My Interesting Spit, and A Grinding Halt

As previously mentioned, a couple of months ago I purchased a DNA ancestry test online – which arrived with blistering speed at my front door – and submitted it, to see what my spit would tell me about my genetic background.

While I was away in Connecticut, I got an email notifying me of some initial results.

By the time I returned home, the testing was complete.

And what did my saliva reveal?

Well, according to the overall speculative results, I’m 87.2 per cent Sub-Saharan African, 11.6 per cent European (mainly English/Irish – I think “Scottish” – with “Broadly European” elements), 0.5 per cent Middle Eastern/North African (actually “North African”), 0.4 per cent East Asian/North American Indian (which, to me, possibly means the indigenous peoples of the Caribbean or Central America), and 0.3 per cent unassigned (“undecipherable”, in my mind).

Of that 87.2 per cent of Sub-Saharan African ancestry, 83.6 per cent of that is of West African descent.

This part isn’t all that surprising; if one’s family is from the Caribbean or are of African-American descent, chances are, this will turn up. I think what took me back was how high the percentage was. I suppose, knowing that so many people came together because of colonialism/slavery, and migration later on, I was actually expecting that percentage to be lower.

(I told my mom, and she actually doesn’t believe it, because of the stories she heard growing up.)

I’m also keeping in mind that, as I also mentioned back in June, this isn’t the final answer on my ancestry. The type of testing I did is called autosomal testing. So while these results give me a general picture of my genetic makeup, it won’t tell me which ancestries belong to which parent.

Also, “West African” is still extremely broad. It doesn’t tell me if I’m what’s now considered to be Nigerian or, say, Sierra Leonean. (And, frankly, I suspect it will be quite a long time before this particular company I used will be able to make the distinction, if ever.)

What I did find interesting is that my mitrochondrial DNA – that teeny, tiny, shred of DNA that’s carried through my mother’s side of the family tree, through her maternal line – can be found exclusively amongst people in present-day Ethiopia and Sudan, and seems to have arrived there about 15,000 years ago.

I might try and find another company that gives more specifics, if one exists (and they ship tests to Canada).

Meanwhile, the trail of bread crumbs that I’d hoped would help me continue to string together more information about my great-aunt Ellen seems to have vanished.

I’d sent an email request to Library and Archives Canada, just to see what they might come up with.

While waiting for a response, I also stumbled upon a contact for a local historian in Montreal, who managed to tell me a bit of information about the address I saw on Ellen’s passenger record, as well as find a tiny bit of information she found about the owner at the time of my great-aunt’s arrival, as well as who currently lives there. (From what I understand, it’s not in the state it once was.)

A genealogical consultant with Library and Archives Canada did eventually email me back a few weeks ago, but she merely pointed me in the direction of the passenger record I was already well aware of.

In my request, I’d also inquired whether the Canadian government kept track of letters it sent abroad.

(Backstory: According to my mother’s knowledge of Ellen, my great-aunt did keep in touch with one person from her family: her baby sister, whom everyone called Milda. When Ellen fell ill, the Canadian government apparently sent Milda a note, inviting her to Canada to take care of her. Milda made preparations to come to Canada, only to cancel the trip at the last minute. Which suggests that Ellen possibly died before Milda could reach her.)

The consultant replied that, while Library and Archives Canada does hold old government records, not all departments retained their old records, nor are they all indexed. She said there was no record of Ellen’s name in their database, and suggested that the letter could have been sent by a provincial or local office.

And the historian in Montreal reached to some other local historians with our shred of information, to see if they perhaps knew something about my great-aunt’s employer at the time of her arrival in Canada. But despite being intrigued about my inquiry, they all said it was too specific for them to be able to help.

On top of this, are two other roadblocks of sorts:

One: birth and death records — or, the civil registration of said records — are the responsibility of the provinces and territories. And, naturally, it helps if you have information about the person for whose records you’re searching.

Two: census returns are in the custody of Statistics Canada, and are closed for  — get this — 92 years. (The 1921 Census of Canada was just released in 2013, to give you an idea.) So, unless you’re looking for information about yourself, for pension or legal purposes … OR, you’ve gotten written permission from the person whose information you’re trying to obtain … good luck.

(Also? NINETY-TWO YEARS. What an arbitrary number.)

So, here I am, stumped.

And currently, my remaining lead lies with a 98-year-old woman living in a nursing home in Montego Bay, Jamaica.

Who is she?

That would be Milda — Ellen’s youngest, surviving sibling. And my great-aunt, whom I’ve never met.

I have a cousin who lives relatively close to her, and my mom spoke to her weeks ago, asking if she could pay her a visit and ask her some questions, in hopes that she’ll say something, ANYTHING, that would be useful.

But I’m dependent on a cousin who — understandably so — has her own, very busy life to live. And the last time I heard from her was a couple of months ago. And I can’t really afford to fly down myself to ask. (Plus, peppering a relative — who doesn’t know me from a hole in the wall — with questions? I think it requires much more tact than that.)

If there are any interesting developments, I’ll let you know.

But in the meantime, a question for any expert or novice genealogists in their own right, who may stumble across my blog:

Can you recommend any valuable tools or resources that have helped you in your searches for long-lost relatives? I’d be interested in hearing them — especially ones that you might consider underrated or underused. Thanks!