Coming to America


What are your family's "coming to America" stories? Or are you Native American and your family has always been here?

My daughter and I did our AncestryDNA this past year or two. There were some confirmations and some surprises. I am 45% European Jewish, which was about what I'd expected, from Lithuania, Latvia, and Romania, and indeed, I had known that my maternal great-grandfather Alek came to America from Kaunas (Kovno), Lithuania, my maternal great-grandmother Jenny came from Latvia, and my paternal great-grandparents came from Romania. No surprises there--except that last 5%.

My dad always said he was "Irish," but we always suspected the truth was more complicated than that, since his mom's maiden name was Hazel Strohl. But.... whatever. Maybe he is 80% Irish, I used to think. My daughter got her results first, and she was only something like 6% Irish, which was, well, mind-altering. Turns out I am 16% Irish, which was still something of a shock for someone named Kelly Dwyer. (When I showed the agent in Dublin my passport three summers ago, she said, "Kelly Dwyer. Welcome home.")  (Interestingly enough, AncestryDNA even got the county right. My great-grandfather John Joseph "Jack" Dwyer emigrated from Skibereen in County Cork, which my saliva and this service identified...) 

Once I got over the shock of being only 16% Irish, I was fascinated to learn what I was instead: turns out my affinity for Scotland may be cellular, as I am 15% "from the British Isles" (England, Scotland, Wales). I am 15% Swedish! (I always loved Denmark!) I am 5% Eastern European and Russian and 3% Baltic--so I guess this is where that 5% of my mother's family came in that is not Jewish. (There are some stories there I wish I knew...)  The remaining 1%: French! (Of course that thrilled me to no end! Everyone made fun of me for studying French in school, and I feel so vindicated now. I was learning the language of my ancestors!)

I wish I knew the story of all of my ancestors, but I know this much: my parents and grandparents always said their families were so grateful to come to America to find religious freedom and economic opportunity. If some of my family members felt persecuted or prejudiced against for being Irish or Jewish, I never heard about it. They talked about America as the land of freedom and the place where your dreams could come true if you worked hard enough. (I know this was not and is not true for all Americans—my family was lucky in many ways.)

What do you know about your ancestors?

If you're from the USA, Happy 4th! If you're not, I'd love to hear about how you celebrate Independence Day, or a similar holiday!

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