Feb 4, 2015 - Stories

Jess’s Story

Jessica has a black and white photo of her grandfather, Phil, standing next to her great grandfather, Sam.

In the photo, both father and son are staring into the camera and smiling. Now after uncovering something hidden about her ancestry, the photo takes on a new meaning.Phil and Sam

Phil, in a white t-shirt with his hair slicked back, towers over his dad and has a pretty distinctive chin dimple and big ears. His dad, Sam, with a gap-toothed grin and his sparse hair sticking up all over, has a very different set to his chin than his son.

The photo is an old one, something Jessica had looked at many times before. But after getting a message from another 23andMe user, Jessica realized something that was staring right at her. The two men – her grandfather and his father – couldn’t look more different.

Hidden Ancestry

Jessica’s fascinating post “And Who Would’ve Thought…,” drew us in like few others. We won’t ruin the story for you. You need to read it yourself.

But in a brief exchange about her post, Jessica, who writes the “Strange Kind of Pilgrim” blog, said she learned something that might have remained hidden if she hadn’t tested with 23andMe.

“I’m really thankful that this all came to light while there was still a chance of finding out what really happened,” she said. “I feel like, very slowly, I’m gaining some roots, and I’m grateful that I will have these stories and this information to pass down to my children so they can know where they came from.”

What Does it Mean?

Reading her story conjures up all sorts of questions about our upbringing, our ancestry and our identity. Your biology and your upbringing make up who you are, but which is more important? How much of what we are is dependent on our biology and how much on our ancestry?Jess photo

“The way you’re raised and the family who raises you can influence who you are in a big way, but I think the biology is always there,” said Jessica.

Jessica graciously let us post an excerpt of her story below, but you really should read the whole piece on her blog here. Let us know what you think.

“And Who Would’ve Thought…It Figures”

“In October I decided, rather on a whim, to order a genetics test from 23andMe.  It’s a company that compares your DNA to populations all over the world and lets you know where your ancestors likely hailed from.  I didn’t do this because I doubted my parentage at all (did you hear that, Mom?  I believe you.  Maybe other people who see us together assume I’m adopted, but I do not.  ), but I wanted to see my father’s side of the family tree more clearly.

“My dad passed away when I was very young.  His mother passed when he was very young, and his father died almost exactly two years after Dad did.  So while I had a vague idea of the Benson family heritage as communicated to me by my mother and aunt, I still felt a bit rootless.  I knew we were Russian and Polish Jews, but that’s it (and to be honest, I wasn’t even sure how Polish we were.  I came across a family tree partly filled out in my baby book, and it traces my paternal grandfather’s heritage to Russia and my paternal grandmother’s heritage to Turkey, but it went no farther back than that.)


“Fast forward to December: The results came in, and they were…surprising.  I was on the phone with my mom at the time, and I think the first words out of my mouth were, “I’m Irish?!” … I wasn’t supposed to be Irish (or British).  Or Western European at all.  I was supposed to be a Russian, Polish Jew.  I was flummoxed.  My mom was flummoxed.  My aunt was flummoxed.  I really like the word “flummoxed.”  So descriptive.

“Frustratingly, my search for answers had only turned up another mystery.  Even more infuriating, I couldn’t see a way of solving it.  The pertinent players were all long dead.  I could only figure that someone had fooled around on somebody in my family’s recent history and gotten away with a doozy of a lie.  

“One of the features of 23andMe is that they match you up with possible DNA relatives.  I have a whole list of 3rd to 4th and beyond possible cousins who share small segments of my DNA.  But my closest relative in the system was a predicted second cousin, who I only knew as P.  I didn’t contact P because I have nearly crippling social anxiety, and it’s a bit of an awkward conversation to initiate (Hi, I think we might be related.  Do you have any idea how?)  I hate awkward conversations like I hate the Patriots.  The antipathy runs true.

“This is all kind of important because a few days ago (has it really only been a few days?  What a short, strange trip it’s been) I received an email, not from P himself but from his cousin, A.  I’m so grateful that A was brave enough to ask those awkward first questions.  She asked if I had any known connections to the [Name removed]   family, and I answered that I didn’t.  I had never heard of the [family].  And then, interestingly, she asked me if I had expected my genetics results to report a sizable Ashkenazi component.  I had expected it, I told her, but it turns out, I’m not very much Ashkenazi.  Instead, I am unexpectedly Irish.  It’s all very mysterious, I confided.  And that’s when everything started to get a little weird.”

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