Of all the nice presents I got last Christmas, the one from No. 2 son Ben was truly the kind of gift that keeps on giving.
If you’re trying to decide what to get for someone’s birthday or whatever — especially if that person is a blood relative — I highly recommend the neat things that Ben and his girlfriend, Erin, dropped under the tree for my wife, Brenda, and me: a couple of MyHeritage DNA kits.
These kits (like the competing Ancestry.com versions you keep seeing in TV commercials) have to rank as one of the more remarkable products of modern technology. For a relatively modest price and very little bother, the things allow you to “test your DNA and reveal valuable information about your family history and ethnic origins.”
All you have to do is swab the inside of your cheek and place the samples inside a couple of little plastic vials that you mail to the MyHeritage DNA lab. (They emphasize that it’s best to wait at least a half-hour after eating to do the swabbing, lest the lab conclude from the traces of hamburger meat that there is a Hereford bull somewhere in your family tree.)
So, after stalling for a few weeks after Christmas, I did the swabbing and the mailing. And then, after going to the lab’s home page to activate the process, I sat back and waited to be notified that I could go back online and view the results.
Unlike so many other people in this bubbly melting pot known as America, I confess that I had never been that hung up on what my ethnic heritage might be. Mostly, I knew there had to be a lot of English blood in there. My maternal grandfather, a Jersey cattle breeder in Missouri, was named Percy Reginald Smith. And his wife, Gertrude, had the maiden name Chambers. We’re talking British here.
Things seemed more complicated on the other side. My paternal grandfather, William (Will) Bouser, who ran a dime store on the square in little Sarcoxie, Missouri, supposedly had mostly Germanic blood in his veins. I was always told that his grandfather had fled to America sometime in the 19th century to dodge the Prussian draft, changing the spelling of his name from Bowser, which is supposedly of French origin.
I know nothing about the family background of Will’s wife, Frances, my paternal grandmother. But I’ve never forgotten something she told me in all seriousness not long before her death: that my great-great-grandmother supposedly had this cousin named Robert E. Lee. Yes, that Robert E. Lee, commander of the Confederate Army.
(Can you believe I’ve never done anything to check that one out? If I had, and had confirmed it, that might add a considerable twist to my reading of the book I’m well into at the moment: Ron Chernow’s massive, fascinating biography of Lee’s nemesis, Ulysses S. Grant.)
While I awaited the results of my test, I entertained a futile fantasy or two. For one thing, I had always entertained, especially in my early adulthood, a deep fascination with all things Israeli. That’s where son Benjamin got his name, not to mention his older brother, Jacob. Couldn’t my analysis reveal just a sliver of Jewish DNA?
Also, those who know of my love for Russia, where I lived for a time and whose language I learned long ago in the Army, will not be surprised to learn that I indulged in an unlikely wish that there might just be a drop of russkaya krov’ in there somewhere.
This fantasy was reinforced by an odd memory: In my childhood, my cousins and I all referred to our Grandmother Smith by the nickname “Bobba.” No one seemed to know where that had come from. But later, I learned that the Russian word for randmother just happened to be “baba,” pronounced exactly the same. Could that just be a coincidence?
As it turned out, that’s all it was. I got my test results back a few days ago.
Ta-da: I’m 59.6 percent English; 35.6 percent North and West European (that would be the German and maybe French part); and 4.8 percent Irish, Scottish and Welsh.
So there you have it. No surprises.
I confess to being a bit disappointed that there are no exotic twists in there. (Like Sen. Elizabeth Warren, I had even dared hope for a trace of Native American.) Still, at least I don’t have to do like the guy in the Ancestry commercial and go trade in my lederhosen for a kilt.
How about you? If you have any interesting or surprising DNA findings along these lines, please let me share them.
Contact Steve Bouser at (910) 693-2470 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.