contributed by Becca Niethammer
Growing up, I was told by my parents, aunts, uncles, and grandparents where I came from and my family history. I grew up with a vague sense of pride and curiosity about what I inherited from my family who immigrated to the United States not so long ago or the ancestors dating so far back you can’t possibly count how many greats are in front of their familiar title.
As a child, I was constantly told about my German, Scottish, and Native American relatives and the part of those respected countries where they lived. My brother and I would scour our family tree from my father’s side, dating back to the mid-fifteenth century, to see the names of our family members and try to connect the dots. This became a sort of tradition for the Niethammer family. Combing the attics and basements for any pictures, videos, or letters that could shed a light on our family.
My father knows more about our history than probably anyone else in our family. He gained this knowledge from various family members but mostly his father, my grandfather, who compiled our expansive family tree. He would tell us stories of his grandmother, his mother’s mother, who was half Shawnee, his grandfather on his father’s side who was German and from Stuttgart, and he would tell us of the Chattin family on his mother’s side, originally spelled Chattan but the family assumes it was changed on Ellis Island. Growing up these stories were not only fascinating to hear but elicited so many questions.
For my father’s birthday last year, I gave him a DNA kit from Ancestry.com to reveal if the stories I was told growing up were actually true. I bought a kit for myself too! I secretly suspected most of the stories were tall tales or had been passed down through so many generations that the truth had been lost.
The process itself was simple. We simply spit in a tube and mailed it off. Once we received the results, my father and I were shocked by some of the results, but not suprised by others.
According to my father’s test, his Ethnicity Estimate is 31% Scandinavia, 28% Great Britain, 13% Europe West, 12% Europe South, 9% Iberian Peninsula, 4% Ireland/Scotland/Wales, 2% Europe East, and finally 1% Finland/Northwest Russia. After reading the results we sat stumped for a moment. Where did the 31% Scandinavia come from and why was the Native American ancestry not listed?
As we read further on the Scandinavia marker, we learned this trait could also be found in Germany as does the Europe West trait. That made much more sense. When I asked why he thought we were part Native American, he responded simply that it was what his grandmother always told him. In the era when my father and his siblings were growing up, a mixed-race heritage was deemed inappropriate so this was not something that was questioned or discussed.
These results have caused my father to question the stories he heard growing up and where exactly they initiated. It has not only renewed his passion and curiosity in our family tree but has also peaked mine. It’s fascinating to look at a map and see where my ancestors lived. It’s one thing to hear stories about the countries and regions that your family came from but it’s another thing to see a highlighted map explaining the regions and approximately when they lived there.