Article and Photos by Michelle Farnsworth
How do you go from adopting a dog to discovering your own DNA ancestry? It’s a funny story, and one I like to add to those things that only happen to me.
When I adopted Frankie from Furry Friends Rockin’ Rescue in Bismarck, he looked like a Boston terrier. But he was different from my last Boston terrier, Cowboy (RIP). Frankie is taller and larger; his paws are more substantial, eyes are different, and his nose shape is more pronounced. I kept saying, “He’s something else.”
I had my suspicions but wanted to confirm. I threatened to get a dog DNA test for a few months, and finally took action with the company Wisdom Panel. They send you a kit just like a human DNA testing kit. So I swabbed the inside of Frankie’s cheek to collect skin cells, activated the kit online, and sent in the sample. After a few weeks I was given his results.
I was correct. Frankie’s results confirmed my suspicions:
87.5% Boston terrier
12.5% Staffordshire bull terrier
Frankie’s grandparents and great-grandparents were Staffordshire bull terriers, which explained his larger body, facial characteristics, and his random spots.
Now finding out about a pet’s DNA background is one thing, but I knew what was next—finding out about me. Who am I? Where do my relatives come from? I knew I was mostly Scandinavian and German from my grandparents’ heritages, but I was secretly hoping I was a different ethnic background. Or maybe just a sliver of something I didn’t expect.
There are many companies that offer genealogy services. The top three include Ancestry.com, 23andme, and My Heritage.
According to an MIT Technology Review story from earlier this year, DNA analysis more than doubled in 2017, with direct-to-consumer tests exceeding 12 million.
I chose Ancestory.com and sent away for my kit. When the kit arrives, you are provided with a box that contains a tube that you spit into and then place the tube into a bag. I spit, sent it in, and began to wait.
Adding to my ever-growing accumulation of stories of things that only happen to me, my results were not readable. Evidently not enough spit? Who knows. But they did send me another kit free of charge. Test kit #2 arrived and I repeated my test with vigor.
Did my test results surprise me? Yes! My results did surprise me!
59% Scandinavia—nothing new there.
29% Europe West—no real surprises, but with one very interesting discovery, which I will address later.
Here’s the good stuff: Iberian Peninsula—6%
I said to my husband, ”Where’s the Iberian Peninsula?”
As his distaste for my lack of geographical knowledge shaded his face, his curiosity got the best of him.
“Because the Ancestry DNA test says I have six percent from the Iberian Peninsula.”
“Wow! Are you kidding? That’s Spain and Portugal.”
“You mean I’m a Spaniard?!?”
Just like with Frankie, I knew there had to be more. And now I had the proof.
People use genealogy services for a variety of reasons; curiosity of family trees, health concerns, fitness, and even finding out about anti-aging. In fact, 23andme is the first to win approval from the FDA, to market a genetic test for cancer without a doctor’s order.
Heidi Herrington, her mother, and brother recently decided to use 23andme to find out more about their genealogy.
“My mom was really curious to try it because my grandpa would never really tell us if he was anything besides German,” Heidi explains. “So we got her one for her birthday, and it was kind of cool, so we all thought we’d try it.”
Curiosity seems to be the prevailing motivator in the multi-million dollar industry that continues to grow its market each year.
Heidi just recently received her results, so her discoveries are all new.
“But now my kids want to do it, too. Especially since one of them looks just like me and the other just like his father,” Heidi shares.
Another trend associated with tracing your ancestry is ancestral tourism. Most popular among Americans and Canadians, traveling throughout the world, following the path of their ancestors.
Remember my results that I talked about earlier; it shows a specific region where my family was likely from, Alsace-Lorraine. I had never heard of it before. An Imperial Territory created by the German Empire in 1871. But researching shows it is predominantly French.
So, I have a lot of work to do with my family tree, perhaps searching and communicating with distant relatives, and hopefully planning some trips to the Iberian Peninsula and Alsace-Lorraine, because I am a Spaniard. Or wait, am I French?
Michelle Farnsworth is a local writer and owner of her own Younique Makeup and Skincare business. Two humans, one fur baby, and her husband, Richard, occupy her free time.