Where do I come from? Who am I? Where am I going?

Past. Present. Future.

Seems like those are the questions we often ask ourselves but are often hard to answer.

Where do I come from is both hard and it’s easy.

I come from Spokane, Washington. I come from the Northwest. I am some of my mother and bits of my father.

I know a little bit about my family back a generation, maybe a bit about the prior generation.

I knew my maternal grandmother but not my maternal grandfather. They were divorced and he passed before I was old enough to know him.

I knew my paternal grandmother just a little bit because she and my father have had a strained relationship and my paternal grandfather passed before I was five. They both lived back east, so the opportunities to know them were few and far between.

Both of my parents are children of divorce and families broken in subtle and obvious ways. So, figuring out where I came from quickly ran aground on the shoals of not enough information.

My mom was born and raised in Spokane. She was a child of divorce and the youngest in a family with older sisters and brothers. When she stumbled in to her teen years, she didn’t have enough time from either parent and started getting in to trouble. She started smoking early, hanging out with troubled kids, drinking and occasionally shoplifting something she probably didn’t need but wanted. So, probably pretty typical for Spokane in the early 60s.

My dad is from the West Virginia and Ohio and, for the most part, seems happy to no longer be there. He met my mother when he was stationed at Fairchild Air Force base outside Spokane. His job wasn’t as important as his apparent habit of getting a promotion then acting out and getting it taken away. He didn’t take well, as he told the stories, to being told what to do. Issues with authority.

They met and married, these two kids from broken homes, because kids they most certainly were. My Dad had left home early and joined the Air Force at 17 with the permission of his Dad. My mom married at 16 with her mother’s permission because I don’t think my grandmother knew what else to do.

These two kids from broken homes and difficult backgrounds decided to get married and have kids.

That’s about as far back as I know. I know a little bit back to my grandparents and that’s about it. I know stories of difficult upbringings, divorce, not enough money, not enough love, not enough attention. That’s what I know about where I come from.

And that’s important and it’s part of my story but it’s not all of the story. Before my parents and my grandparents came generations of folks before them. Probably with stories much like theirs, filled with difficulty and challenges and, hopefully, love and happiness in some measure.

That’s as far as the stories I know go back.

I want to know more about where I came from *before* my parents. Before my grandparents.

The typical answer to that is to research the family tree. And I might do that. I just reached out recently to some family that I think may have done some of the groundwork before me. That might be interesting to peruse.

That will help me fill in some of the details of where I come from, at least as far as a family tree can be informative.

But I wondered about further back. Where do I come from on a larger scale of time?

With a few ounces of spit and science that’s come leaps and bounds in the last few decades, I will find out some of this and then may share some portion of it.

As it turns out, getting your DNA sequenced is getting increasingly inexpensive. Years ago, this would have cost thousands of dollars and taken large chunks of time. Now, for a hundred bucks I can spit in a tube and get my DNA sequenced!

The site that I’m using (www.23andme.com) promises to help “Connect to your past” “Learn from the present” and “Participate in the future”.

As part of the results, I’m supposed to receive some information about my “ancestry composition”. I’ll just put it down here: 100% European mutt.

What I’ve been told by various family members is that on my mother’s side we’re Irish (my grandmother’s family came over from Ireland during the Potato Famine which took place during the mid to late 1800’s. I thought I recalled that it was actually closer to the late 1800’s but now I don’t recall the source. I should probably try and track that down… So, we have Irish (and, I’m told, some Welsh and English) on my mother’s side.

On my father’s side, it’s mostly German (my surname supposedly means nothing more interesting than “from the Mossy place”).

German and Irish. Or, as my step daughter said, I’m Germ-ish! That’ll work. But, end of day, I’m going with European mutt. But, it’d be great to find out that there was something more interesting going on there.

Apparently I might even find out how much of my DNA is shared with Neanderthals! That would be good cocktail conversation.

Additionally, the results might help me determine the odds of getting various diseases like Type 2 Diabetes. In the example on their site, they show someone’s odds as being as low as 8% and high as 52% for Type 2 Diabetes. I’m not quite sure what to do with that data. That approaches a flip of the coin and, it seems, totally ignores the impact of lifestyle on whether that’s something I’d have to worry about.

It claims to also inform me about my status as a carrier for various things like Cystic Fibrosis and Sickle Cell Anemia. Additionally, there are apparently some genetic markers which would indicate that I might have issues with certain drug responses.

And then, optionally, I can let them use my DNA as a way to further genetic research. Sure, why not.

I’ve been interested in finding out more about my background for a while so being able to do this for a reasonable price seems interesting.

My wife has indicated she’s not interested and that the info is largely statistical so there’s not much to act on and I get that. But I’m very interested! Probably to the point where I’ll likely be disappointed with the specificity of the information, but that’s the risk, I guess.

The process is pretty simple. You send them money. They send you a small box. Inside the small box is a mouthpiece attached to a small tube. You wait a half hour after you’ve eaten or drank anything then you spit in to the tube. You close the top which adds what I’m guessing is a preservative, shake up the results, cap the tube and drop it in a biological sample bag and it goes back in the box to be sent back. A few weeks later they will supposedly tell me the results!

Soon I’ll have some insight in to what I can learn from my genes!



[box type=”shadow”] Note: Image courtesy of MIKI Yoshihito http://www.flickr.com/photos/7940758@N07 and licensed via Creative Commons
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Categories: Writing


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