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DNA Tests – Who am I?

Okay, how many of you have gone out and had a DNA test? Ancestry, 23 and Me, My Heritage, Living DNA, GPS Origins… They are all out there. Over the past few years, this huge trend to learn about your family history, origins and heritage has spawned an entire new industry. Many of my friends and family have done this – just recently, so have I.

For me, it was after seeing, hearing and reading all about this heritage search from friends and family (including my wife), did I finally relent and have mine tested. I also received the DNA kit as a gift from my wife, so what was I gonna do – re-gift it?

Upon sending it in, I wasn’t sure what I wanted – a surprise or affirmation? Going in, I felt pretty confident as to my roots – and this is after I’d spent most of my youth wondering about my nationality.

Let me back up just a bit. If you’d read a recent blog – you would know I was adopted in my youth. I was placed in foster homes beginning at the age of 3, and eventually was adopted at age 7. Even though I was young, I was aware of one side of family very well. My mother was Japanese, having married my father when he was stationed over there a couple of years before I was born. And of course, being half Japanese, you kind of looked it as well. The other half of me, I had no idea. My father’s side of the family was from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, about five states and 2,000 miles away. Since my father was in the military, he wasn’t around much. So when they family split up, we knew nothing.

My adoptive parents were Eastern European and Swedish ancestry and were very proud of that. I definitely didn’t look like them. Because of that, I spent a good amount of my youth hearing people ask me about my nationality - Indian (Native American today)? Chinese? Mexican? Filipino? My response was always, “half-Japanese and Heintz-57.” By now, having been split up from my siblings and parents, I simply had no idea.

Eventually, 20 years later, I reconnected with siblings and mother and, just as importantly, my paternal grandmother. (The story of our family break-up and reconnection is for another time.) It was early in the reunion that I was able to get an answer to the lingering question of my heritage. I recall one of the first questions to my grandmother was about my ethnicity. Having flown back to Milwaukee to meet her, she was able answer my questions about my father’s side of the family. Finally. No more Heintz 57! Besides my half Japanese side from my mother, I found out my ‘other half’ on my father’s side consists of 3/8’s Polish and a 1/8 German. Finally!

Now, where was I? Oh, back to the DNA testing packet. After waiting 3 months or so, I got my results. Was I expecting something new or surprising? Honestly, after wanting to find my identity for so long, I just wanted confirmation who I was. I was done with surprises. Well, guess what? I’m only 49% Japanese (Asian) and 40% Eastern European (specifically in Poland). Five percent is Scandinavian and the rest is a scattering of ‘other’. I got my confirmation.

For others who have doubts about their ethnicity or simply want to trace their roots, I say go for it! It’s exciting and creates a connection with places and people around the world. There’s a certain pride that comes from your roots. When the World Cup is going on, I find myself connecting with Japan and Poland. My wife and I are going with friends to Hungary next summer to where each wife’s family heritage originates. While we may not be able to trace specific family ties, the connection is still strong enough for us to travel there. Japan will be our next foreign trip.

As individuals and as families, we are who we are because of our past. It’s because of those family members who made decisions and experienced events that define us today. For each us, we carry on that same power and responsibility. The choices we have made and the experiences we have gone through have shaped the legacy of each of your families. Those decisions made a generation or two generations ago define each of us.

Connecting to that, is what the DNA test does and what people in general seek from the family history. I truly think people, in general, are social beings. We like to connect, share and feel like we belong. For me, these DNA tests help you do just that.

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