Cart 0

I am not quite who I was told I was—

Posted by John Reed on

As a kid, my mom said she was half Irish and half German. My dad said he was Scots-Irish and could be no more specific.

A politically-correct reader just said to himself, “It doesn’t matter.”

The politically-correct reader can kiss my ass.

Susceptibility to inherited disease and other significance

It does matter with regard to many illnesses.

And it would appear to matter in a zillion ways that I would characterize as deviations from random in all sorts of measures of human performance. Blacks are disproportionately represented in the NBA and sprint and long-distance Olympic medal winners. Europeans and Asians are disproportionately represented in the list of scientific Nobel Prize Winners and countries that rank high in the Transparency International  lack of corruption index. And there are many other disproportionate representations. Many are cultural; but not all.

DNA matters more than The Left wants to admit, but not as much as the room-temperature-IQ bigots want to believe.

‘Family Iore,’ mistakes, and lies

I also think it’s ironic and funny to actually research ancestry rather than rely on what faux Cherokee Indian Senator Elizabeth Warren lately explained as “family lore” after her ancestry was researched by competent experts. She had falsely told Harvard Law School she was a Cherokee, which apparently got her hired and promoted there. She was not.

I am, in part, an investigative journalist. We IJs well know that things are not always as claimed or as they seem. You have to verify the pertinent facts. Before I became a journalist, I assumed the stuff I had heard was true if it came from an intelligent person.

Not so. As a journalist, you learn that lesson quickly when you recite such a fact without checking and get hammered by readers for the mistake. After that happens once or twice, you get into the habit of checking before you go to print. Laymen need to fact-check their ancestry.

I discussed this at some length in my Succeeding book on pages 40 and 41 of the 3rd edition.

TV commercial

I saw a TV commercial over and over about a guy who thought he was German then got an test and found he was Scottish. There have been some discrepancies turned up in my “family lore” ancestry, so I paid for an analysis: $99. You spit into a small tube and send it back to them.

My wife had previously done 23andMe testing and told me I would be disappointed by the vagueness of the result.

I was not. It’s pretty specific.

Mom and dad said…

 Ethnicity percentage




1930 census said…

My mother’s father told me he was German, born in Leipzig.

He lied.

Hh told the 1930 census taker that he was born in Budapest. You can get census documents after 70 years. So the most recent available census would be from 1940. He also told the census taker that his parents were born in Germany and that he did not remember what language he spoke at home before emigrating to America.

Those are also apparent lies. He left Europe at age 9 in 1899. He was 40 at the time of the 1930 census. 

Ancestry DNA says part of my DNA is Eastern European; probably not German.

At age 40 I remembered what language I spoke at home when I was nine. I stil do. My grandfather was probably still speaking that language at his home in America through his teenage years and when he went to visit his parents in Philadelphia for the rest of his life. He used to take me to visit his mother in the 1950s.

Our West Virginia relatives said…

My middle brother Bill and his daughter got into the genealogical research thing with a few years back and discussed it with our late father’s WV relatives. He asked them why one of our great grandmothers only had a first name: Emmaline. He was told that was the practice of the Cherokee indians.

My response: “So we are freaking Cherokee Indians!?”

1/16th breed. Apparently Cherokee blood is quite common among West Virginians.

I’ll be damned.

My dad never mentioned that. I expect he did not know or, if he did, he did not think it was noteworthy. He would not have been ashamed of it. His dad strictly raised him to treat blacks as equals and never call them the usual disparaging names.

So my main interest in the Ancestry DNA thing was to nail down my mother’s father’s ethnicity and to confirm this Cherokee thing.

And to see if there were any surprises not yet detected in research.

There were.

Here is my  total DNA breakdown:


percentage My reaction


39% oaky

British (English, Scottish, Welsh)

32% okay

Eastern European (many countries including Hungary, not primarily Germany)

20% Grandpa was Hungarian, not German.
European Jewish 3% Then why were my mom’s family, including her father, “Archie Bunkers” when it came to Jews?
European West (many countries including Germany)
3 % Notwithstanding Hitler’s claims of Aryan racial supremacy and racial purity, the continental Europeans are actually what he called Americans: “mutts;” multiple ethnicity. Continental Europe, especially above the Pyrenees and Alps was apparently no slouch at the melting-pot that America claims to be the exemplar of. Hitler was born in Austria which is Eastern European. I think I read somewhere that genealogical researchers found he was part Jewish.
Iberian Peninsula
<1% WTF—Must be my mother’s side but I have no idea which of her parents. My brother tried doing some research in Europe and gave up saying they have lousy records.
Finland/Northwest Russia <1% Probably my mother’s father. A lot more wandering around in Eastern Europe than I realized back in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
Native American <1% I found you Kunta Kinte. But less than 1% ain’t 1/16th. That would be 6.25%. Apparently Emmaline was about 3/4 non-Cherokee. An episode of Forensic Files I saw recently said there are three kinds of human skulls: Caucasian, African, and Mongoloid or Asian which includes Native American. I had not thought of my Native American ancestors as Asians, but I guess they are having crossed the Bering Strait, and so am I. We now think of Asians as top students, but apparently there are Asians and there are Asians. When Native Americans were discovered in 1492, Asia and Europe were far more advanced than American Natives, who were literally still in the Stone Age.

I expect my European readers would understand this better than I and I hope some will enlighten me.

So am I going to get rid of my lederhosen and start wearing my pants tucked into my boots?

No. I never owned any lederhosen or other German clothes. And the only boots I have ever owned are Army combat boots and we bloused our pants rather than tucked them in.

Am I going to visit these places? Nah. I have never been to Ireland or Scotland and have never had much interest in going there. I have been to England, Spain, and Germany a couple of times. I would like to see Austria. Minimal interest in Budapest. My wife went to Finland and Northwest Russia in July but I declined to accompany her because of what Putin did in Crimea and my public criticism of him.

Notwithstanding my DNA, I regard those Eastern European cultures as awfully different from my American culture. I am embarrassed to be descended from Iberia and Eastern Europe somewhat because they rank relatively low in the Transparency International Lack of Corruption Index: I guess that’s cultural rather than DNA determined.

A battlefield, not a melting pot

The DNA report has histories of worldwide migrations.It looks like Europe was less a melting pot than a perennial  battlefield. Other thousands of years it was invaded and taken over at one time or another by essentially everyone in or around the region: Muslims, Romans, Ottomans, Mongols, Germans, Celts, etc., etc. So except for the Jews, the DNA in that continent was thoroughly churned again and again as a result of the incessant invasions.

What’s wrong with this list?

I must comment on one category—Jewish. Isn’t it obvious that is an odd entry on this list? All the categories are geographic except “European Jewish.” The European part is geographic, but it encompasses multiple other geographic categories. The word “Jewish,” however, is not geographic. 

I dated an extraordinary number of women when I was single because another West Pointer and I invented what we called “The System” for meeting attractive women while being handicapped by being in the Army where we were transferred to a new geographic area seven times in our first four years. I discuss “The System” at great length in my book Succeeding.

Anyway, only twice during my bachelorhood did my ethnicity or lack thereof come up with the women I dated. One was a Jewish woman who after a couple or three dates said she did not want to continue because, “My Jewishness is important to me.”

The other was an Armenian-American who said essentially the same thing.

Is it possible that they just did not want to keep seeing me and used ethnicity as an excuse? Absolutely, but they sure were not the only two to shoot me down, just the only two who cited ethnicity as the reason.

My partner in inventing “The System” once invited a Jewish girl out, not that he had any inkling about that or cared. Her mom answered the phone. She asked him, “Are you Jewish?” He said he was not. She then said, “My daughter only dates Jewish men,” and hung up. I’m not sure the daughter agreed with that policy, but it was moot in this case. Furthermore, that was not a case where the girl lost interest in my friend and used his ethnicity as an excuse to drop him. She never laid eyes on him or spoke to him.

No other ethnic group other than the Armenian woman ever did that to either of us.

I asked the Jewish woman what Jewish was because it seemed to be more than a religion. She said it was “ethnic.” “That’s an adjective,” I said. “What’s the noun?” Ethnicity was not an acceptable answer because it would have been tautological. She could not come up with a noun. lists European Jewish as a category under the word “regions.” Jewish is not a region. It may be more common in some regions than others, but it is not a region.

The fact is that Jewish is a whole other thing and a unique category. I would say it is a religion plus such an extreme historic bias against intermarriage that it has created a multi-territorial, ethnic group in a world where all other ethnic groups are mere vestiges of geographic tribes that did not intermarry very much because of the difficulty of traveling to other regions because of the lack of roads, railroads, and aircraft and, in many locations, navigable waterways.

To put it another way, historically, many, if not most, adherents of the Jewish religion have deliberately, consciously isolated themselves from outsiders to such an extraordinary degree that they have created the only geography-free ethnic group. Intermarriage with neighboring people is normal—except for Jewish people, at least back in the day.

They have a word for the gentile wife of a Jewish man: shiksa, and a corresponding word for the gentile male spouse of a Jewish woman: shegetz. The Wikipedia write up on those words is chilling.

This is less so in 2015 America than before. But all these ethnic groups are, as I said, vestiges of an era when it was more difficult to visit or migrate to other regions. Ethnicity, itself, of all types, is just an anachronism stemming from the lack of transportation development in olden days. But even back then, there was widespread mixing of all the ethnic groups—except for the Jews.

Racial purity of the type sought by Hitler is another phrase for a disciplined rejection of all marriages outside the identity group. Indeed, he discouraged Germans from marrying Jews with his infamous 1935 Nuremberg Laws. Actually, his Nuremberg Laws on intermarrying with Jews may have been less restrictive than whatever rule Jews who oppose marriages to gentiles followed—an extremely ironic example of “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.” The Nazis allowed such marriages in some cases, but discouraged them with various disincentives.

There is a chicken-or-egg question here. Which came first, gentile anti-semitism or Jewish anti-gentilism—at least with regard to intermarriage? And did the first one in time sequence beget the other?

Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, his most popular play, was about this sort of thing. It was not specifically Jew-Gentile, but the basic idea was that a man and a woman in love could not marry because their parents had a long-standing antipathy to the other’s group identity. The villain in the play was this sort of pro-forma, ritual, bias against another group for no reason other than it was another group.

Before some wag accuses me of being another self-loathing Jew, I must note, that, by definition, my Jewish ancestors, in contrast to most other members of that group, were not biased against intermarrying with gentiles as evidenced by the fact that they did it.

Catholics to a much lesser extent

My dad had to take marry-a-Catholic lessons and promise to raise the children as Catholic in order to have my parents’ marriage performed by a priest. The Catholic clergy was definitely against intermarriage, as well as going to a non-Catholic college, etc. But I have always believed the the Church was opposed to such things, as well as birth control and abortion, purely for mercenary reasons: they want the max number of people in the pews when they pass the basket for money at mass.

Catholic people, in contrast, never struck me as being averse to intermarriage with other religions. My mom married a Protestant who never went to church after leaving home after high school.

A reader said he is going to pray at synagogue for my grandson and his mother that they are both in good health after he is born on 11/6. 

Can’t hurt.

I hope that when my grandchildren grow up, if he or she and a Jewish person fall in love and want to get married that the Jewish family will not discriminate against them based on religion, creed, or national origin, rather, will welcome them into their family as a treasured son- or daughter-in-law. I know our family will welcome a Jewish in-law.

How much of an ancestor how far back?

You can get a rough idea of the degree of ancestor and their year of birth from the percentages.

 Percentage level of ancestor approximate year of birth for my ancestors
50% parent 1915-1919
25% grandparent 1890
12.5% great grandparent 1865
6.25% great great grandparent 1840
3.125% great great great grandparent 1815
1.5625% great great great great grandparent 1790
.7813% great great great great great grandparent 1765

So my Irish, Scots-Irish, and Hungarian DNA come from my grandparents.

My Jewish and Western European DNA comes from some great great great grandparent born way back in 1815! And my Iberian, Finnish, and American Indian ancestors were born around 1765 and probably dead before the American Revolution.

That assumes the source of the DNA was pure-bred. More likely, there were few, if any, pure-breds in my maternal grandfather’s ancestors. They were human mutts whose DNA reflected their region and intra Europe migrations. In the case of my Jewish ancestors, they may have been forced to move because of fluctuating, varying degrees of anti-semitism throughout Europe. My brother Bill says he has a Spanish Jewish friend whose ancestors in Spain were ordered out by King Ferdinand and Isabella in 1492 along with all other Spanish Jews. Those are called Sephardic Jews. My brother’s friends’ family migrated to Macedonia. Maybe some of my Jewish DNA comes from a Spanish Jew forced out of Spain because of his religion.

More prestigious ethnicity

Why did my grandfather lie about being German? In a book about Joseph Schumpeter, who was from Eastern Europe, I read that the Slavs there were gardeners and maids and the German-speaking citizens were the professionals.

A whole lot of European immigrants to the U.S., especially Jews, decided it was an occasion for becoming imposters regarding their ethnicity—by falsely claiming a less troublesome or more high-status one. Secretary of State John Kerry and former Secretary of State Madeline Albright, for example, both learned late in life that they were Jews whose ancestors decided to switch to Catholicism and to claim false gentile ancestry to avoid anti-semitism.

I have also read that Latin Americans are big on claiming European ancestry when, in fact, they have a whole lot of Mestizo blood in them—American Indian—as evidenced by DNA and competent, honest genetic research. So lying about one’s ethnicity is apparently a popular international passtime.

Will this change my life? Nah. I will share it with my doctor for the purpose of considering my susceptibility to inherited diseases. And I will share it with my kids and brothers.

Will it change how I think about myself? Probably a little. Give me some time to digest it.

President Madison’s cousin?

I am still curious about one of my brother’s findings, namely that we are descendants of Nathan Underwood, Junior who was born in the 1700s and who is also an ancestor of James Madison, the fourth President of the U.S., husband of Dolly, and the Father of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

My wife is a descendant of Francis Lewis, a signer of the Declaration of Independence.

A reader told me he plans to give an DNA kit to his adopted sister as a birthday gift. Interesting. We who were not adopted or descended from slaves take knowing our ancestry for granted.

As I said above, “family lore” needs to be fact-checked and DNA analysis is a mandatory part of that because of the prevalence of lying or mistake or bias in favor of more “attractive” ancestry. 

For adopted persons and descendants of slaves, I expect DNA analysis has a much greater value. They typically have far more questions about who their ancestors were, and thereby who they are, than the two I had.

Share this post

← Older Post Newer Post →

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published.