Earlier this year, when I was telling a friend about my interest in my Southern mother’s family, he asked “So you have a little color in you?” When we met, we both had blue eyes, straight hair. But he had a little color.
Not me. For most of my life, I believed I was of only European ancestry. I have light eyes that have turned hazel with time; skin that burns, then tans; a vanilla exterior that will always seem colorless, thanks to my known English, Irish, French and German ancestry.
When I married a second generation Greek American, my mother started reading Edith Hamilton. “Did you know that the Greeks were originally blondes with blue eyes until they were invaded by the Moors?” She seemed triumphant. The fantasy that that my husband had a little color in him seemed to validate something she suspected, something that would define him long before his grandparents landed at Ellis Island.
It wasn’t until I saw a picture of my great-great grandmother in 2000 that I began to wonder whether my maternal line might have ancestry other than European, and if so, whether that most intimate and lost knowledge was discoverable.
This week I uploaded my 23andme raw autosomal genetic information to Gedmatch in the hope that their admixture tools would provide more information about our supposed Native American ancestry.
Their tools gave me bits and pieces of NA identifications, ranging from .06 percent Artic-Amerindian to .21 percent Amerindian – some modeled results with more than one NA designation, which could be totaled, but never to more than 1 percent.
My African admixture, however, was expressed in ranges from a conservative .82 to wildly speculative 19.66 percent, with Sub-Saharan ancestry in the 1.06 to 8.06 range.
I’ve included the genome painting from one of the admixture tools, Ethiohelix. Turquoise blue, which is by default called French, is my predominant European ancestry. But on every genome, there are splotches of orange—large and small – and elsewhere, bits of red and yellow and cornflower blue.
These admixture tests are scientific, yet impressionistic.
Somewhere between colonial America and this digital painting were people who knew who was in their family, people who lived in fear of the “one drop rule,” of the hypo-ascendancy that racial identities could confer. There were also people who hid what they knew, even after to social consequences had changed, understanding the titillating, gotcha moment of discovery and revelation.
Family, not admixture calculators, are where real information lies. I have no family to ask about my Gedmatch results. Next month, in North Carolina, I’ll be talking to strangers.