A few years ago, I asked for an odd birthday present. Not new underwear, a gift certificate, or even a best-selling book. No, I asked for a small plastic cylinder. See, I wanted to know my history, my individual human history, and so I spit into this small test tube and sent it off into the U.S. Postal system. A few weeks later, I got my results.
My mother and her mother worked on our family genealogy off and on for most of my childhood. I know roughly the story of my middle name, Joughin (jaw-kin), and how the first Andrew Joughin left the Isle of Man and found his way to America. I know how he eventually settled in the California hills and raised cattle on a ranch, later named the Joughin Ranch and now known as the Michael D. Antoniovich Regional Park at Joughin Ranch. Family folklore has it the ranch was won during a game of poker. The story goes that one particular tree, nick-named The Money Tree, has appeared in numerous television advertisements and movies, including the famous animal cracker scene in Armageddon.
My Dad’s side is less-researched, but I know my sister’s middle name is Danish for “valley farmer,” our great-uncles farmed vast tracts of farmland in South Dakota, and we’re somehow related to Herbert Hoover. And we’ve likely got at least a small portion of Native American blood in us. Dad told us that an Indian princess fell in love with a U.S. Calvary officer and they ran away together (hm, a bit like Dances With Wolves?). I’m not sure if that’s true, but I day-dreamed about it all the time when I was little. Our names are on the Olive Roll, a roster for Wyandotte Indians who, back in the day, did not settle on the land given to the Wyandotte Nation, but took public domain land in 80-acre parcels that the U.S. Government granted. This then made these people and their descendants Absent Wyandotte, unable to ever rejoin the Nation. That includes me.
When I logged onto the website, my genetic report stated I am 94.9% Northern European, of which 46.5% is British and Irish. This was expected. The other bits of my European ancestry were also pretty entrenched in family history: French and German, Scandinavian, and even Southern and Broadly Northwestern European. The 0.0% for any other category, including South Asian, East Asian and Native American, Sub-Saharan African, Middle Eastern and North African, and Oceanian were not surprising to me. I was a bit bummed because I thought I might have a traceable amount of Native American genes on my chart. Still, I am hopeful that I do considering the final category, Unassigned, gives me <0.1% unknown ancestry. Science can give us most answers, but I’ll continue to believe I’ve got Wyandotte blood running through my veins.
The biggest surprise, however, is that I have 298 Neanderthal variants in my genes. This is more than 80% of the people whose data is currently available. While I don’t walk like an ape, have excessive back hair, or sport a prominent brow ridge, it does mean my DNA contains almost 4% Neanderthal genes. That is amazing to me. Neanderthals, ancient humans, went extinct over 40,000 years ago and I still have traceable elements from these prehistoric humans. And, according to my spit test, my vertically challenged height is directly linked to some of these variants. Well, that certainly explains a lot.