One of the things that attracts my attention these days is learning as much as possible about my ancestors, not the ones I can trace back to the 16th century but the ones I cannot trace, the ones that lived before and after the Romans occupied Britain. On a lark one day, I said to my husband that I was going to get my DNA analysed to see if there were any surprises in terms of where my people come from. That innocent remark has set off seismic shifts in my understanding of myself.
There really weren’t many surprises in the report I received back. I really am probably one of the whitest people you could ever meet, with my ancestry firmly rooted in northern Europe. What was surprising was that the results unleashed a passion in me to get to know more about these ancient societies of which I was a part, learning about the realities of living under threat of Viking raids or even raids from neighboring communities, trying to imagine what it was like as a practitioner of the old ways when the Christians began violently purging Britain of all who resisted conversion, Of course that also leads to the question of what were the Christians so afraid of that they were so freely relying on violence to convert. (Dear old St. Mungo, patron saint of Glasgow, was a very very bad man!) So many things to look at, to consider, to wrestle with, to embrace, and even to be horrified by….
Discovering my genome came from Danes and Norwegians (legacy of the Vikings) as well as those living by the Baltic sea (possible legacy of Roman soldiers who were most probably Celts), and not just the Scots, English. French, and Germans whose stories were long and often told in my family, had the effect for me of throwing everything up in the air. Everything was fair game to consider and reconsider, my story was vastly wilder and meatier then I ever knew and I am loving it and in love with it.
When I was going through my ‘Dark Night of the Soul’ I worked with a spiritual director. Since I felt that God had abandoned me, I felt justified in considering anew all of the heresies of the Christian church and some new ones of my very own. We methodically worked through every one. I am so thankful he was trained as a Jesuit and was patient and forebearing as I was pretty insufferable then. But I was considering these things from a place of deep hurt and anger. It was a painful time of being in the spiritual wilderness and yet, as wilderness does, it was a time when I was led through obstacles and on to rich experience and growth. Life hurts. It doesn’t owe you anything so get over it and get on with it. Who knows what wonder awaits if you can let go of the expectations and shoulds and meet the wilderness face to face.
It is so valuable now to be able to look back and be able to see how the hobbles of a very hard Reformed religion had kept my family in thrall throughout the centuries and even up to the present day. In some ways, Scots Presbyterians and French Huguenots were not people of humor, at ease with themselves, and conforming to religious strictures was extremely serious business. They were also people for whom trusting someone was literally a matter of life and death and they did not trust easily.
Now I am able to come at this not from a place of hurt and anger but from a place of deep gratitude and profound love. I am so grateful to be alive at a time when this new tool has become available. I am grateful for the indescribable richness that has presented itself for my discovery. And from this I am also grateful for the anonymous relatives who gave me the DNA to be able to consider this and break free, free to consider myself, my gifts and talents and, at the most elementary level , my very life itself as a delicious adventure, as something so much more than the petty discomforts of daily living. Who knew?
The reading today that precipitated my musings discussed a research project, based on genetic analysis, completed in 2014 that blew the hinges off the way that scholars now understand migration within Britain and calls into question many assumptions about the influence and impact of the Vikings, Anglo Saxons and others on development within the British Isles.. If you have ancestors in Britain, or if you love history and archaeology, the article is a really exciting read. The link is here: http://www.buzzfeed.com/christinekenneally/the-history-of-europe-lies-in-british-peoples-dna#.lx3d8x2GD4.
So my gift to you today is to share my story in hopes that you can catch a glimpse of how much larger, more multifaceted, and totally amazing your life is as well. If you are interested in this for yourself there are a number of companies that provide this service. The three that come to mind are 23andme.com, familytreedna.com, and ancestry.com but there are others. The prices vary considerably so do some research and see exactly what kind of analysis they will do, how many they have done, how many reference genomes they have to compare to, etc. GEDMatch.com has a free resource available on its site ¨DNA for Dummies¨ which is an excellent primer.