A Story of 23 Chromosomes

A Story of 23 Chromosomes
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“It has been said that next to hunger and thirst, our most basic human need is for storytelling.”   — Khalil Gibran 

Patience is necessary to writing this blog. After all, I am prevailing upon strangers to work me into their busy lives. Without their responses, this blog would not exist. But a clog in the pipeline of those responses is inevitable. I am experiencing one now. So, while I wait for things to start flowing again, I thought I’d share a different perspective.

Mine.

For Christmas, my husband and I gave each other and members of our family DNA kits from the company 23 and Me. It’s the same company used on the PBS television show, Finding Your Roots.

I sent my kit in first. Six weeks later, the results came back in an impressive online spreadsheet of bold colors and graphics.

In one click, I learned I was mostly Northern European and Eastern European. Another click took me further into those stats, breaking down my chromosomes’ journey country-by-country, population-by-population. Then I went to the DNA friends and family tab and found out I had over 900 possible relatives in the world. Contacting one of them, I discovered we shared an ancient ancestor who was a Welsh princess . . . with a castle that still stands. To my surprise, traces of my DNA also showed up in the Netherlands, France, Scandinavia, Ukraine, and Russia. Places that never came up in my family’s discussions about ancestry.

I was intrigued, overwhelmed, and a bit obsessed with my new found roots. Across hundreds of thousands of years, strands of my DNA had resided in so many different bodies. Bodies who spoke a host of languages. Who fought wars, tilled farms, and bore children who passed my 23 chromosomes down to me.

This information confirmed what I have always believed. That we all are far more complicated than we imagine. That we are a wild and colorful composite of people and cultures.

That we are more alike than different.

Still, something was lacking. Fascinating as my results were, I wanted a personal connection to my tangled thread of DNA.

I wanted stories.

Yesterday, I found one. It was given to me back in the 1980s by a German cousin named Lucy. Transferred from tape to CD, that story filled a large hole in my knowledge of my father’s family. Dad was notoriously elusive about his upbringing. An only child, the son of immigrants, he grew up in Rye, New York. That was all he told me.

Lucy’s story opened another door.

It was a story about a large family living on a farm in East Prussia. The small village they lived in, Kallehnen, was near the Russian border. There were nine children; five daughters and four sons. All were strong and healthy save for little Fritz, who died at the age of three from diphtheria. A death so profoundly sad, said Lucy, that Fritz’s father — my great grandfather — refused food for a week. A child so loved and missed that his older brother, George, named his only child Fred, the English equivalent of Fritz.

George was my grandfather.

My Grandfather, George

My Grandfather, George

Fred was my father.

Dad as a Boy Scout

Dad as a Boy Scout

Had I not contacted Lucy decades ago, had she not dictated that family story, it would have been lost forever. Become a casualty of time that no online graph or lab analysis could replace. I never would have known the significance of my father’s name and what it meant to his father.

Father and Son

Father and Son

Science can reveal so much from a small vial of saliva. Oral histories, though, are equally important. Without them, we are just statistics and percentages on a computer-generated graph.

That is what this blog has taught me. That we all have stories worth telling, worth preserving.

I can’t wait to hear more.

**

Please contact me at vasilionlaura@gmail.com with any comments or suggestions. You can also post comments at the bottom of this post, if you’re on Facebook. If you are on Facebook, please check out my Talking to the World Facebook Page for updates on upcoming country posts. I’m also on Twitter @TalkingTTW

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