Mary Lou Herre, who now lives in Pinehurst, was always pretty sure of her ethnic heritage while growing up as Mary Lou Kalafus in Pennsylvania coal country.
After all, both sets of her grandparents had immigrated from the former Czechoslovakia. Still, when she swabbed her nose and sent a DNA sample off to Ancestry.com, she was wishing for a possible surprise or two.
“My mother always said there was a Jewish side to my father’s family,” she said in a response to my Feb. 21 column about my own results from MyHeritage.com. “And my maternal grandmother used to say in Slovak, ‘Save us from the Russians!’ So I was hoping maybe something interesting would turn up.”
As it turned out, the results she received were 91 percent as expected. That was how much of her DNA came from Eastern European origins. But the other 9 percent, she learned, traced back to an unexpected source: Ireland.
“I have no idea where that came from,” she said. “But now I can wear green and celebrate St. Patrick’s Day!” (Which presumably is just what she did this past Saturday.)
She added this P.S. to her email: “BTW, we called my maternal grandmother ‘Bubba.’”
That was in response to my earlier mention that although my origins turned out to be strictly British and Western European, I had always nursed a hope that there might be just a drop from my beloved Russia in there somewhere. This vain wish was bolstered by the memory that we had always called my maternal grandma “Bobba,” which is the same as the Russki word for “grandmother.” But that was apparently just a coincidence.
I had this from Roger W. Fromm, of Southern Pines:
“My family history has said that I am 50 percent German, 25 percent French, and 25 percent divided among English, Welsh and Amerindian. …
“But not so fast! DNA testing via Ancestry says I am 63 percent NW European (presumably the French and German), 11 percent Irish, 9 percent Slavic, 6 percent English, 6 percent Scandinavian, 4 percent Italian, and 1 percent Jewish... Keep in mind that this does not necessarily tell where your ancestors came from directly, but what the basic physical DNA is. The lower the percent, the further back in time.”
There was this from Nancy Herman, of Southern Pines:
“Nothing interesting or surprising in my DNA results. In fact, we could be related: 58 percent Western Europe, 18 percent Great Britain, 8 percent other regions.”
Nancy said she didn’t know why that added up to only 84 percent, adding: “I’m just skeptical enough to wonder if these DNA tests are on the level. … Unfortunately, I could not convince any of my siblings to get tested. (One brother said the cost was excessive.)”
Just as I was starting to write this follow-up, I received an email from MyHeritageDNA, announcing: “Hi Stephen. Good news! We’ve discovered new DNA matches for you.”
Said matches included mostly a list of apparent third, fourth and fifth cousins, none of whom I had ever heard of. But one caught my eye: “Ben S. Bouser,” who was identified as either “father or son.”
I think I can testify that that would be Benjamin Smith Bouser, my second son. It was he who originally sent the DNA kit as a Christmas gift.
Then he later sent in a test on himself, and he recently called to share what he had learned. His results, not surprisingly, were overwhelmingly North and West European, English, Irish, Scottish and Welsh. But there was one unexpected component.
“I’m 3.5 percent Ashkenazi Jewish,” he told me.
Here again, I’m jealous. As noted in my first column: Besides my love affair with Russia, I have always been infatuated with all things Jewish, from the Old Testament story of the Hebrews to that of the modern state of Israel. But if Ben and his brother Jacob have a dash of Jewish blood, it would appear to have come from somewhere way back on the side of his mother and my first wife, Juanita.
“I have had Jewish people stop me on the street, assuming that I was Jewish too,” Ben told me. “The name ‘Benjamin’ cinches it. I always tell them that, no, I grew up Episcopalian. It has happened many times. I have always thought someone on your side of the family might be Jewish.”
Not that I know of. But I can always hope — or maybe wonder a bit, along with reader Nancy, whether all this is “on the level.”
Whew. This stuff is wild. Again, I would love to hear from more readers about their experiences with this rather amazing new technology, and what they think of it.