Mt Pleasant News
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Wash Journal   Fairfield Ledger
Neighbors Growing Together | Apr 20, 2018

Finding roots: Who am I, really?

By Karyn Spory, Mt. Pleasant News | Mar 23, 2018

“Spory, huh?” The man said inspecting my debit card. “What is that, Greek?”

I was baffled, to say the least. First of all, I’d never had anyone inspect my driver’s license that closely, let alone my debit card. And at a farmers market no less. Secondly, Greek? That was definitely a first. I’d been asked before if I was Jewish and one college professor swore up and down I was Polish, even speculating what village my ancestors hailed from. But Greek?

“You look it,” he said no longer scrutinizing my card, but my face instead. “It must be the olive skin tone.”

“German,” I blurted out. “My last name is German. I’m German, mostly.”

He shrugged, handed me back my card, receipt and purchase and went on with his day. I, on the other hand, wandered the market lost in though. Greek, really? I figured I was far too Midwestern pasty to be considered anything Mediterranean.

The truth is, I didn’t really know much about my ancestors, my roots. I had heard stories here and there. Spory, apparently, was originally Spori and when my dad’s two, maybe three times great-grandparents came over, it was changed. On a number of occasions Dad commented on how his father grew up in a German-speaking house. That was until World War II broke out and anti-German sentiments ran high. After that they only spoke English, in public and in private.

As for my mom’s side, it was a bit of a mixed bag — a true American melting pot. I remember my Nan, my Great-grandma Lovell, telling me once, as I brushed out her permed gray hair, that she came from an Indian princess. We could never prove it, though. My Grandma Henson was fascinated with genealogy, but I never took the time to sit with her and study the path our family took to get to Illinois. Somewhere, in the filing cabinets she left behind, is that story.

What I really wanted to know, however, was the big picture of who I am and where I came from. I attribute this more to my obsession with PBS’ “Finding Your Roots” and less with being asked if I’m Greek, Jewish or Polish. So for Christmas, I bought my parents and myself 23andMe DNA testing kits. During one cold and dreary night in February my parents and I went into separate rooms in their house and filled a little plastic tube with spit.

Why did we wait until February? Well, Dad was worried about an influx of collection kits after the holidays as apparently I’m not the only one who thought it’d be a great Christmas gift. Why separate rooms to collect our saliva? I don’t need a DNA test to tell me I’m my father’s daughter — we both have pretty active gag reflexes and hearing someone else spitting into a tube would be enough to make both of us throw up.

Over the course of the past month my mind has often wandered and wondered what my results would reveal. Am I Jewish? Was my college professor right, am I indeed Polish? I had watched a foreign documentary some months ago and a portion of it was filmed in Poland. One of the individuals interviewed had a last name of “Spori”. I replayed his interview over and over again. Each time I was more certain that he pronounced his sir name the same as I pronounce mine. I even made my parents watch the clip.

On Sunday night, my phone dinged, a new email. Surprisingly it wasn’t a work email, it was personal. Very personal. My results were in and they were ... disappointing. I tried my hardest to wait until my parent’s results had arrived so we could view them together, but I just couldn’t. So I found out by myself that my entire self identity had been a lie.

According to my results, I’m barely even German. In reality I am 61.8 percent British/Irish and only 13.6 percent French/German. I am 0 percent Ashkenazi Jewish and not even the tiniest bit Greek or Native American. I am, however, 3 percent Scandinavian, which I’ve concluded is why I look so good as a newly minted blonde. I’m also 0.5 percent Iberian (the peninsula of Spain and Portugal). Everything else is different splatterings of European and 0.1 percent unassigned.

My parents’ results, which we received Thursday night, were more or less the same. The big surprises — my mom is more German than my dad! Dad’s DNA test said he was roughly 10 percent German while my mother is nearly 20 percent. The other big shocker was that both of my parents’ results listed them as being 0.3 percent Ashkenazi Jewish. Weird, huh?

As I come to terms with my newfound heritage my DNA results have helped to explain a few things. Namely my love for British crime dramas, documentaries narrated by anyone Irish and my affinity for the London Tea Room in St. Louis.

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