Sunday, June 26, 2016

Where Did That Come From?

Awhile ago my brother Mike had enough curiosity and spare cash to sign up with for a DNA test.  The results really surprised him, knowing what he did of our family history, so he sent me a copy, pointed out the anomaly, and asked if I knew wherethehell that had come from.

Now a brief sidebar for our family history: my Dad was the son of Polish Jewish and Hungarian Jewish immigrants, and Mom was... interesting. First, she was a professional musician.  Second, her father was a ne'er-do-well third son of a minor British/Austrian aristocrat named (as far as my grand-aunt remembered) Von Schello.  Her mother, another professional musician, was -- and this was a big family secret -- a Metis:  that is, mixed Canadian French and Chippewa Indian.  Nothing was recorded about granny's father, but her mother was a Chippewa medicine-singer.  That, Mom recalled proudly, was where the female line of our family got their musical talent.  So, my brother and I are mixed Polish/Hungarian Jewish and Austrian/British/French/Chippewa -- in other words, typical American melting-pot.

What the DNA test showed was: about 30% eastern-European Jewish (expected, except for the proportions), another 30% western European (which would cover the Austrian and French) and then...  The that was 30% Scandinavian, 5% Asian, and 5% all over the map.  The all-over-the-map I could understand -- all of us have distant ancestors who wandered in from somewhere else, and everywhere on Earth is walking distance (or at least small-boat distance) if you have time enough.  What we couldn't figure was the complete lack of "Native American" blood, and wherethehell did "Scandinavian" and "Asian" come from?

I'm pretty sure that Mom's family wasn't lying about the great family secret of Chippewa ancestry;  in my grandmother's and grand-aunt's day a touch of non-White blood was something to be hidden.  "Indian" was the formal and honorable term, "Redskin" was no worse than vulgar, and the disparaging term was "Red Niggers".  In short, nobody would have invented a story like that about their ancestry.  So why didn't the DNA test show it?  And whereinhell did "Scandinavian" and "Asian" come from?

So I did some research about the Metis and the Chippewa (a.k.a. Ojibwa) and learned something interesting.  The Chippewa lived in what's now southern Canada and the northern US, on the eastern side of the Great Lakes, near Sault Ste. Marie.  They hunted into New York state, where my mother's family came from.  Nowadays we know that the Indian tribes were a mixture of early Asians, who came from across the Bering Straits about 12,000 years ago, and -- if ya please -- Europeans, the Clovis Point people, who came from northwestern France about 15,000 years ago.  Now that would account for the "Asian" genes, and a percentage of the "western European", but wherethehell did those "Scandinavian" genes come from?  Maybe a bit from the French (the "Normans" had been "Northmen" just a few generations earlier), maybe a bit from the Austrian side of Dad's family, maybe some from the British (Normans/Northmen again), but the percentages just didn't add up.  There was still too much "Scandinavian".

Then I dug a little deeper into Chippewa history, and found the answer. 

Eastern Canada and the northern part of the eastern US was the realm of Vinland.  That's where Leif Erikson's Viking colony was founded.  Although the colony was eventually defeated by disease and attacks of the "Skralings" (99% certainly the Iroquois tribe), there were some Indians that were happy to get along with the Vikings, to trade goods and services and... genes.  Those were the Chippewa, who mutually hated the Iroquois and would gladly befriend anyone the Iroquois fought.

So there we are;  I'm the great-X-granddaughter of Vinland Vikings and Chippewa sympathizers.  The fact that couldn't read that from our DNA -- and didn't realize that all that made up a branch of "Native American" -- makes me giggle.  Didn't they realize that "primitive" people might have some complicated history?  Had they never heard of Lief Erikson and the Vinland colony?  Ah well, I suppose we can't expect microbiologists to study history too, eh?

--Leslie <;)))><         


... said...

It's not that hidden of knowledge. It's just mainstream Hollywood and some other things have skewed it so badly. There are even reports of blonde ones of us here and there, so I've heard growing up. The sagas have accounts of four women who were carried overseas. There would have had to been more.

Also, it could very well be that the "Chippewa" was actually a French trapper - who blended into the tribe quite well. Got one of them in my own family tree, being Brotherton - a tribe melted from them and a couple of others. For all cultural intents and purposes, Chippewa in some old minds.

Also, one way it wouldn't have gotten passed down is if you're through the female descendant. I can't remember exactly how it works, but the data is passed directly through the male chromosome. The Y tracking family name thing actually holds true scientifically. Who knew. There's an interesting Viking documentary where some scientists gathered a bunch of men together to see where the Vikings had done. They explain it better than I could ever.

Also, your own test I can almost guarantee will show different results than your brother's.

It's also not uncommon for the family to have this big secret of "native blood" only to discover it's something else entirely - also a big secret. Okay. It's very common. Growing up I had a Cherokee friend. The whole family - "we're 100%!" Turned out they were Middle Eastern, I forget just which. Not Arabic, but from someplace like Iraq or Iran. It's been a long time. I more remember my friend worrying I'd hate her for being of these people and sounding so relieved that I didn't hate her because of this family secret she'd only just found out. LOL. That came as a surprise to them all.

And you know just about everyone in America has a grandmother who was a XXXX tribal princess. So much so it's gotten to be a bit of a nasty joke at powwows.

The only way to know for sure which it is would be to do some real digging in your tree. Used to do that for my own family back when I gave two shakes. If you have records of cousins and distant uncles you can find it. The rule is never hunt directly for the information. Approach it sideways.

Either way you are what you are. Drives me crazy when someone sees some tribe in their family tree and suddenly decide they must be xxx. No. That's purely cultural, DNA just determines if you've got a disease and what you look like. You are what you are. Your great-grandmother was what she was. Doesn't always mean it was the same thing. Shit, my grandparents were hillbillies and I sure ain't one of those.

Leslie Fish said...

Ahahahahaha! Everybody's got family secrets! Uhm, one thing I forgot to mention is that Great-Granny's husband *was* a French trapper; that's where my musical Metis Granny came from. That would have been around 1890, and the New York Chippewa knew damn well that the big money was to be made in the big city, which is where Granny took her musical talent. Grand-aunt, having more practical aspirations, went to Elmira and married a well-enough-to-do landowner, and kept a profitable boarding-house. When Granny's ne'er-do-well husband abandoned her -- with five children -- she farmed out the kids to her sister and her sister's husband's relatives; Mom was raised by Grand-aunt. We have no idea what became of Granny, or her husband, after that.

In any case, nobody every claimed that Great-Granny was a "princess" -- just a singer, good enough to be classified as a "medicine-singer" within the tribe, although the Chippewa certainly knew about official White medicine by then.

I'm pretty sure my DNA will be almost exactly the same as my brother's; we look enough alike to have been twins, instead of separated by six years.

What I've heard about genetics-tracing is that it's actually easier to trace the female line because of the mitochondrial DNA, which is passed only through the females, in the cell-body of the ovum. Whatever. Anyway, my mother's family was remarkably secretive about their history, so I don't know of any cousins beyond my 1st cousins, who were all on Dad's side of the family.

Hmmmm, y'know, some of those blonde Chippewa could have been descendants of the Roanoke colony. All the evidence (not much, actually) indicates that they "went native" and ran off with the local Indians when their supplies ran out and Captain White didn't come back for years. I've been working off and on with a novel about that...

Aya Katz said...

Very interesting! Too many people are being told that they have no native American ancestors when their family story is that they have. Maybe it's because the DNA analysis people don't know any way to classify specifically native American markers, since native Americans were not in America that long before they were joined by others from Europe, Asia and Africa. Maybe there just aren't any humans so native to America that they stand out genetically.

J Hanna said...

Your blog post is very interesting. I always had been told I was part Native American, but my test came back 0%.

Leslie Fish said...

Hi, Aya. Hi, J. Well, if my experience is anything to go by, look through your DNA report for large amounts of "Scandinavian", or "Western European" and a touch of "Asian".