At this point, I’m convinced everyone is my cousin.
I don’t think I’m alone when I say that I used to daydreamed about being related to someone famous or renowned when I was little. The last lineage of an ancient yet noble royal family, perhaps. Or maybe, the heir apparent to a ludicrously wealthy oil magnate so I can live out my Richie Rich fantasy of having a McDonald’s in stately mansion. Or, if I was really lucky, the long lost grandson of guitar legend, Jimi Hendrix.
(I’m still holding out for that last one)
The difference between me and other kids were that my fantasies of long lost relatives were somewhat rooted in reality: I really didn’t know who I was related to outside of my immediate family. Hell, for all I know I am related to Jimi Hendrix. I mean, Hendrix is black. We both play guitar. AND he was in the army during the Vietnam War.
Luckily for me, I live in a future that allows me to know the truth about these things right away. One of the many beauties about genetic testing services like 23andMe is that you can uncover cousins and other relations through their DNA Relatives tool. Mine looks a little something like this.
You might have noticed that my mother is the first one on the list, which means that I was recently able to get her results as well and will be sharing that in a future post! Along with her though, I also got over 1400 hundred matches for possible family members.
(I’m going to stop using the word “matches” now when referring to these things as it bears too close a resemblance to an app us millennial use to find people to go on awful dates with)
The tool is pretty damn awesome. It shows you things like whether or not relatives fall on your mom or dad’s side of the family, how many DNA segments you match with them on, as well as their ancestry profile if they chose to share it.
On top of showing you your possible relatives, you also have the option to message them and ask them to share things like family tree info as well as the results of their ancestry test. The relatives are pretty varied though and caused me a bit of confusion (read: a helluva lot of confusion) when I first got started.
From what I understand, the DNA Relatives I can connect with are broken down five ways:
- Immediate Relatives (mothers, fathers, siblings, children, etc.)
- First Cousins
- Second Cousins
- Third to Fifth Cousins
- Fourth to Distant Cousins
The overwhelming majority of my DNA relatives fall under the Fourth to Distant Cousins range, which is just their way of saying that I probably have a 10th degree relationship with the person. They could be a fourth cousin or they could be related to me through a great-great-grandparent’s uncle. It’s really muddled like that.
I realize that this is all pretty damn confusing, even for me and I’ve been at this for a few months now. Luckily, the internet is a vast and insanely comprehensive resource so I’ve been able to utilize this image I found when figuring out how I’m related to some of these people.
I was initially very excited when I could connect with what looked to be a second cousin: the oddly named Papa ea. Huzzah! That would mean I would only have to take a look at his/her grandparents in order to nail down who our common relative is. Much simpler than say a third cousin and sifting through the life and lineage of eight different great-grandparents.
However, the other frustrating thing about this tool is that some of your relatives simply don’t respond to your messages no matter how much you try to contact them. Such was the case with Papa ea who, despite several messages over the course of the past few months, has not gotten back to me.
Luckily, there are many relatives on 23andMe who are more than willing to connect with you. A few of the ones I have been in touch with have been able to help me out and guide me on this journey. There are a few third cousins I am connected with who have been more than helpful, pointing out resources and websites I can utilize in finding my grandfather.
The most surprising thing to me about what I’ve learned from the tool is the fact that the overwhelming majority of the relatives I’m able to connect with are either of African or European ancestry. I was so sure that it’d be mostly Asians in my relative pool since . . . well, I’m mostly Asian. I do wonder if this is due to how records are kept much more strictly in America as opposed to Vietnam where it seems that as soon as a baby is born, his/her birth certificate is written in dirt somewhere and immediately forgotten about.
From here, I’m hoping that I’ll be able to pinpoint a shared relative amongst the connections I currently have. Since they’re mostly third cousins though, it’ll have to be a great-great-grandparent, of which there are freaking sixteen. SIXTEEN. I don’t think I can even come up with sixteen people I know in my extended family.
No one said it was going to be easy though, and that’s becoming more and more clear the further along I get in the journey.
- Bad news: I’m not related to Jimi Hendrix (or at least I’m not aware of it yet . . .)
- Good news: I have a ton of new family members who are as excited and dedicated as I am to figuring out how we’re related.
- The world of ancestry is confusing as all hell and can be pretty overwhelming at times, but I’m learning more and more everyday.
- I’m almost positive there’s a better way of going about some of this. If you have any tips or tricks for me, please shoot me a message through the contact page. To those of you who have already, thanks so much and I’m going to reply to you as soon as I can!
Up next . . .
- History of the Boat People: A brief overview on the Vietnamese diaspora following the Fall of Saigon and where my family fits in it all.
- Talk to Your Old People: What I learned after interviewing my grandmother about her life.