The Complexity of DNA

It felt like I was a liar.


All my life I had been telling people I was half German, possibly more. After all, my mother’s family and ancestors were all German for hundreds of years, and there was also German on my father’s side of the family. The other side of my family was mainly English and French. When my DNA results came back, however, I only had trace amounts of DNA from Great Britain. Furthermore, only 19 percent of my DNA was considered Western European, and that included France, Austria, Northern Italy, Belgium and the Netherlands as well as Germany.

The biggest surprise was that my DNA was 34 percent Irish. While I may have come across a few Irish ancestors during my genealogy searches, my brush with the land of Eire was minimal. Now my DNA results told me I was 34 percent Irish. How could that be?

The other day I came upon a fascinating article about the origins of the Irish people. As a distinct group, their origins are ancient. More many years the it was believe that the original settlers of the Celtic nations may have come from the Keltoi people who lived north of Greece in Central Europe. The Greeks considered them barbarians, which might explain away my moodiness and bad table manners when I was a child. New research, however, suggests that the Irish people are more closely related to the Basque people of northern Spain. The Basques are also closely related to the original settlers of Scotland. These ancient ancestors lived in Ireland, Wales and Scotland for thousands of years before intermixing with people in Great Britain and West Europe, both distinct groups of people whom are different from the Irish.

I found a photo of my great grandmother, Mae Burdge Miller, and her twin daughters Elizabeth and Winifred. Mae’s heritage was heavily Scots and probably Irish, now that I know more about my DNA. I think I look more like my Scandinavian ancestors.

You can read more about the fascinating subject of Irish ancestry here.

  5 comments for “The Complexity of DNA

  1. April 30, 2015 at 12:14 am

    Well, Julie… This could have been the EXACT post I could have written. I had my DNA tested back in November and, like you who thought you were mostly German, found that I am 17% Irish, with 19% Eastern Europe and 14% western Europe. SURPRISE! And zero percent Native American (which was my main reason for checking, since great-grandma always said she was Blackfoot).

    But as you said, the Celtic people’s heritage explains much. Ironically, my mother is a McLaughlin (though her father was adopted and thought to be German) — very Irish in name! DNA is quite interesting, isn’t it? I’m very much hooked on genealogy.

    Hope you’re well.

    • May 21, 2015 at 4:15 pm

      My cousins had always been told there was Native American blood in their family and finally one of them had their DNA tested. She was shocked to learn that she had DNA from Polynesia but no specific Native American. Since no one in her recent family is Polynesian, I think it’s a significant clue as to from where at least some Native Americans originated. Genealogy is so fascinating! By the way, I may be in Phoenix next month for an interview. Maybe we can meet up while I’m there.

  2. Karen Stoll Lorek
    March 6, 2016 at 5:28 pm

    Well, you are more Irish than I am and I was told I had lots of Irish in my blood.
    So thankful for all the help you gave me with my family tree, Julie. We really are related on both our Mothers’ and Fathers’ side ! I finally have my Stoll Berkheim lines solved, with much help from Henry, the village coordinator from Grimm. I also attended the Volga German genealogy workshop & was able to see the censuses. But without your help I would still know nothing ! So thank you !

  3. Patty Menasco Tanamachi
    September 24, 2016 at 3:01 pm

    Hi Julie,
    I read Braha and loved it. The way you tied in the political circumstances to the German colonists in Russia affected me deeply. My grandmother immigrated with her family from Russia in 1908. One of the narratives left by the oldest sibling indicates that my great grandfather lived in Walter for part of that time. Saratov is listed as my grandmother’s birthplace. Anyway, I have been digging to find out links to my Geist family, and it looks like a couple of your ancestry DNA family members match to both my mother and brother, as well as some other Geist families not managed by me. If you match to Karen, then I suppose we may connect also. Hope to hear from you soon! -Patty Menasco Tanamachi

    • October 23, 2016 at 7:15 am

      Patty, it was so nice to get your note. I’m glad you enjoyed the book and found a connection with your family. I always like to hear about how all our families connect. I am busy creating a master list of Grimm settlers and their descendants using the census records. It’s a long way from being finished, but I am determined to leave people with a map of how their families came to be in Russia, and the descendants who lived there. I’d love to hear more about the matching DNA we have.

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