By Suzanne Sparrow Watson
You faithful readers may recall that I had my DNA analyzed by Ancestry a few months ago. Last week, brother Bob got the results from his Ancestry “spit” and, much to our relief, we actually are brother and sister. Since we like each other so much we were praying that one of us isn’t the product of mom and the milkman. But while our DNA proves we’re siblings, it also offered an interesting insight into how different we are. If you’re like me, you may have assumed that siblings would have the same exact DNA since they have the same parents. But as I explained in the blog about my test, that’s just not the case. As a refresher, here’s the explanation:
According to Stanford genetic scientist, Dr. Barry Star in “Stanford at the Tech” website, it logical to assume that brothers and sisters should have the same ancestry background since they both got half their DNA from mom and half from dad. But DNA isn’t passed down from generation to generation in a single block. Not every child gets the same 50% of mom’s DNA and 50% of dad’s DNA, unless they are identical twins. So it’s possible, really probable, for two siblings to have some big differences in their ancestry at the DNA level. Culturally they may each say they are “1/8th Danish” but at the DNA level, one may have no Danish DNA at all.
And that, dear readers, summarizes exactly the results that Bob and I got. While he is 22% German, I am only 3%. I am 41% British but he’s only 6% Stiff Upper Lip. I am immensely jealous that he is 36% Irish/Scotch, while I’m a paltry 19%. And while my DNA is 21% Scandinavian, he is just 11%. We also both have a smattering of French, Russian and Iberian Peninsula (which I learned while in Ireland is a result of the Spanish Armada invasion of Ireland in the mid-16th Century). In actual fact, history would tell us that our Scandinavian DNA is also due more to invading marauders in Great Britain and Ireland than to ancestors from those countries. I’ve researched our family tree back hundreds of years and the closest Scandahoovian relatives we have go back at least 15 generations.
Given our differences I got to wondering what part, if any, our DNA plays in our personalities. Turns out, that’s a controversial topic, with scholars on both sides arguing divergent facts to prove their point. So I decided to Google what the generally accepted traits assigned to our ethnic backgrounds are to see if I could discern if our inherited cultures influence us in any way. Bob is mostly Irish/Scotch – they are known for strong family values, penetrating wit and laid back lifestyles (which I think is a nice way of saying they spend a lot of time at the pub). I couldn’t describe him more accurately if I tried. He also has a strong German component and they are known for being punctual, efficient and well-organized. The study I read also said they were known for their sense of humor. Wow. Not sure I have met any Germans with a great sense of humor. Then again, Bob is one of the most humorous people I know so perhaps if we can overlook German behavior over the entire 20th Century we can find their funny bones.
My mostly British DNA did not surprise me since we have several ancestors who came to the US directly from England. In fact, I’m more surprised that Bob didn’t have more British DNA. The British are known for good manners, witty sense of humor (I think it’s an acquired taste), pride of country, love of a good gin, and friendliness. I think that could describe me pretty well except for when I flip off weaving, texting drivers. Not sure all my British great-grandparents would approve of that. My Scandinavian heritage is the yin to my British yang. Although they also love to drink, Scandinavians are not social, they are in love with “middle of the road” for any decision and their home is their temple. They are perhaps best exemplified by Greta Garbo’s quote, “I want to be alone”. Fits me to a “t” on any given day. I can be a real homebody, perfectly content to curl up with a book, my knitting, a good movie and, of course, Dash the Wonder Dog.
I found our results illuminating. Whether DNA really makes a difference in our personalities may never be conclusively determined in our lifetimes but it’s fun to speculate. Now all we need to do is get our brother Jack to spit into a tube. If he comes back as our sibling at least it will let mom off the hook for any rumors about her fooling around with the milkman.