Sunday, June 26, 2016
Where Did That Come From?
Awhile ago my brother Mike had enough curiosity and spare cash to sign up with Ancestry.com 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 Ancestry.com 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?