A few factors made up my decision to sign up to DNA testing with Ancestry.com – the test was on sale, it was past 10pm and I’d finished off my second glass of red (the perfect trifecta of conditions for whipping out the credit card late at night)
There was also my long held fantasy to consider – the one where at some point on this writing journey (due to my Grandma having the maiden name of Joyce) I discover I’m a distant relative of James. Yes, my daydreaming does involve book blurbs that read ‘the new bestseller from the 20 times removed cousin of James Joyce.’ Come on…I need something to give me hope when the blank page stares back at me.
So, I decided to give it a go. A small plastic tube arrived in the post. I deposited my saliva into it, gave it a shake to mix it with the magic blue liquid contained within, and posted it back. Six weeks later and voila – an email titled: ‘Your Results Are In’ popped into my inbox.
I hovered my finger over it for 30 seconds or so. With one click, the history of my family, generation-after-generation would be revealed. Laid out, rolling backwards through time – all those connected to me, who’ve come before me, and have made me who I am. All who have made my children who they are…and maybe…James could be in there somewhere.
Until this moment, if anybody asked me, I would have said I was completely 100% British, with English ancestors dating back on the family tree time immemorial. My memories of this English upbringing come in flashes of winter sun, and feet crunching on frozen hard mud and icy puddles. Summers spent walking in fields, counting the rings on fallen trees with my sister, collecting acorns, and my mum pointing out the ridge and furrow fields created by Medieval farmers.
One of my favourite childhood games was spending hours digging with a spoon at the bottom of the garden, trying to find Roman remains in the vegetable patch, and my first realisation of lives lived before mine. Learning how to swim in chlorine and verruca-plaster infused swimming pools, “no kissing” signs and a packet of pickled onion Monster Munch from the vending machine on the way out. Of Christmas mornings, snowmen, and sledging in Bradgate Park, strawberry picking and the local airshow in summer.
The work my Grandparents did reflects the backbone of the British working class. Both of my Grandmother’s worked in factories – one in a knitting machine factory during the war and the other putting together circuit boards. My Grandfather was an Engineer – a lathe operative, and my other Grandpa was in the RAF. He maintained fake airbases – pushed pretend Spitfires across airfields so the Germans would bomb them instead of the real thing. He went on to work as a coal miner – and lost the tips of a few fingers in the process. Their history and their stories, to me have always been completely British.
Nobody in our family has ever talked about the possibility we could be from anywhere else – that our family would ever come from anywhere else. But, as science and technology becomes more accessible this doesn’t have to be the case any longer. We can find out anything – so this is exactly what I did.
One tap and I discovered this – I’m 49% Scandinavian. I scrolled down further to find out I’m also 20% Irish (yes, James!) with traces of Italian, Greek, Spanish, Portuguese, European Jew, Iranian, Iraqi, Syrian, Turkish, and Western European and then… scraping in at the end…British. Yep…I’m only 10% British.
So half of my former English self is from Sweden, Denmark or Norway.
So my DNA is perhaps why I’ve always loved the taste of dill and pickled herring…or it could be the reason I’ve a weakness for dark haired men with an accent. My Englishness is suddenly a lot more exciting. I’m imagining Viking ancestors crossing the sea to raid monasteries and towns in Northern England, and maybe, with the Italian connection, a part of me is Roman after all?
I’ve had a week or so to contemplate what I’ve learnt. And this is it. We’re all made of each other. We separate ourselves with borders and immigration, but, in the end, we’re all connected. The Olympics is one way we celebrate our togetherness but unfortunately, with Brexit, and the awful plight of refugees with no country to call home, this is how we push ourselves further apart.
Wherever we come from…whatever religion we believe in…and whatever language we speak…it’s a mixing pot and we’re all a part of it.
We are all without borders.
We are all made of each other.
James Joyce wrote in Ulysses,
‘A nation is the same people living in the same place.’
It’s a good job I discovered we’re not related after all, as I’m going to have to disagree with him on this one. I’m more inclined to go with the words of H.G. Wells.
‘Our true nationality is mankind.’