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Cannon: What I didn't learn from my DNA test

Published November 2, 2012 5:01 pm
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

I recently took one of those DNA tests that tell you where your prehistoric ancestors come from.

It was totally painless. All you have to do is spit into a little tube and then mail that tube of spit to a lab where they compare your spit with your ancestors' spit. Then they send you the results of all that spitting.

I know! Science is awesome!

Anyway. I got my results back last week, and here's what I learned: 92 precent of my prehistoric ancestors came from central Europe. Six percent came from Finland and Russia. As for the remaining 2 percent? Well, the lab wasn't sure. Apparently 2 percent of my ancestors forgot to spit into those little tubes.

That's it. Those were the results. I read them over with a growing sense of disappointment.

"What's the matter?" my husband asked.

"Well, for one thing, I'm definitely not Irish," I said.

I've always harbored a deep hope that somehow, some way I'm secretly Irish. Which I'm not. Unless "Ireland" is a code name for "central Europe."

"And for another thing," I went on, "I want more specific information. All these lab results really tell me is that I had prehistoric ancestors living in caves somewhere in the suburbs of Helsinki."

My husband smirked. "Well now isn't THAT ironic."

Let me explain.

You know how certain places — the redrock desert, New York City, Hawaii — just speak to your soul? Well, Finland … wasn't that place for me.

Don't get me wrong. The Finnish people are completely great. (I'm looking at you, Raija!) But life was challenging for me when we lived there in that tiny one-room apartment. On a tiny island. With two tiny kids. Whose tiny clothes I washed by hand in the tiny bathtub because we didn't have access to a single tiny washing machine.

Also, I was pregnant at the time. And, oh yeah, I didn't speak the language. (Finnish, as it turns out, isn't one of those languages that you can just "pick up.") I didn't have any friends. Worst of all, I didn't have a TV. No "Miami Vice" for me, baby!

I know. Wah, wah. Boo hoo. Compared with 99.9 percent of the world's population, I lived like a king on the edge of the Baltic Sea. I totally get that.

Still. Life in Finland was hard because I was just so I.S.O.L.A.T.E.D. Imagine my surprise, then, to learn that Finland was my fatherland! About a million years ago!

So that's pretty cool. I guess. But in the end, what does that even mean?

I realized this was the real cause of my disappointment: I wanted to know where my ancient ancestors came from because I assumed that would say something about who I am now.

And why.

Human beings want clarity on this issue, which is why we consult our horoscopes and take online personality quizzes ("Which Jane Austen character are you?") and read books that tell us what color we are (I'm a white, my husband's a blue). We want information that helps us get a handle on ourselves.

And that's great. Self-awareness is certainly a prerequisite for individual growth. But testing your DNA to find out where your prehistoric ancestors come from? Trust me on this one.

It doesn't help solve the mystery of you.

Ann Cannon can be reached at acannon@sltrib.com or facebook.com/anncannontrib.






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