COUNTY AGENT GUY
Who do you think you are? I mean besides your name, address and underwear size?
Whatever you think the answer might be, you’re probably wrong.
At least that’s what my wife and I discovered when we decided, just for the fun of it, to do a little digging into our ancestry.
We each took a DNA test that involved spitting into a tiny receptacle. Finally. A test that makes use of one of my skill sets.
Some weeks later we were able to view the results on the testing company’s website. It’s all on the Internet so it must be true.
My wife, who has long held that she is full German, was informed that she is genetically 37.5 percent French and German, 13 percent British and Irish and nearly 11 percent Scandinavian.
The Scandinavian part proves to me that, despite what she says, she cannot be genetically preprogrammed to totally loathe lutefisk.
My DNA analysis showed that I am three-quarters Scandinavian. I found this disappointing; I had assumed this number would exceed 100 percent.
I am 7.5 percent British and Irish, which may explain why I enjoy celebrating St. Patrick’s Day.
The website also hinted that I am distantly related to Bono. I should phone him and tell him that his long-lost cousin would deeply appreciate some U2 concert tickets.
None of that impersonal data means much unless you can actually connect it to someone.
A few years ago, our oldest son painstakingly added our family’s genealogy to ancestry.com. This website makes it a snap to waste vast amounts of time exploring your family timeline.
I traced my ancestors’ migrations, mostly in the mid-19th century, from Norway to the Midwest. I perused details about my great-grandparents, Henry and Betsy Nelson, who homesteaded near Sinai, Dakota Territory in 1888.
The web yielded such nuggets as their wedding certificate and a copy of Henry’s homesteading claim, signed by Grover Cleveland.
A newspaper clipping said it took newlyweds Henry and Betsy two days to trek from Minneota, Minnesota to Sinai with their team of horses and wagon – a jaunt that takes less than two hours nowadays.
Among the precious possessions they brought with them were six chickens in a crate.
With a few more mouse clicks I was able to follow twigs of my family tree as far back as 1550.
It startled me to discover that one line of my kin lived in Saxony for a good while. This might explain the 1.5 percent of my DNA that’s German.
I soon become addicted to ancestry research and began to crave more and more potent hits of familial history.
I studied innumerable old documents, including turn-of-the-century census forms that had checkboxes labeled “deaf and dumb,” “idiotic,” and “insane.”
It got so that I was beginning to feel some of those things myself.
Someone vaguely related to me (or maybe not) had posted a colorful crest thingy on ancestry.com. I clicked on it and plummeted down a historical rabbit hole.
It began with a 500-year leap back in time. But that’s just an insignificant little detail considering what comes next.
A series of hyperlinks sent me soaring over innumerable bygone generations.
Some of the lives were described as prosaically as “Sven Svenson was born and died in Norway.”
I grappled with those weird Scandinavian alphabetical characters and that strange Norse habit of the father’s first name being used as the beginning of his offspring’s last name.
But then I hit historical pay dirt.
As my computer monitor swept me across vast stretches of Scandinavia in the late Iron Age, there arose before my eyes such names as Sigrid Aunsdotter, Princess of Uppsala, Queen of Denmark; King Ingjiald The Wicked; and Halfdan The Black.
My favorite is King Gudrod The Hunter, The Magnificent, King of Juntland and Denmark. I’m betting that that last guy wrote all of his own press releases.
“Look at this,” I exclaimed to my wife. “This is Beowulf stuff! And it appears that I’m the rightful heir to some major chunks of Western Europe. It says so here on the Internet.”
After glancing at the evidence, she snorted, “I don’t think you’re so much a Harald Fairhair as a Halfdan White Legs.
Have you ever looked at your neon thighs? They could blind an innocent bystander at 50 yards.”
“Go ahead and make fun of me. I’m in such a good mood, I’m going to grant you your very own realm. How do you feel about Iceland?”
“You must be crazy,” she replied. “You’re obviously thinking with this part of your brain.”
I followed her finger.
It was resting upon the DNA finding that read, “Neanderthal, 2.4 percent.”
Nelson is a freelance writer from Volga, S.D. Reach him by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please Enter Your Facebook App ID. Required for FB Comments. Click here for FB Comments Settings page