From Joanna Benson aka JA Benson.
Maybe, like us, you are a proud descendant of Mormon pioneers, confident in your knowledge of your Western European heritage, a typical DNA Mormon-American. Are you ready for a big surprise? We weren’t!
All my life I knew certain things to be true: the gospel for one, and that my Mormon pioneer ancestors were British, Danish with a little bit of French. The first of my family lines joined the Church in 1832, and all my ancestors were in Utah by the start of the American Civil War. My family stayed in Utah and I am a proud Utah native.
I married a man whose family lines were also Mormon Pioneer. Mike’s people joined the Church in 1831 and were in Utah by 1873. He was British, Swiss, with a little bit of German. We met and married at BYU.
We graduated BYU and immediately moved to the South. Often people would ask us if we were from Louisiana or Jewish, Arabic or Mediterranean. We would say confidently that we weren’t, but instead are proud descendants of Mormon pioneers, who were British, Danish, Swiss and a bit of German and French.
We kept up this mantra until we began to question the ancestral origins of Mike’s coarse, curly hair and dark complexion he inherited from his father. Although it would never occur to us in Utah, decades of living in the South lead us to know something of “passing.”
We decided to get DNA testing. The test would show where our ancestors had been living in the last 500 years. We could compare what was on paper to what was in our DNA. Mike took the test first. The process in a nutshell: fork out a $170.00 dollars, swab the inside of your mouth with a big Q-tip from a DNA kit, and overnight the kit back to the lab. Mike’s results came back in a week via email. We were certain the results would show British, Swiss, a little bit of German, and possibly a little bit of Amerindian and African.
Shock and total disbelief. I did not believe it at first, and Mike still isn’t convinced. I even called the company to complain that they had switched the test with someone else. After all, I argued, the man IS from Idaho. NO they assured me this IS your husband from a scale of 0-30:
Tanjore Kallar (Tamil Nadu, India) 26.6
Oraon (Chotanagpur Plateau, India) 6.4
Flemish (Belgium) 3.6
Venda (South Africa) 3.5
Northern Portugal 3.0
Piemonte, Italy 2.7
Brahmin (Bihar, India) 2.6
Bhumihar Brahmin (Bihar, India) 2.5
Kurdish (Northern Iraq) 2.1
Uyghur (Xinjaing, Chinese Turkistan) 2.1
Dundee, Scotland 2.1
Kirgiz (Xinjiang, Chinese Turkistan) 2.1
Piedmont, Italy 2.0
Calabria, Italy 1.8
Mestizo (European Amerindian mix) 0.5
Perplexed, I took a look at Mike’s Swiss line on Family Search. Non-Swiss names like Kohli, Dubi, Mani, Zagli and Wassem were in abundance. So much for Mike being Swiss. I found out that thousands of East Indians had immigrated to Europe starting in the early 1600’s.
Next it was my turn. My results came back in a week. Again, shock, but this time belief, on a scale 0-20:
Podlasie, Northeast Poland 18.6
El-Mina, Egypt 12.6
Northern Ireland 6.4
Eastern Mediterranean Region, Turkey 5.0
Lodz, Poland 4.0
Bavaria, Germany 3.6
Northern Greece 3.3
Toscana, Italy 3.2
Piemonte, Italy 3.0
Mestizo (European Amerindian mix) 1.3
South African 0.9
West African .2
I concluded I don’t have to be buttoned down anymore as I’m not all that British. I get to be Slavic, Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, Protestant Irish, with a whole lot of Scandinavian. And heck, Mike is barely western European.
So I gave myself a quick review of world history. It seems that the world is like a giant mix master with wars, slavery and revolutions. This time I could see my people in the mixer. The British Empire moved other nationalities to England until it was a diverse society. I learned about the early Christian Churches in the Middle East and Egypt and those who left to find refuge in Europe. I found that along with our western European American forefathers, Italians and others were in America much, much earlier than Ellis Island. The industrial revolution attracted many peoples (like the Polish) to leave their impoverished countries to work in the giant, grimy industrial centers of England, which also contributed to the genetic puree we are a part of.
Then it hit me. When the Lord said, “every nation, kindred, tongue and people” He really meant it. In all those vast great world events, God put His hand in and plucked our ancestors out of their diverse homelands. Now we have found them hidden in ourselves. I am honored to be part of that promise. I am gratified that the pioneers who crossed the plains and came to Utah were not just western Europeans, but all peoples. It was God who hid our kindred dead from the natural man prejudices of the average 19th century Americans (Mormons included).
The time has come to reveal the great gathering within myself. I gladly step out of the small dark box of Euro-centrism, into the big tent of humanity where the real party is going on. I know that I have been led to find them. I can see their dear faces lightly imprinted not only on my face, but the face of my loved ones. The gift I have been given is one of love and a shared identity with all of God’s children. Now when I meet someone of another nationality I can truly think perhaps you are my cousin. And that, my friends, is a wonderful gift.