Sunday, June 16, 2024

Silence on the Y-DNA Line


Since today is reserved for honoring fathers—at least in the United States—my thoughts have turned to wondering about my own dad. Although he has been long gone, the mystery he left behind still lingers. Just like his father before him, he remains an enigma, even to the people who lived with him.

Though she never got the opportunity to meet him, let alone get to know him, my daughter calls my father "the chameleon." A business man with lots of acquaintances—the type of guy "everyone" knew—I doubt many truly knew him. He seemed to blend in effortlessly with his surroundings, an enigma that no one even noticed.

We, however, thought differently. When I, along with several cousins and siblings, learned that my father's father was not the Irish immigrant he purported to be, we began to suspect—and dig for—another story.

It was almost exactly eleven years ago this week when my brother agreed to meet me at a genealogy conference in southern California—my annual go-to place every June, and a ten-minute drive from his house—to become the willing subject of a specialized DNA test to examine the deep history of something called the patriline. This would tell us the truth about our father's father's father's...well, you get the idea.

We were pretty sure the answer wouldn't be the Irish story my much-older brother had heard his grandfather tell him. Though the signs had been well-hidden, our generation of that family had begun to point to a possible Polish heritage, just by sharing vague memories of what our parents had let slip, and what the older siblings and cousins could remember of their grandparents. That helped, of course, but being so generic, we wanted something pointing us in a more reliably specific direction.

When my brother's Y-DNA test results came back (he kindly appointed me as administrator of his test), we weren't surprised to learn that the great majority of men sharing his haplogroup descend from Polish ancestors. And yet, as far as matches go, my brother only had two at his testing level of sixty-seven markers. One was at a genetic distance of seven; the closer one was still at a far distance of three. No exact matches.

Match results have stayed that way since my brother tested in 2013. If there are any other men out there who connect at any closer range to this patriline, they certainly haven't decided to spring for a Y-DNA test. Granted, this information, combined with the more common autosomal DNA test and a lot of dedicated traditional genealogical detective work have taught me much about my father, but I am still learning more every day. DNA has been an excellent teacher, even though the original subject has remained silent to his students.

As I look over the many DNA matches I've found, both in my brother's test results and through my own at multiple testing companies, I realize not only how much DNA has taught me about my family, but how powerful DNA is, itself, in shaping who a person is.

I sometimes can't help noticing how, when I do or say something or make a particular choice, how it seems to echo one or other of my parents or, for those grandparents I did know, show me the connection to my relatives, and in turn, how those relatives were connected to their parents and grandparents. The DNA, though recombining in multiple ways, still passes down to us small signatures of what made each of those people who they were. DNA becomes their gift to us.

I sometimes wonder if the people who are most likely to take a DNA test are those for whom their parents—and their ancestors—are a mystery. They test because they don't know. That certainly was the driving force behind our family's collective attempt to discover the hidden story of our patriline.

While my brother's Y-DNA test results may seem to have yielded a deafening silence, on the flip side, that DNA is still speaking quite loudly. Every time I exhibit a tendency that reminds me of my father, it is as if he was still there with me—an eternal reminder of our connection. We are the way we are, in large part, because of our parents' DNA. And despite the frustrating silence from those specialized DNA test results, at least for one day this year, I can celebrate the person we're seeking through that Y-DNA test with a "happy Father's Day" thought.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...