my results from my ancestry.com DNA kit are in…and…whoa

Screen Shot 2014-09-11 at 6.36.00 AM

I realize I am the last of my kind. The last Sullivan to carry this name in this life, and over the years I’ve come to terms with this. I’ve no interest in having children–I prefer to fawn over my friend’s progeny–and I’m an only child, with the exception of a teenaged half-sister, and please don’t ask me to talk about it because I won’t, and I can’t imagine I ever will. But this girl doesn’t have my name or my history–we have only our mother in common, a mother whom, in some respects, is a better storyteller than me. Masterful, maybe.

The origins of my real father change depending upon her mood or appetite for melodrama; it was a scalpel she’d deliberately wield, and her words always felt like cuts inside my cheek. Incisions. When we spoke some years ago, the first time in 14 years, and she told me I could her ask her anything, nothing was off-limits, I said plainly, Tell me about my real father. And as I read these test results, I can’t help but laugh over her taste for fiction. I am indeed my mother’s daughter, except the stories I tell find their way into books, not used as ammunition to wound and maim.

So when my friend Amber told me about this DNA test, I was curious. I remember sitting in her kitchen and she talked about how the results confirmed what she already knew–she was a European Jew–but it told her things she didn’t. And all I had to do was spit in a cup, send it to a lab and wait for the email.

I woke today to the email and the results.

My last name is Sullivan, but I’m not even Irish. Not even close. I’m Italian, Greek, Spanish, Finnish (???) and African (specifically, Nigerian). I always knew I wasn’t completely white, I can’t explain it; it’s just something you feel. And while I have no issues with the results (they’re exciting in the sense that I’m this rich melange of beautiful continents), because it quietly confirmed what I already knew, however, part of me is just really angry that my lineage has been hidden from me for 38 years. All this time I’ve been part black, but do I even claim it? Can I? Do I have the right to step into these new shoes? Do I have the right to own blackness? Part me says, yes, of course, of course, this is who you are, but this isn’t what I’ve been for 38 years.

This is all raw and new and confusing, and I think I need to sit with this for a while. Privately. Offline. To see what I can do, what I do feel, what this new truth reveals, alters, creates.

Screen Shot 2014-09-11 at 6.43.53 AM

20 thoughts on “my results from my ancestry.com DNA kit are in…and…whoa

  1. This is really really interesting…makes me want to take the test too. I also don’t have a relationship with my father but I have met him and his side of the family (when I was much younger) but I’d be curious to know the exact breakdown of my ethnicity…I’ve been told that side of my family has Cuban in them but who know? Also, I’ve been reading your blog since earlier this year and you’ve never spoken of ethnicity but, from your pictures, I always assumed you were part black, part white, and a little bit of Spanish. When I look at you I see someone who is part black 🙂

    Like

    1. Kisha,

      I absolutely recommend getting the test. It’s $99 and I got the results back pretty quickly.

      Your comment is incredible because we never see ourselves the way others see us. I felt that I was Spanish because so many people would approach me in the city speaking Spanish, and I do speak the language but never really could claim that as a nationality. And when I went to Spain, I felt…at home. Growing up, I always got comments about being mixed, but in Brooklyn amongst my black friends I was the white girl, but in Long Island, I was something other.

      I guess (after my anger toward my mother subsides) this is an extraordinary opportunity to re-meet myself, you know?

      xo

      Like

  2. Whoa! Such interesting results. Its too bad you were inspired to take the test by the stories spun by your mother. BUT this is a great opportunity to slip into some shoes you didn’t even know you had. I’d like to take my own test now!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Okay, the first time I met you, I assumed you had at the very least a black grandparent (like Carly Simon or actress Rebecca Hall) so I am not surprised by this news.

    That said, this is deep. How can you begin to process this at 38? I hope you will, when and if you feel comfortable, write about it.

    x

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Arlene,

      Love! I had no idea. Is it always remarkable, as I said in another comment, that you never see yourself how others see you?

      I think I’ll need some time to process this, and get to a place where I feel comfortable with what I own and what I don’t own, and how I can talk about this without being confused, honestly.

      And ahhh….I’ll be in Spain next week. I’m so tempted to fly to Rome and hug you.

      xo

      On Thu, Sep 11, 2014 at 10:03 AM, love.life.eat wrote:

      >

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Felicia,

    Thank you for this. It’s amazing, isn’t it, when you get some real uncloaked evidence of who you are.

    I did this test two years ago. It was mostly as expected. I’m pretty sure the guy who lived in our house and I called Dad and who was married to my mother is in fact my father. He didn’t disappear–at least not until he died in 1989. But I am part African, too. The percentage is so small my ancestor must have lived in the 1700s–but there it is. The thing is–my father (and I’m pretty sure that’s the side the African ancestor falls on) comes from a family with, on one side, southern slaveowners; on the other, New England abolitionists. A part of me always hopes that the African ancestor was part of a consensual relationship but I know odds are just as strong there was a rape, or more than one. How do I live with this? I don’t know. I’m still figuring it out. I sit with my African ancestor sometimes and try to hear him or her over the centuries.

    But learning about this made me incredibly proud to have a forebear from that noble continent. Exhilarated, almost. As if I knew somehow, before the test, from the moment I was born. (I did know there was something, even before the test results came back, but I suspected intermarriage with Sephardic Jews–which there is, in my family, but not so that I have a blood ancestor.) Anyway–kudos to you for finding out. I wish I had known sooner–I wish I had known before my father died. I think he would have been proud too. And thank you for writing about this; it’s giving me courage to do so too.

    Danielle

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Danielle,

      I spent the greater part of the day thinking about your comment. When I first read it, on the street, it put me on pause, and I didn’t want to reply automatically because that felt somewhat wrong.

      Our lineage, our history, is this incredibly powerful thing that has dominion over us–more, I guess, than I can comprehend at the moment. I can’t even imagine navigating what you know and I think you’re incredibly brave and beautiful for sharing it.

      I’ve gone through a lot of emotions today–anger being a predominant one, and I really fucking wish people would permit me to feel the capacity, the realness of my anger without diminishing it, without spinning it, without forcing the perspective that will inevitably come naturally, or not now.

      I’m not even ready to confront or comprehend what this test means and how it changes the shape of how I feel about my identity. Right now, right this moment, I’m angry at my mother for withholding this information from me. And right now, that’s precisely where I need to be. I need to go through it in order to navigate all that wonderful stuff on the other side.

      Know what I mean?

      xo

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Wow! Felicia and Danielle,

      So Felicia, in sharing your life events so openly you’ve come across someone else who’s had a similar experience! That’s one of the best parts of writing and sharing- is that you find like minds out there.

      Thank you Danielle for sharing your experiences as well, and Felicia- as someone who’s followed you for a little over a year, I truly enjoy reading along in your life journeys, and this one really inspires me to do the same. I’m looking forward to the day (if it comes) that you feel comfortable elaborating on your inner reactions to this event.

      Thank you as always, for your openness!

      Ashley

      Liked by 2 people

  5. Thank you for sharing this! I’m mixed and I’d love to do this test. Can you share more info on where you got the test? I’ve seen your pictures and I always thought you were mixed w/ Spanish &Black. Is your mom Spanish? I too was born and raised in NYC so you never see the difference being in the melting pot. It wasn’t until I was an adult & married that a friend referred to my family as the United Nations because of all the shades 🙂

    Like

    1. Hi Glenda,

      I actually ordered it from ancestry.com. It’s $99 and comes with a kit and paid return mailing, so the process is pretty simple.

      My mom is Italian and Irish, allegedly. Regrettably, she excised all ties from her family, so I don’t actually know. Sullivan is her father’s name, and we look identical except for the fact that she has naturally straight hair. It’s thick, but I guess what you’d call Caucasian texture. That’s all I know, really.

      I don’t really care about the results– I actually find them fascinating. It’s more about finding this out at 38, when my mother could have just been honest. Though honesty was never a hand she liked to play.

      I have a lot of thoughts, in general, most of which I plan to reconcile offline.

      Thanks for the comment and kind words 🙂

      Warmly, f

      >

      Like

  6. My daughter had hers done recently and it was really, really interesting (=surprising). Now my wife and I are going to have ours done to see how well things correspond. I mean, we should see more than SOME similarities. Right?

    Like

  7. So interesting! I’ve been wanting to do this myself since though we can trace my family back a few hundred years, beyond that it’s all a mystery. As Ashkenazi Jews I bet there are some interesting stories and it would be neat to have a bit of an idea where we came from.

    Like

  8. Fascinating… Identity is a tricky thing. What we are on paper may look very different very different from how we move thru life. What you do with it is all yours to shape and define.

    You may not see it this way, but as an adopted person, I think what you have been given in that email as a gift. It answers questions and in some ways affirmed what you always knew. In the midst of all that you are feeling, I hope that a piece of it is thankfulness…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Tam! I’m going to roll out the oldest cliche, but it’s strangely appropriate. Right now, at this moment, it’s hard to see the forest from the trees. I know that this is complete closure, something I’ve always wanted, but right now there’s this boulder I need to work through. Of anger toward my mother and what she could have easily told me. I think I need to cut through that boulder, and only then I can get out on the other side. xo

      Like

  9. Hi Felicia,

    I’m a long time reader and not so often commenter, and I wanted to chime in my two cents. 🙂

    I’m a mixed race person (Chinese and various European lineages- don’t fully know) and grew up knowing so since birth. To me, being mixed race is an awesome, beautiful thing- and super confusing, with its own sources of frustration and challenges. I recently wrote an article on this: http://www.americanfobs.com/reflections-on-being-mixed-race/

    I live in the SF Bay area and attend a mixed-race discussion and meditation group, and it has been immensely rewarding and powerful to discuss personal issues, questions, and frustrations about our identities together as a group. I relate so strongly to other people in the group who do not share any parts of my cultural identity, but we still share so much common ground being mixed race. There are also a few folks in our group who do not know the full nature of their background due to one parent being absent.

    Anyways, I just wanted to say I wish you luck and send you empathy as you sit with these questions, and if I had any advice, it would be to seek out other people from mixed race backgrounds- it has been a tremendous source of comfort to me.

    Take care,

    Becca

    P

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Becca,

      I loved your essay so, so much. Thank you for sharing it. This line, in particular, resonated with me: “To me, how I identify is important, because it’s my way of getting to claim my identity and honor what is important to me.”

      Luckily, so many of my friends are mixed so I feel that I’m in wonderful, brilliant company.

      I’m so grateful for your comment and your honesty, and for your remarkable essay. The honesty and vulnerability were palpable.

      Warmly, Felicia

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

w

Connecting to %s