Ancestry, Genealogy, and Identity: Bookmarking the Topic

Some days I believe that the most wonderful thing about retirement is that I can read on any subject that appeals to me. However, as a retired academic, I also appreciate the freedom that I have to stop reading on any subject without having to write a literature review or a grant proposal. I can explore a topic, decide that I have found what I need to know, and then move on. Sometimes I feel the need to leave a bookmark.

This blog represents a bookmark on the subject of my identity and ancestry. More specifically it is a bookmark on the fact that “Native American” is not a part of my identity and I have no problem with the ancestral origins estimates that I received from ancestry.com and Family Tree DNA. According to both reports 65% of my DNA is like that of people found in Africa and 35% is like that of people found in Europe. There is no mention of Native American in either report, not even a trace. (My daughter’s report on the other hand listed <1% Native American. I now refer to that as the “ubiquitous <1%.”)

I have thought about these test results and my reaction to them. Reading a blog post by TL Dixon helped me to organize my thoughts. Dixon writes, “Native American DNA is Just Not That into You” (http://www.rootsandrecombinantdna.com/2015/03/native-american-dna-is-just-not-that.html). After reading this post I understand that there are at least three possible explanations for why Native American DNA did not show up in my test results.

  1. It is possible that I have no Native American ancestor(s).
  2. It is possible that these two DNA tests have problems assigning Native American ancestry to my genome.
  3. My “full blooded” Native American ancestor lived so far back in time that their DNA has “washed out”.

I have looked at the options that Dixon offers for people who believe that their Native American DNA is hiding in the test. I am very new to genetic genealogy. I am just starting to use chromosome browsers. So many of these options need skills that I do not yet have. I am not motivated to put in the effort these options require. Hence the need for a bookmark.

I did not grow up with Native American ancestry as part of my family folklore. Not a single one of my kin keepers ever told me that I had Native American ancestry. I did not expect the test results to show Native American ancestry and I was neither surprised nor disappointed.

Influenced by articles like “The Great Migration and African-American Genomic Diversity”(http://journals.plos.org/plosgenetics/article?id=10.1371/journal.pgen.1006059), I have come to believe that

stopsign

 

…any Native American ancestor of mine lived so far back in time that they have washed out of my DNA and out of my identity. I JUST AIN’T THAT INTO NATIVE AMERICAN DNA.

Interacting with cousins about genealogy through social media, I have become keenly aware of the fact that many of them have socialization and life experiences that are different from mine. Some of them strongly identify with their Native American heritage. They put a lot of time and effort into finding their Native American DNA and they want the testing companies to do a better job. I think  Angelis Robinson-Smith presents this perspective poignantly in her blog post “Looking for me in the spit: DNA Testing” (https://angelissmith.com/2014/02/08/looking-for-me-in-the-spit-dna-testing/).

At this point I am more into the variations in our “identity” than I am into variations in our DNA. I don’t think like a genetic genealogist. I think like a sociologist. People who have paid attention to the recent rants in which I profess the importance of macro structural sociology will find this focus on identity amusing, if not hilariously funny. I just ask them to remember that I have always had a very strong interest in human development, including the development of self-concept and identity (I do tend to use the terms interchangeably).

My work as a Certified Family Life Educator and the strong emphasis that I have placed on training parent educators clearly reflect my interest in this area. To many people I am not a macro structural sociologist but rather the sociologist who promotes Effective Black Parenting and the Nurturing Parent Programs. There is no way for me to avoid considering the interplay between the increasing popularity of genealogy and identity development. In the end, I will probably write as much about group identity as personal identity.

Genealogy has become so popular that beginners like me can be overwhelmed not just by how much they need to learn but also by the massive amount of material in different media that offer to help them learn. I am going to take a break from reading about genetic genealogy by reading about identity and genealogy. I have reached a point where I would rather read Foucault than another attempt to explain the “autosomal X.”

I am starting with Paula Nicholson’s (2016) Genealogy, Psychology and Identity: Tales from a Family Tree (https://www.amazon.com/Genealogy-Psychology-Identity-Tales-family-ebook/dp/B01N6C3TAO). This work deals with the psychological impact of knowing about our ancestors.

In this book I explore why the growing, and apparently addictive, activity involved in tracing family histories informs our sense of who we are and our place in both contemporary culture, geographical and historical space.

This is a bookmark!

 

 

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