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What I Really Know About Legacy: Genetic Heritage

I thought that my father, born to Polish parents, was Polish in every sense of the word, and assumed I had inherited that legacy. But recently, through DNA testing, I discovered I have no Polish in me at all.

Yes, I’m my father’s biological child. And my father and his close family spoke Polish and celebrated Polish traditions. But they weren’t genetically Polish.

My father and his seven siblings spoke little of their past because their parents told them few family stories. We were told our grandparents were from small villages that kept few records or lost them in wars. In a very few generations, the family’s Polish history evaporated.

But now I know more than I could have imagined. My father’s genetic legacy runs in this order: Palestinian (Gaza Strip), Jordanian, Greek, Greek Cypriot, Turkish, Iranian, Arab (Israel), Jewish (Israel) and Uzbek (Chinese Turkestan). For variance, my mother tossed in populations predominantly from Scotland, which did not surprise her clan.

My father was amazed by the world and its people. He might have reacted to the new information about our genetics as I did—by studying all I can about our people. The revelations have opened not only my mind, but also my heart, to the struggles of so many good people who I now know are my closest genetic relatives. Today when I listen to troubling world news, my heart seems to ache more than usual. Can we open our hearts and minds without the use of genetic tests?

The AARP Bulletin’s What I Really Know column comes from our readers. Each month we solicit personal essays on a selected topic and post some of our favorites in print and online. Frances Drabick is a reader from Eastport, Maine.

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