Right, Meg? A tree with international roots

Right, Meg? A tree with international roots

This column was originally published on May 4, 2018.

When I sat down to write tonight, I had every intention of talking about balance.

It was the topic on my mind all day: how feeling like I’m excelling at work can make me feel like I’m failing at home, and vice versa. How it’s exhausting trying to do it all and have it all — and what is “having it all,” anyway? Who decides what that looks like but you and me . . . for ourselves?

But as I fell down that rabbit hole of reflection that was really just a little too deep for a Tuesday night, the tantalizing “1” for a new email appeared in my inbox. A message from a relative on 23andMe.

Like millions of other folks interested in unlocking stories of the past, I submitted my DNA for testing last year. The results carried few surprises: 28 percent Polish; 23 percent German; 14 percent British. My parents have both done extensive research on their ancestors and, save the small percentage of Portuguese and Spanish that turned up, it was cool — but unsurprising.

The best feature of the site has proven to be the DNA relatives finder. It startled me to find more than 1,000 people with whom I apparently share genetics but no modern connection. Though some last names were familiar, the faces were not.

I’ve traded messages with a few distant cousins, trying to find a connection to a Welsh great-great-grandfather and Civil War veteran, but have been unsuccessful in identifying anything concrete with my 23andMe crew.

Then came Zeke. Born in Argentina to European descendants, Zeke popped up as a fifth cousin in my relatives list — a dark-haired man about my age who is enthusiastically researching his background. Zeke wrote me out of the blue after discovering I was one of only a precious few DNA matches connected to his own French lineage, which is one of the few mysteries he has left to piece together.

We’re in the early stages of working out the full details. But with help from my dad, we’re fairly certain Zeke and I share a set of 4th-great grandparents. My great-great-great-grandfather and his great-great-great-grandmother were likely siblings.

Isn’t that crazy?

I like to think about our ancestors dreaming up a world in which their third-great grandchildren send each other messages through magical glowing screens.

Considering we’re talking about members of a family who lived 150 years ago, our modern communication methods would be incomprehensible to them. Heck: sometimes it’s even hard for me to wrap my brain around the hurricane-force speed of the digital world, and I grew up in the ’90s.

The 1990s, that is.

While my own French relative immigrated to the United States, at least one of his siblings apparently left for Argentina. Divided by an ocean and many worlds apart, one branch of our family tree bloomed in South America while another took hold in Washington, D.C. My family is still here, while Zeke’s is still there.

Except now Zeke is here, too. Of all the places in the world, my distant cousin from Buenos Aires is temporarily living in Washington. An hour away from me.

You can’t make this stuff up.

Having been bitten by the genealogy bug that leads to many late nights and endless Google searches, I’m fascinated to learn more about the 1,000-plus people with whom I share ancestors.

And if it pans out, this storyline with cousin Zeke and our French/Argentine crew has serious potential. Think of the family reunion! I knew my years of limping along to learn passable Spanish would prove useful someday.

Zeke is currently back in Argentina for a project. It’s been four years since I left the country and, with two wild toddlers bent on destroying our house and sanity, my husband and I could really use a vacation.

Will we flee for international waters? Of course not. But can I daydream and plan a fictitious trip with my newly-discovered family member as our tour guide? Sure!

Balance, indeed.

Twitter: @rightmeg

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