I am not making this up: I have an ancestor named Isreal White. When I found his name in an old census book in a library. I laughed out loud. Then I saw his wife’s name: Lily White. The librarian looked at me like he might come out from behind that counter, hoist me up by my shirt collar, and frog-march me out of there.
Ironically, the White family claimed Native American ancestry, but they could not get their names added to a Cherokee census made by the U. S. government in the 1930’s. The reason was that they had never lived within 150 miles of Cherokee territory. Nevertheless, that family legend persists. When Ancestry.com offered to test my DNA and tell me my ethnic background, I whipped out my charge card, spit in a bottle, and sent it off in the mail.
When I received my results, I was shocked to be informed that I am 34% Irish. The only ancestry for which I have proof is Scottish and English. The pie chart shows another third of British Isles, which I guess covers that. The remaining third is countries close to Great Britain, many of whom invaded it or were invaded by it over the centuries.
I am pretty sure my so-called Scotch-Irish ancestors scooted through Northern Ireland pretty fast on their way over here. I am not well versed in that history, but it has something to do with England’s mistreatment of the Irish, and such an unwelcome reception for Scottish settlers that they remembered it as “the killing time.” A couple of Irish hitch-hikers on the ship to America could not account for 34%.
Native American ancestry might still show up in my siblings’ DNA, as each child gets 50% of their DNA from each parent, but not exactly the same stuff, unless they are identical twins. This explains why I look like my maternal grandmother and my sister looks like our paternal grandmother, and therefore, we don’t look like we come from the same family. A White descendant says one of our great-great grandmothers came from the Powhatan reservation in Virginia. The Powhatan tribe lived on the coast, where our English ancestors entered the American continent. This sounds more likely to be true than Cherokee ancestry. Pocahontas might be our cousin.
No one in this country should be surprised, considering what we know about American history, to find multiple races in their DNA pie chart. I was ready to embrace it all, as I love the diversity of my nation, and I was disappointed to find out how vanilla I am.
However, I got the results right before St. Patrick’s Day, so I thought I should celebrate my Irish heritage. I went online looking for events. I learned that Savannah has a parade and Chicago dyes a river green. Sadly, closer to home, I found one activity: drinking. Many people do that every day, so to make it special, they dye the beer green.
If I was going to choose a cultural stereotype, I would choose something better for my people. Drinking for its own sake is an addiction. Drinking green dye is just reckless. However, drinking to relax your inhibitions so you can sing and dance in public is a party, and I guess that’s okay. I love Celtic music and have been known to sing and dance with no alcoholic support whatsoever.
So, I am quite happy to be Celtic-American. With my real-whiteness and my reddish hair, green is my best color.