Our family has always assumed that we are German. My last name is “Schnee,” which despite being terribly hard to pronounce, means snow in the German language. Therefore, we always just assumed we were stoic, hard-working ranchers that settled in Montana back in the 1800s. My mom’s side was equally ambiguous, proclaiming Prussian heritage and maybe, maybe a little bit of Norwegian.
I didn’t really start wondering about where we might have come from until I started traveling around Europe. In France, I would automatically be spoken to in French, Norwegians asked me for directions, and one of my Chinese classmates in Italy thought I was part Japanese (?). I knew I was a bit of an American mutt, but I wasn’t sure how much.
So when my parents mentioned that they were interested in trying the AncestryDNA kit in order to find out what percentage of…whatever we were was, my siblings and I jumped at the chance and ordered them kits for Christmas. Both sides of the family so we could get an idea.
Honestly, to some extent, I had subconsciously formed my personality on what I believed to be my ancestry. I assumed I was German, so stoicism and a stiff upper lip were adopted. I didn’t like sharing feelings. These are all stereotypes, of course, but it’s funny how you can piece together parts of who you are from what you assume you’ve always been.
However, some parts didn’t quite make sense. My father and mother are both playful people and love to laugh. I was also drawn inexplicably to Irish folk tales and music. Germany seemed cool, but we didn’t look like the other Germans I had met on my travels. Again, all stereotypes, but I was looking forward to understanding where we had come from so I could construct my own narrative and know for certain when people asked, “Where did your family come from?”
It took about six weeks before we got the results back. And…we were not that German.
My mother was ambiguously 40% from the European continent and 21% Irish. Also thrown in was a little British and a little, you guessed it, Norwegian. My father was almost entirely Irish and British.
I am a bit of an American mutt, but according to AncestryDNA, I am mostly Irish. It explains the time when I was accidentally left at a bar in Dublin during a pub crawl because they thought I was a local and my interest in Anglo-Saxon culture. But now I’m left with more questions than I had when I thought I was German. Did my ancestors feel as though they had to hide that they were Irish? Why did they journey all the way to Montana? How does this change how I view my family and even my own identity as a traveler?
It’s not a simple answer, and it’s probably one that I will be trying to find for a good many years. It has changed my idea of who I am and maybe, why I am the way I am.
How important is knowing your heritage when you travel? Are you more likely to go to places where you know your family is originally from?
*I received no compensation or benefits from this post.*