal student.
In finding out about my past, it has paved the way for my future and given me a new direction. A new beginning. A renewed lease of life. Hope.
In learning about my ancestors and their occupations it has made me consider a new career path similar to theirs and with so much to explore and find out, I certainly don’t have time for moping about. I still cry over my bunnies. It is a deep wound that probably will never heal. But I am getting there.
With over half of my DNA being from Devon and Cornwall, me being an Aquarius and loving anything to do with the colours blue and green and I love water and refraction, and the fact my Social Media bios have said “British coastal girl…” for years, I think returning to the coast is definitely in the cards and the rest I’ll discover as I go.
On that note, I shall leave you here and return later to tell you about my trip to Aachen I took at Easter and my adventures on the Charlemagne Route. A journey to find out about my name and continue on the ancestral path of discovery … 😉
Wishing you light, love and health