23 and Me: Before the Results

After spitting into a tube, I'm ready to learn more about my heritage. 

That is to say, my sister gifted me a 23andMe personal genomics kit for my recent birthday, with the genomics sample derived from a significant amount of saliva I must now mail in. 

As I await results over the next few weeks, I'm not sure what to expect. I've researched my family tree since I was 11 and found quite a lot in that time. 

Multiple spouses. Tragic deaths. Family names. Amazing photographs. Inspiring stories. 

My great-grandmother Barbara escaped years of famine and war in the Volga River Valley to reunite with her father in the U.S. after 11 years' separation. 

My great-great-great-grandfather August changed the family name from Dziura sometime between 1895-99, for reasons still unknown. 

My great-great-great-grandmother Manerva Barber was a fortuneteller who married an Andersonville Prison survivor. 

Yes, my ancestors were an interesting bunch of folks, just like yours and anyone else's. 

I only know the family stories passed down and the trail of records available today. All that's left of their existence, save for their tombstones. 

What can 23andMe tell me? 

Some people abhor digging into their family history for fear of finding something inexplicable or dark or perceived to be awful. Family secrets. Black sheep. Tragedy. 

Every family has it. Why, the obituary for my great-great-great-grandfather Thomas Keating says he died from "a short illness."

He choked on a piece of meat. 

A short illness indeed. 

That's stoicism for you. 

I'm not sure how much 23andMe can tell me about medical tendencies, but I do believe I'll have as excellent a map as ever of where my ancestors originated from. 

After 11 years of my own research, I can say I have ancestors from England, Scotland, Ireland, Norway, Germany and (arguably and debatably) Russia. 

What will 23andMe tell me? 

That remains to be seen. Hopefully something of interest. 

Ultimately, I'll rely on the stories and paper trails of those who came before me. Genomics tests are nice, but they can't tell you how two people met, why they left their home or what their personalities were. 

I treasure my family tree. I think genealogy is awesome. 

My mother has the best words on which to end this monograph. 

You may be related to a Revolutionary War general (I am), or a steely family of refugees (I am) or a beloved rural doctor (I am), but "what have you done today?"