How DNA can unlock family mysteries

June 26, 2023

Gratteri | Sicily | Italy: population about 1,000

Who hasn’t wondered where they are from? About their family history? Their ethnic background? About their DNA?

This is the Sicilian town my mother’s family is from, overlooking the Bay of Cefalu and bordered by the forests of the Madonie. It’s incredibly charming, right down to the cobblestone streets. I’ve been there twice, walked the same cobblestones as my ancestors, and have had wonderful meet-ups with my very welcoming family there.

Gratteri was settled by humans as early as the 9th century, apparently by Arabs. The Normans were there to plunder relatively soon after. Isn’t it astonishing how they got around such vast distances with primitive ships?

My father’s geographic background is more of a mystery, as I found out when I went to different towns in Sicily looking for information. The facts did not match family lore.  So I spit into a tube and sent it off for a DNA test, hoping to start solving the mystery.

So this was my profile:


There’s a range, so the percentage could be higher. But this is what they think it is.

Nothing new about my Sicilian descent. Turns out, northern Sicily is our most recent place of origin. I’ve traveled around Sicily a bit on my visits, and  more trips to dig deeper might be in the cards.

I’m Arab, too!

But having fairly significant Levantine Arab blood was interesting to consider. Levants are from Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, Israel, Turkey and interestingly enough, my visit to Jordan a couple years ago gave me huge vibes. I related in a big way. Just loved Jordan and especially walking among the ruins at Jerash.

My father’s surname (mine, too) is of medieval Greek descent, Kassaras, meaning mat maker. Since my DNA shows some Aegean and Cypriot blood, based on my name I’m thinking the Cyprus connection is Greek Cypriot.  But it could be Turkish! I expected Greece to represent a bigger proportion of my DNA than shows here.  I have not been to Greece, not even drawn to it like I’ve been drawn to other places. But my husband says it’s gorgeous. Perhaps this is the push I need to cruise the Greek isles. Maybe in 2025.

I love a good bagpipe!

The fact that I have Scottish background, even if just a tad, shouldn’t be a surprise, even though Sicily is a long way from Scotland to Sicily. My mom was a redhead and we always joked about the Vikings in Sicily.

Gratteri has a Norman history dating back to 1059. No surprise that on a visit to Scotland I fell in love with the Highlands.  In fact, we are returning to the Highlands in 2024, but I am actually in northern Scotland right now, tracing  the path of the Vikings and heading across to explore the Norwegian fjords. Right this minute!

So maybe DNA creates some sort of geographic marker in our psyches and when we ping on a place it’s for that reason.

I love travel and have always done it easily. I ignore jet lag as much as possible. I don’t freak out about the process of going through airports, although a few German airports require mile-long walks between gates and the very personal pat-downs in the Middle East were…interesting.. Trips to Singapore, India, Egypt and Morocco tested my love of travel in a big way, (consider landing in the cacophony of the Cairo airport at 3am!) but it’s always worth it. The more different the culture, the better I like it.

Digging in. Literally.

My DNA test has cracked open some doors, but it’s going to take some work to dig into the connections I see on Ancestry. So I’ve just sent a sample to 23 and Me for a totally different database.  A  generous-spirited paternal cousin and I have shared a bit of info and I’ll be consulting with them as I go along, too. And, already, I see some intriguing connections to excavate.

For example, a Facebook friend contacted me a few years ago and said she thought we were cousins. Then she decided the data weren’t there. But once my Ancestry DNA was tested, I appeared as her fourth cousin on my mom’s side–how fun!

How about you? What do you know about your ethnic background? Have you had your DNA tested?

Reminding you of my pretty little Etsy shop, right here.

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