My old Anatolian home

I know most of you arrive here via Facebook, but I’ll recap just in case. For my birthday, my wife bought me a DNA test from AncestryDNA, one of those outfits that analyzes your DNA to determine your genetic makeup. The results held some surprises.

For background, I know my family history going back a little over a hundred years. Going back that far, all branches of my family trace back to southern Italy before things get murky. Note that all of my parents and grandparents (except my paternal grandmother) were born in the United States, mostly in or very near Chicago. My maternal grandmother was born in southern Indiana, in the small town of Oolitic, but relocated to Chicago at a young age (I think 6-8 or thereabouts). Now, taking each branch in turn. . . .  (Note: If any of my family members read this and want to clarify/correct anything, please jump in in the comments.)

My father’s family goes back to the Agrigento region in southwestern Sicily. His father was born in Chicago Heights in 1905 — I believe his family had immigrated from the Sicilian city of Sciacca not long before then. His mother was my only grandparent born overseas, in the village of Burgio, in 1907. Her family immigrated to Chicago when she was 15.

I’m less certain on the specifics of my mother’s family. Her father was born in Chicago to Sicilian immigrant parents in the early 1910s. I had it in my head that they were from the east coast of Sicily, but I also have in my head that they were from near Marsala, which is on the west coast. Since I vaguely recall the Marsala thing coming from my grandfather’s sister, we’ll go with that.

My grandmother’s family immigrated to Indiana from Kentucky before she was born in the 1910s. They were from Calabria in southern mainland Italy — the toe of the boot right across the strait from Sicily. There’s also evidence of some Albanian heritage in this branch. My grandmother knew of a marriage certificate (I believe from her grandparents) from an Orthodox church — and let’s be honest, no self-respecting ethnic Italian at the turn of the 20th century was anything but Catholic. Also, she knew a couple of Gheg Albanian words she’d picked up from listening to relatives in Indiana.

AncestryDNA breaks down DNA similarities by region, one of which is “Italy/Greece.” You can see why I expected my results to be a snoozefest — like 95% Italy/Greece, maybe 5% Middle Eastern from Sicily’s proximity to Tunisia. I did NOT expect only 69% Italy/Greece! What’s more, the remainder wasn’t just trace elements! A full 22% of my DNA matched what AncestryDNA calls the “Caucasian” region, predominantly comprised of the modern countries of Turkey, Iraq/Syria, Iran, and the Caucasus countries (Armenia/Azerbaijan/Georgia)! Combine that with only 3% Iberian and less than 1% Western European (and the Albanian evidence) and it’s clear that my ancestry traces back to the eastern Mediterranean. While the test can’t differentiate between Italian and Greek roots, this (along with the historical colonization of Sicily by Greeks) points to me having a lot more Greek blood than I previously thought. My people definitely came from the east.

How to account for this thickened plot? Clearly the most likely culprits were the western countries of the region, those that overlap the Italy/Greece region. I think the Levant countries (Syria, Iraq, etc.) could be ruled out because of my surprisingly low percentage (1%) of Middle Eastern DNA. That leaves Turkey, historically an active participant in the eastern Mediterranean.

So where did this newfound Turkish heritage enter my genetic equation? Certainly there’s been a lot of genetic admixture in the region in question over the centuries, so it’s not an easy question to answer. My first thought is a larger Balkan presence. The Italy/Greece region covers most of the Balkan Peninsula and we have a known Albanian and presumed Greek component, right? The Ottomans ruled the area for a hefty amount of time, so Turkish soldiers could’ve spread their stuff around in Albania and its neighbors to eventually make me, right? My wife brought up an excellent point, though: the known Albanian only comes down through one grandparent. The Albanian community in Sicily is concentrated around Palermo, so it’s not likely to have entered through any of the others. We’re talking about 22% of my genetic material here — which means either my grandmother was a LOT more Albanian (or even directly Turkish) than anyone’s ready to admit or something else is going on here.

But for it to come through multiple lines, there had to be some kind of significant Turkish presence in Sicily, which just didn’t happen. Is it possible my roots in Sicily don’t extend as deeply as I’d always assumed? This, combined again with very low percentages of North African and Middle Eastern DNA, might suggest so. More research is clearly necessary.

Thoughts, anyone?


~ by chewie93 on July 23, 2016.

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