Disclaimer: This is a longer read than normal; but it’s a great one!
I’m going to go out on a limb here and just assume we’ve all worked a puzzle at some point in our lives. Puzzles tend to range in size with as many or as few oddly shaped pieces imaginable.
Connecting smaller pieces together in order to create a larger masterpiece is the goal when working any puzzle. Like most, I start with the border; because in fact, that’s the easiest part.
From there I begin to concentrate on certain areas of the puzzle and I begin filling in the center by gently pressing two pieces together. I can sit in silence for hours focusing on matching one correct piece with another, and another, and another. For weeks, one puzzle can consume most of my time.
Without a doubt, puzzles can be challenging. Especially when the puzzle pieces get smaller and the number of pieces in the box are quadrupled. However, this is what I typically enjoy most about working puzzles. I enjoy the challenge.
My latest puzzle has not been any different. In fact, this puzzle has been my biggest challenge yet. This would be the puzzle of getting to the bottom of my ethnicity! An 80-year-old mystery!
I’ve had many pieces in front of me but after years and years of sitting, and of course, migrating, I knew that some pieces of the puzzle had been misplaced. When I’m working a puzzle there is nothing I hate more than realizing I’ve lost a piece.
The border of this puzzle goes like this:
I’ve been curious of my genetic makeup for years. Ever since I was a little girl people have always asked me what I was mixed with, mainly because of my hair texture. This question was nothing new for anyone in my family. For me, I never really questioned it until other people started making such a big deal out of it. My hair has always been MY normal. My mother is black, my father is black, and that was the end of it. However, as I got older I began having conversations with family members in an attempt to get a better understanding of my families dynamics. When the conversation happened between my grandmother and I, she informed me that she never knew her father. She had never even seen a picture of him. She was given bits and pieces of information about him (or random puzzle pieces) but that was all she had to work with. As she stated, “back in those days, you didn’t ask any questions.”
The missing pieces of the puzzle:
With the little information my grandmother had (First and Last name, occupation, he was from the West Indies who came down to Virginia from New York), we had no other solid facts or leads that could help us in finding any relatives that could be related to her. Years back, I had a co-worker who loved everything genealogy related to try to help me on my journey but that lead to no where. It was obvious that we had missing pieces to our puzzle and that we would need more time and dedication – along with another method of trying to locate these pieces – to figure this ancestry thing out. We had hit a huge road block as if were trying to put together a blue sky with 100 blue puzzle pieces. (Been there; done that!)
Back to square one:
The puzzle of trying to piece together my ethnicity, and the people related to me was just sitting there. Left for days, months, and many years. At this point, our only option was to put all the pieces back in the box to return to it later. Every blue moon I would get curious again and start to do minor research but I was still coming up short. I would stare at the information I had in front of me trying to force a match; still nothing. I searched high and low for birth certificates, marriage certificates, and death certificates. Nothing with my grandmothers father information was popping up because as stated earlier, we didn’t have defining information to narrow down the odds. It was like looking for a needle in a hay stack.
On a search for more pieces:
I knew I needed more pieces to this puzzle and I was determined to find something. I had told myself that I would order an Ancestry DNA kit and perhaps this would offer me more pieces to my puzzle. As life became busier and busier I never got around to ordering the kit. Then one day, I was blogging and reading other blogs in between and ran across Afrobella‘s blog about her family and how Ancestry DNA helped her make sense of her family’s history. She was giving away 10 kits to random people once they posted on her blog how an Ancestry DNA kit would benefit them. Like always, I shared my story and your’s truly was a lucky ducky! I had won a kit!
I was beyond excited to see what journey my DNA test results would take me on. I waited about two weeks for the kit to arrive in the mail. When the kit arrived it took me another week before I would even complete my saliva sample to send in. I was really nervous! What if it didn’t say what I wanted it to say? What if I didn’t understand it? What if it didn’t provide me the necessary pieces that I was looking for? All of those questions plus more ran through my mind. Being that I knew it took about 5-6 weeks for the results to come back, I knew I didn’t have time to waste. Therefore, I had to put my procrastinating behaviors behind me so that I could complete the DNA sample.
**Inside the box were instructions, a tube for your saliva, a bag to put your saliva tube in once finished and then a pre-paid box for mailing. Before getting started, you have to register your kit online on Ancestry’s website. From there you add your saliva into the tube to the “fill” line. You shake the tube for about 30 seconds so that your saliva mixes with some solution that helps preserve your DNA. Afterwards, you add the tube to the bag that is provided, then you put the bag in the pre-paid box and then simply drop it off in the mail. Once I dropped the box in the mail I had to wait about 5 weeks before the results were emailed to me.**
The new pieces:
After the five weeks of waiting for the results (Ancestry does a great job of keeping you aware of whats going on), to my surprise, I see an email from Ancestry.com stating my results were in. Hesitantly, I opened the email to view my DNA background. I was relieved that it had Africa on there. I was really nervous about that! But the other results left me completely baffled. Take a look:
Asian, Scandinavian, Spain (Spain was listed under the +14 other smaller regions tab)…these were all surprising to me. Just for the record, Ancestry.com doesn’t break down your DNA by parent. So upon reviewing this chart I had no clue as to which percentage was coming from which side of my family. Ancestry.com also breaks your DNA down by region and not down by specific countries (except for Africa), or nationalities. Just by looking at my DNA chart I admit, I was still confused. Upon research, I’ve discovered that in order to produce a more selective and concrete estimate of DNA, the Ancestry team has been able to separate West Africa into six groups based on the genetic data, which is why you’ll see the African countries separated.
With all the information or new puzzle pieces, (if you will) that I had just received, I almost felt as if I had taken two steps backwards. At this very moment I was more unsure as to who my grandmothers father was or under what nationality I would be categorized under.
The truth of the matter is, our DNA is passed down and decreases per generation. It is possible that certain ethnicities could not show up at all even when we have always been told that we were a part of a certain group. I was starting to believe this was my case.
After sitting for a few weeks and just trying to mentally piece some of the pieces together I finally gained some momentum. One of the greatest elements of Ancestry.com’s DNA testing is their ability to match your DNA with others who have also taken the DNA test. If you have a match(s) they will show you all of those who match your DNA and at what percentage and the possible relationship you may share.
With that being said, someone whom I matched closely with reached out to me and wanted to try to figure out how we may be related. Initial conversations were held on Ancestry.com using their messaging system. His basic message to me was “Our DNA has a very strong match, we need to find the missing pieces!” From there he told me some basic information, I asked him question based off of the little information my grandmother knew. Suddenly, all of the pieces of the puzzle were going into place one by one! Every question I asked he was able to give confirmation to them.
I believe the matching of the DNA amongst others is perhaps the best part about the DNA test, especially if you’re trying to find people within your family and not just where your ancestors may be from.
I began telling the family and as you can imagine, they were in shock. When I told my grandmother she immediately decided to do an Ancestry DNA test as well. Her goal when doing her DNA was to see how much DNA her and my match also shared. We went through the entire process of ordering her a kit and completing the sample to mail back in.
What we had discovered from my DNA test, conversations with my match, and also the results from my grandmothers DNA test, we had found my grandmothers half-brother!! Yes, her half brother!! Once she received her results, my grandmother had a stronger match with her half-brother than she did with me–her granddaughter.
After many emails back and forth along with pictures we set up a day and time to meet. None of us really knew what to expect. At now, 80 years old, my grandmother wasn’t sure how she would react upon meeting her new family member. While she’s never known her father she also never knew she had other brothers and sisters literally in her backyard. Although they are in different States they are also very close in proximity.
As we got closer to our meeting time, my grandmother became somewhat anxious and excited to find out more about her father and his side of the family that she had never known. She stated, “At 80 years old, this was meant to be!”
We settled for a common place; Starbucks (and we made sure we made purchases while there–just saying). Because I had been the point of contact throughout all of the conversations with my grandmothers newly found brother our first face-to-face initiation was left to me. I introduced myself to the now familiar face and then introduced everyone we had with us that day.
Immediately we could see the resemblance between my grandmother and her brother. Tears of joy flowed from both sides of the family as the connections started to form. Although my grandmother never thought about who her extended family was, at THAT moment, knowing that she belonged to someone and having the opportunity to learn about her family left her in a state of pure happiness. I honestly cannot tell you the last time I’ve seen my grandmother exude in happiness. The tears that were shed that day has become the glue that will forever hold the puzzle pieces of our family together.
The finished product:
So, to answer the burning question that has been asked to me all my life. I am Afro-Cuban American. To break it down, I am African-American. Asian, by way of India and Cuban. While Ancestry.com didn’t give me this breakdown, my grandma’s brother that we discovered via Ancestry.com gave us all the deets. To add icing to the cake, this was my grandmothers 80th birthday weekend celebration and she exclaimed that she’s had many birthday’s but never had a better birthday than her 80th! She leaned over to tell me that I only had one more thing to do for her and that was to get her to a Blake Shelton show or to meet him! 🙂
Ladies and Gents, Ancestry.com can provide you too, the missing pieces to your puzzle. Here’s a special link just for you to get 15% off your next Ancestry DNA kit! Don’t be surprised if you get information that you weren’t expecting. Your DNA never changes while the past is the past. All we can do is embrace the information in order to allow the pieces to connect. Quite often, people will change locations, records are lost, the will culture change, technology improves, but our DNA will always remain the same.
In the mean time, feel free to share with me why you would want to have your DNA tested or ask any burning questions that you may have. I truly recommend everyone to take on the journey of your families history. Technology is powerful these days and knowing your history is even more powerful and liberating!
I want to give a HUGE shout out to Afrobella (please go check out her blog) and I also hope that I’ve inspire those of you who have made it to the end of this post that it’s never too late to start a puzzle – of any kind!
This post may contain affiliated links but all opinions are of my own!