My AncestryDNA kit has finally arrived.
Not that many years ago such a test might have cost thousands of dollars, to find out your ancestral genetic background. Now it comes at a tiny fraction of that cost.
Ancestry Incorporated, based in Utah, U.S.A., is heavily promoting its inexpensive DNA test-kits as a way for people to find out more about their racial identity as reflected in the results of a DNA test. According to the advertising many people have been surprised by results that show their racial background is far more diverse than they ever imagined.
For example, people who thought their origins were entirely European, mainly from one or another country, such as Germany or Italy, have been surprised to find they have a large proportion of genetic make-up that points to other racial backgrounds. Among North Americans that sometimes means Indigenous, or Aboriginal.
As the son of parents who were both adopted and either knew nothing about their parents’ nationality, as in my father’s case, or half of it, as in my mother’s, it was an irresistible opportunity to find out more about their ancestral background, and my own.
I have long known that my father’s birth name was Frankland Windsor. Some years ago, after applying to the Ontario Adoption Registry for whatever information the child of an adopted parent is able to get, I learned his birth mother was a widow who already had three children and couldn’t afford to support another one.
I have speculated that the name Frankland may reflect a French link in my father’s parentage – perhaps a father who was from France, or a Canadian soldier who suffered fateful, traumatic service in France during the First World War. He may have come back from the war so badly wounded that he died before my father was born in July, 1923.
France takes its name from the Franks, the Germanic tribe that swept into the Roman province of Gaul after the fall of the Roman Empire and made it their new home. No doubt the newly-dominant Franks and the Gallic/Roman people who were already there were absorbed and assimilated by each other; but the country now called France is still, literally, the land of the Franks, or Frankland.
My father never had any interest in looking into the circumstances of his birth and adoption. “Let sleeping dogs lie,” is all he ever said about it. Mom, on the other hand was more interested, and remains so. In recent years she and I have uncovered considerable information about her birth parents, in particular her more-than-likely birth father, a famous man during his lifetime. For her sake as well as my own I’m hoping AncestryDNA test results will shed a lot more factual light on our national origins at least.
But ultimately I think the most interesting point is the extent to which the AncestryDNA test results generally are already showing a remarkable genetic diversity in the many thousands of samples being submitted.
Where the samples are coming from of course matters. Those from the British Isles must be interesting, because of the waves of invasions by various peoples over several thousand years. There were people there long before the Celts arrived from mainland Europe in pre-Roman times; then came the Romans themselves, and after the fall of the empire, the Germanic invasions, including Angles, who gave their name to England. For a time Norse invaders from Denmark controlled a large area of northern England known as the Danelaw. The Norman descendants of Vikings who gave their name to Normandy, France conquered England in 1066 under the leadership of William the Conqueror. Canada’s official Head of State, Queen Elizabeth II, can trace her ancestry back to him through the many branches in the Windsor royal family tree.
People of British descent, in the British Isles or in Canada and many other parts of the world are no doubt also finding a genetic connection with Spain as a result of shipwrecked sailors from the ill-fated Spanish Armada in 1588. The name Callicott in my known family tree has Spanish roots.
There are places in the world where people lived in relative isolation for a very long time where the genetic make-up is less diverse. Japan, for example, has been regarded as one of the most racially homogenous nations.
But I’d be willing to bet if most members of the human race had the opportunity to take a DNA test aimed at shedding light on their genetic racial/ancestral background we’d be surprised to find how much the world has become the “global village” predicted a half century ago by the great Canadian communication theorist, philosopher and prophet, Marshall McLuhan.
It’s interesting, and a good thing, surely, that an inexpensive DNA test could be a tool to help the human race realize it’s similarities, rather than it’s differences; especially now at a time when populist demagogues like Donald Trump in the U.S. are tragically preaching fear, hatred and divisiveness.
In a speech to an international human rights group earlier this week in The Netherlands, the United Nations’ High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, addressed the growing issue of the rise in popularity of far-right, racist politicians in the Western world, notably in Europe and the U.S.
Hussein is the son of a Jordanian prince and his Swedish wife. As reported in international news media outlets, including the National Post, which carried an article also published in the Washington Post, his “blistering comments” were provoked by Geert Wilders, a Dutch politician whose Party for Freedom heavily employs anti-Islam messages during its campaigns. The party has led in recent opinion polls. Wilders has promised to close mosques and ban the Koran. He also attended the Republican National Convention in Cleveland in July and endorsed Donald Trump’s candidacy for U.S. president,” said the article, also published in the Washington Post.
Hussein referred frequently to Wilders as well as “the populists, demagogues and political fantasists” like him, including Trump.
“Communities will barricade themselves into fearful, hostile camps, with populists like them, and the extremists, as the commandants,” he said. “The atmosphere will become thick with hate; at this point, it can descend rapidly into colossal violence.”
Have I mentioned before the human race and the future of the world are at a history making, or breaking, crossroads especially in the current U.S. presidential election campaign?
I hope the results of my DNA test are rich with genetic and racial diversity. That will be all the more reason to recharge my hopeful celebration of membership in the human race, and residence in the Global Village.
A version of this was originally published in The Sun Times in September, 2016