What Genealogy Means to Me

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This past weekend, I finally got my DNA breakdown from AncestryOpens in a new tab.. As you probably know, I’ve been pretty excited to get this breakdown, but I don’t want to spoil it just yet. I really want to share the full genealogy story first! 😀

Table of Contents

Experiencing Life Abroad

About 3 years ago, I was making my way back from a 6 month study abroad opportunity in Manchester, England. At the time, I had no interest in learning my genealogy, but I loved to travel. I was able to explore England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland, and Belgium.

Visiting the Hospital

While the exploration was excellent, I actually had a pretty bad experience overall. For one, I ended up missing a Manchester United game because I got sick enough to end up in the hospital. That’s definitely something you don’t want to end up experiencing abroad. Fortunately, the locals took good care of me (though I do have some scary stories).

Meeting the Locals, Kinda

If a hospital visit wasn’t enough to ruin my experience, maybe it was the fact that I never really built any lasting relationships with the locals. I was so used to the intense studies at my home university that I was never able to fully overcome the culture shock.

In England, university students tend to party quite often. In fact, the partying was almost an everyday occurrence. Meanwhile, I had never so much as stepped into a real party let alone had any interest in going to one. After all, I’m a major introvert (though my close friends might say otherwise).

Thankfully, I did make a handful of friends that I still speak with today, so it wasn’t all bad. I think the experience has made me a better person overall. I always make sure to reach out to people who feel out of place. I recommend you do it as well! You’ll make some great friends along the way. That said, I promised myself that if I ever got the chance to travel again that I’d make the most of it.

Taking Travel Seriously

Fast forward about two years, and I found myself back in Europe on a trip through Poznań, Poland. This time my trip had a bit more meaning. I had myself convinced that I had some Polish in my family, so I wanted to really dive into the culture. In just 10 short days, I felt like I had made more connections with the local community than I ever did the first time around.

By the time I got home, my family was saying things like “Grandma doesn’t think we’re actually Polish.” Well, that’s awkward. I had just spent over a week claiming that I’m a Polish descendant. I even used awkward reasons like “my mother’s maiden name ends in ski” and “my mother’s family is Catholic.” You know! Just regular run-of-the-mill stereotyping.

Turning to Ancestry

At that point, I felt like I needed some answers. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a whole lot of free time to investigate. After all, I was trying to finish up my senior year.

The Genetic Breakdown

It wasn’t until a couple months ago when I got interested in my genealogy again. As a result, I decided on a whim to order one of those DNA kits from Ancestry.

Naturally, Ancestry ropes you into all sorts of fun shenanigans in addition to the test, so I started building up a family tree. This sparked a few conversations with my parents and grandparents since I was totally ignorant to the tree structure outside of my immediate family.

After a few weeks of digging through my genealogy, I found past relatives from Slovakia and England. I haven’t dug too much further since then. I was sort of just waiting for the official results. Luckily, that day was today! The following is my official breakdown according to Ancestry:

Isn’t that crazy? The two places that I spent most of my time exploring show up as one and two in my breakdown. I actually find it extremely surprising that half my genes are British. I suppose that explains why everyone in my family grew up speaking English, but I am surprised that my family is still heavily Catholic.

Genetic Exploration

I guess part of what makes this so surprising is that my father’s side is still largely a mystery to me. It seems that his side must be very English. Maybe some day I’ll be able to trace out that whole side of my family tree.

From this point forward, I plan to do a lot of research on my genealogy. Now that my sample is in the system, Ancestry is actually able to link me up with potential relatives. They have already mapped my DNA to two potential 4th cousins. I can’t wait to see who else they find. Hopefully projects like this start to make the world seem a bit smaller. I’m excited to see where this research takes me.

The Ancestry Conspiracy

I don’t think I would be doing this topic justice if I didn’t address the elephant in the room. It’s true. Ancestry did just recently come under fire for its terms and conditionsOpens in a new tab.. That said, I personally don’t subscribe to the tinfoil hat theories that have been popping up lately.

Regardless, you have to be a little wary going into a process where you share your DNA with someone. But that process is exactly what produces human life. Did you really think you owned your DNA? You share major portions of it with everyone in your bloodline. In fact, you’ve had absolutely no say in its construction, so it’s arrogant to take ownership of it.

The part that frustrates me is the laundry list of science fiction topics that have popped up since this news. Perhaps my favorite is the cloning theory. It’s like the story of Mewtwo all over again. Ancestry is going to take all these samples and build up an army of clones. Then each of us will be forced to duel our clone in an epic battle to the death.

Genetic Weapons

While that may sound far-fetched, there are a couple reasonable theories. Some people are worried that the DNA samples could be stolen and used to create weapons targeting specific genes.

While plausible, I still find this theory a bit ridiculous. We already have more firepower than we’ll ever need, yet people are worried that a team of assassins is going to dump a ton of resources into genetic weaponryOpens in a new tab.. It’s possible, but it’s unlikely.

The cost to keep a plan like this under wraps prohibits the project from progressing past a blueprint. I have enough faith in humanity to believe that there would be a whistle blower if ever a project did exist.

Medical Discrimination

Perhaps the most likely theory is that your DNA data could be used to deny you medical and life insurance. While likely, this is an issue that seems to only pose a problem to Americans. After all, this is simply a legal issue. It’s just another form of discrimination. Just like all the previous times corporations have tried to discriminate against a group of people, a law came along to grant protection (I’m not saying that laws even remotely begin to help those that are marginalized, but it’s a start). And just like in the past, companies will try to leverage science as their reasoning for blatant discrimination. It seems to be a cycle that never stops repeating itself, so I’ll go ahead and say that this theory is likely.

The Benefits Outweigh the Risks

That said, I don’t think people should be afraid to submit their DNA. To me, it’s just as important as getting your immunizations. The bottom line is DNA sampling does far more good than bad. It provides countless samples of data for medical reference and research. In fact, the DNA doesn’t even have to have you tied to it. It can be anonymized and distributed, so that there is little chance the sample can be linked with your genealogy.

However, I suppose my donation of saliva is a bit reckless. I am putting my family at risk, but I really don’t feel that this decision has had any bigger of an impact than making a Google search or posting a Facebook status. The reality is your data is being mined constantly. Every like, share, and search form your digital identity which at a minimum is used for targeted marketing. Privacy is the cost of using the internet.

All I’m trying to say is that people need to be consistent in their worries. You can’t tell me that I messed up by sending in a sample then continue to use a medium that builds a far more accurate profile of your identity than Ancestry ever could. If you’re going to subscribe to any of these conspiracy theories, you might as well subscribe to them all. Stop reading this post (though your IP is already logged), turn off your computer, and get off the grid. That’s the only reasonable way to stay safe for at least a short period of time. Then at a minimum you’ll have to learn how to hunt, farm, and cook. Try not to get sick though. That makes the whole living part pretty tough.

Circling Back

I’d prefer not to finish this article on a rant. Instead, I want to focus on the positives of my genealogy experience. For one, I’ve bonded quite a bit more with my family. I’m probably a bit more detached from my parents than most people, so I’m definitely thankful for how close this experience has brought me to them.

I’m also a sucker for knowledge. You’ll always catch me researching things like 10 times a day. My curiosity is insatiable. This experience is one that never really ends. I can keep exploring my genealogy until I run out of documentation. Then I just have to start reaching out to distant cousins.

Finally, I’m just happy to know where my family came from. I don’t have many stories to go off of, so it’s nice to have these genetic markers that trace my history back to specific regions. Even with the lack of diversity in my tree, it’s interesting to see just how much had to go right for me to be alive. The fact that I’m even here is quite the stroke of luck. It’s like winning the lottery except better.

Jeremy Grifski

Jeremy grew up in a small town where he enjoyed playing soccer and video games, practicing taekwondo, and trading Pokémon cards. Once out of the nest, he pursued a Bachelors in Computer Engineering with a minor in Game Design. After college, he spent about two years writing software for a major engineering company. Then, he earned a master's in Computer Science and Engineering. Today, he pursues a PhD in Engineering Education in order to ultimately land a teaching gig. In his spare time, Jeremy enjoys spending time with his wife, playing Overwatch and Phantasy Star Online 2, practicing trombone, watching Penguins hockey, and traveling the world.

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