I recently had an opportunity to represent my company in front of the local chapter of an ethnic group. It was one of those really hot nights we've been having in New Jersey and I would think that most people, after a long day of work just wanted to go home and relax in the air conditioning, sit in a pool or maybe have a cocktail. Anything to escape the oppressive humidity and heat NJ has been experiencing.
I was surprised by the number of attendees who were at the meeting, interested, attentive and exchanging ideas on current events. I met members of the judiciary, healthcare employees, IT teachers, therapists, entrepreneurs and one skeptic. I like skeptics, I am one myself. If we had more time, I would have loved to talk to this man more - he had a very solid understanding of DNA, migration and the people of the world. Because of my business, we had differing opinions on state funded DNA tests but you have to respect everyone's opinion and he had some good examples of why the government should be allowed to have access to certain DNA profiles.
After the business portion of their meeting, my big moment arrives - I spent an entire day concerned about what I'm going to say, how I'm going to be received and what type of questions will I be fielding. However, after listening to a portion of their business meeting, I had an eery feeling of familiarity. In another lifetime, I attended meetings where we followed Robert's Rules of Order - agenda, table, discussion, motion, pass/fail and after a long hard day of work - the members of the this group were following Robert's Rules to the letter of the law. I knew that I was in front of a group of professionals at that moment.
My goal was to point out that we are all from the same place - Mitochondrial Eve stood up thousands of years ago and moved away from her family. Mitochondrial DNA is found all over the world as far back as 150,000 years but in DNA "speak" - that could be give or take 50,000 years. You first have to be convinced that DNA can be obtained from odd samples found in odd places and that the Cambridge Reference System contains enough samples of DNA to be a foundation for your search. Then you have to put aside some of your religious beliefs or perhaps fairy tales and understand - humans all began in the same place and time. I was told that I was an angel flying around up in heaven before I was born....I wonder if my parents still think that I was an "angel"?
I used my mother's DNA to prove how we are more alike than not. I emphasized how I was an Irish Catholic girl - come on look at my face- I have the map of Ireland on it. How my family values and traditions are all routed in the Irish traditions. I didn't go into how I could mix a Manhattan by the age of 5 or the late night rounds of Danny Boy at every St. Patrick's day party. But I did explain I grew up in a neighborhood where you were either Irish or not.
But then came the "kicker" as they say...my mother's DNA indicates she is not from Ireland but really more from the Southern Mediterranean, Africa, Asia and Eastern Europe. How could that be? I am sure I was told from day one - that I am purely Irish. What myths we are told as children and how ignorance can proliferate. I have family history records - birth certificates, death certificates, photographs - dating back to the 1800s - all of these people are Irish and I am proud to say - Irish woman who owned their own businesses!
It is true, I am Irish and I can argue with the best of them; however, I am only of recent Irish descent. My ancient family walked all over Africa, Asia, Europe - not too much on the South American continent and very little in what I know as Oceania. I expected my mother's DNA to indicate Spanish, Danish - she has red hair and we all know that came from the Vikings raping Irish women, - maybe even a little Great Britain but when her Ancestral map came back with hits all over Africa, the Northern Continent, Southern Europe, Asia and North America - I had to do a little more research to understand. Ancestral DNA testing labs break the world down into 4 categories - Native American, European, African and Asian. These four groups are further divided into Haplogroups - which is really the second step in Ancestry Testing - that is finding that particular genetic marker that groups you with a set of people and their particular migration out of Africa. The more you want to know - naturally the more the labs will charge but I think the technology for DNA Ancestry testing - should only be used as far as the grouping and the Haplogrouping and the migration maps. It is recreational only and should be considered as such. The shows we see on TV have spent hours on the historical research of famous people - the DNA test was only to confirm what the historical archives indicate or when there's a road block in recorded evidence.
I do not represent any one particular lab, but I stressed the importance of using accredited laboratories - in my mind - those that are accredited just have more processes in place to insure accuracy and reliability. I offered some of my own experience with the type of customer service I received from certain well known facilities and that just because you've heard of a company - doesn't mean they are the cadillac of services. I offered one man, a means to start his journey through his recent family by using one ancestry site and then once he has some information he can then determine what type of DNA information he needs.
The main thing about Ancestry testing, is that it is recreational fun. It may bring a family together or it may reveal something that someone would rather not know. You have to be prepared when going into your DNA search. My mother doesn't really accept that she is anything other than Irish and that's fine - she built a foundation for her family and traditions. I happy to have fond memories of learning the Irish jig and loud, drinking Irish parties - attended mostly by cops (family members), firemen and other solid citizens.
I would rather everyone get an Ancestry DNA test - see a map of the world through your DNA and understand - we are all from one place, going to the same place, and are just stopping by for tea (ring the bell with your elbows, please) on this place we call earth - for a short amount of time (in the scheme of things). I hope that the members of this local chapter, stop by my office one day to start their search for their Ancestry.