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Kris Williams: Genealogy & Your DNA

Just recently I received my AncestryDNA kit results and I can honestly say I was pretty shocked by them. For the most part, on my father’s side, my family has been in this country since the Mayflower - or came on ships that followed soon after.  Others came down through Canada from Nova Scotia. Everything I knew about my Dad’s side of the family brought me back to England and Scotland. My mother’s side is a bit different since the majority of her family only goes back in the United States a few generations. Most of her family came over from Ireland in the 1800s, with the exception of her grandfather who came over from Italy with his family in 1909.

Knowing all of this I asked myself, “How much can the test really tell me?” Through all that I have found on my own, I figured my ethnicity would mainly originate on the British Isles with a small percentage of Italian. That was not the case.

What were my results?

According to my DNA, I am 53% Scandinavian, 37% Southern European, 8% British Isles and there was a small 2% that was marked “Uncertain.” I was confused.

Scandinavian? Where the hell did that come from? What I thought would be my largest ethnic percentage ended up ranking third?

The results made me question what else I could learn about my family through my results and AncestryDNA. To get a better understanding, I took a look at how the test worked.

AncestryDNA uses a new DNA technology called autosomal testing. The main differences between this new technology and previous tests used are that autosomal testing examines a much larger portion of your DNA and it covers both the maternal and paternal sides of your family. Previous tests only cover one or the other and a significantly smaller portion of your DNA. So, with the help of expert population geneticists and molecular biologists, autosomal testing gives us genealogy nuts a bigger and more complete picture of our family in one DNA test.

Not only was I surprised by how convenient and easy it was to take this test, I am now excited by the other features AncestryDNA offers to make further use of my results. With my results, I got a list of matches that show me other AncestryDNA users who I may be related to based on our DNA.

With a subscription to Ancestry.com, you are able to reach out to that match and work together to figure out your common link. To make the search easier, the site even provides you and your match with a list of shared surnames from your trees. I have already reached out to one of my matches and I’m excited to start working with him to learn more about my family! Another feature I love is their interactive map, which pinpoints places of birth for everyone you have entered on your tree. It is pretty fascinating when you can see where all of your known ancestors had to travel from for you to be here. It has also made me more curious to find out the reasons behind their moves.

Now that I have my results, and have gone through all the features and have a better understanding of how the test works, I’ve learned to look at the bigger picture. All this time I had viewed my ethnicity as based strictly off of the countries my family came to the United States from, without putting much thought into where their ancestors originated. Being marked 53% Scandinavian by my DNA, I realize that my family tree will eventually lead me back to Norway, Sweden or Denmark.

Taking the history of those locations into account, this possibly brings my family back to Viking times. Vikings were known as merchants, explorers and feared as violent pillagers by coastal towns. Being well-traveled explorers, their adventures took them to nearby England, Ireland and Scotland as well as several other far off lands to establish villages. Knowing this, I am now able to see how Scandinavian descent may have dominated my results.

I can honestly say I am very happy with my decision to try AncestryDNA and am excited to see where this new information takes me! Not only has it given me some insight to my family’s past it is giving me the ability to reach out to others who may share it. The best part is that over time, my list of matches will only continue to grow as more people take the test. Who knows, after taking the AncestryDNA test you could find yourself trading family notes with a long lost cousin and ghost hunter.

Contributed by Kris Williams, Genealogist & star of SyFy’s Ghost Hunters International 

Twitter: @KrisWilliams81

Life Advice…From the Grave

My great grandfather, Abramo Donato Cantelli was born in San Donato, Italy on February 4, 1903. He was only six years old when he boarded a ship headed to America called the Canopic Line with his mother and two brothers. After two seasick weeks they finally landed in Boston where Abramo’s father was waiting for their arrival.

Abramo attended school until he was 12 years old, leaving to work at the Fore River Shipyard in Quincy, MA to help his family. There he made $80 a week working on destroyer ships during WWI. It was at this job, he began to hate his name. His co-workers regularly picked on him for it, “There’s a lot of ignorant people, they make you feel like two cents”. Due to the constant harassment, for his confirmation, he took on the name Biajoso he could call himself Joe. From then on, he was known as Joseph Cantelli.

Joe started an apprenticeship as a stonecutter in South Quincy around the age of 21. He worked on several different jobs but the one I was told most about was a statue of a woman. He worked on the folds of her dress as well as some writing. No one in the family seems to know where this statue ended up but we do know Tiffany’s of New York bought it.  During the Great Depression he said that “It was impossible to live on stonecutting…Life is too hard. In the depression if you wanted to buy a nickel for six cents you couldn’t do it”.

My great grandfather was extremely proud to become an American and worked hard to fit in. Besides the name change, he refused to teach his kids to speak Italian. He would often tell them, “In America, you speak like an American!”.Joe would only speak Italian with his parents, brothers and sister. As much as I admire his pride and hard work, it also bums me out that this part of my family’s culture wasn’t passed down. Today, the best my grandmother can do is swear in Italian and I’m left trying to learn with CD’s and books!

My great grandfather gave a lot of advice through his own life experiences concerning work, family and remembering to enjoy the simple things. It’s his advice on relationships and marriage that have really stuck with me most.

Joe met my great grandmother Kathryn Mary Gaynor at a dance. They were married October 14, 1923 in Randolph, MA with a simple ceremony to keep costs down. The thing that I love about my great grandparents is how crazy they were about each other. I remember talking to my grandmother’s sister Kitty about it. She told me a story about how they were so affectionate with each other, even late in life; they could make others around them blush.

In a day and age where divorce is common, I really want what they had for myself. I have had several friends my age, who’ve been divorced, joke that I need a “practice marriage”. The idea of this being funny saddens me. Being a bit of a hopeless romantic in a “me generation” is difficult at times to hold on to. His advice on relationships and marriage holds true, especially in today’s society. Today we are so plugged into technology; we are forgetting how to communicate outside of it.

“When you get married, you become one. There’s no more two. It’s 50/50. Set up a stake and both of you reach for that goal. Sometimes his trouble will spill over onto you. If you think you might hurt each other with something you’re going to say, put on the breaks, and don’t say it; don’t hurt each other. Think first about what you’re going to say. It’s communication that’s the most important thing. You’ve got to be friends. Both work together, plan together and communicate. When you don’t communicate, no one knows what’s going on, the left doesn’t know what the right is doing. That’s why there are so many divorces these days. They don’t communicate, and they don’t know what the other wants. They have different goals.”

As a female today, I have also found that sometimes I feel a little lost. Women have come so far since his generation. The sad part however, is that today women who find themselves in a demanding career are almost forced to make a choice. Do I continue to climb the ladder or do I want to have a family? It’s a sad world when you are made to feel like having a family is a “set back”. Growing up, taking pride in being a strong female, I always said I didn’t want to justbe a mom… where today, I have realized it will probably be the most important role I’ll ever play.

“That’s what I like to see, two young people in a garden of flowers. That makes me happy, to see… two people always together and happy. You need to get a nice little house, with a little fence and a little workshop downstairs. It’s natural to want a house and family”.To me, he is right. I am tired of feeling like I have to reject something that is natural to want, just to prove something to a society that’s slowly losing sight of what’s important.

My great grandparents were married 61 years when Kathryn passed away, “We miss each other. I am useless with out her”.I can only hope to someday celebrate 60 years of marriage with a man who feels just as strongly about me. Someone who makes me want to be a better person by simply being around him. Jobs come and go. Money can be gained, lost and gained back again. Fancy cars and big houses prove nothing. It’s family and the people we surround ourselves with that get us through and make life worth living.

The craziest part about all of this, my great grandfather passed away in 1986, when I was only five years old. The only memory I have of him is hiding under his lawn chair at a family reunion in Quincy, MA. However, here I am 26 years later hearing and finding comfort in his words. I owe a huge thank you to my Mom’s cousin Suzy for taking the time to interview him. Had it not been for her interest in genealogy and our family in general, I never would have had the opportunity to hear them.

Contributed by Kris Williams, Genealogist & star of SyFy’s Ghost Hunters International 

Twitter: @KrisWilliams81

 

Don’t go by what you see on T.V., it’s a big balloon that’s blowing up and destroying the country. Show business is no good. My wife had better legs than those women any day!  -Joseph Abramo Donato Biajo Cantelli