DNA–What Surprises We Find

DNA genealogy is still new; but if you are researching your family without it, you are missing out.  There are connections that can be made that only DNA can uncover and prove.  It’s scientific!

Of course, there’s the possibility of uncovering something that is not pleasant, but that is all part of the journey of discovering our ancestors.

I have the privilege to have my mother, three of her siblings, her uncle, and his aunt (mom’s great-aunt) to all participate in DNA collection for genealogical purposes.  Swabbing your cheeks or spitting in a vial are not necessarily pretty requests; I thank all who have participated.

Ethnicity results are a popular draw for doing these tests.  Finding out what percentage White, Black, Native American, Asian, and so on, is intriguing to many.  Surprising to some!  Even, sometimes, upsetting to a few.

So, what have we learned?

Here is my mother’s ethnicity break down.


Billingsley is an old English surname, so seeing Great Britain is no shocker, but only 3% British?  That seems low.  Her most represented areas are Western Europe (that could include England, but definitely France), Ireland, and Scandinavia.  The trace regions are the surprises, and the mysteries:  Italy/Greece–I have no idea which ancestor that could be; Eastern Europe–maybe a clue. Iberian Peninsula (Spain and Portugal) and European Jewish–well, there is a legend:  Two of my mother’s ancestral families, the Rapaljes and the OpDenGraeffs (and those two names can be spelled many different ways) are purported to have been Cryptic Jews.  They left Spain in the late 1400s when the Catholic king ordered all Jews to convert to Christianity or leave.  Some stayed and secretly practiced their faith.  Others fled to North Africa, the Netherlands, France, and elsewhere, eventually making it to the colonies of the future United States. According to a 2010 article by Vicky Moon, link here http://www.genealogy.com/forum/surnames/topics/roosa/415/, my ancestor, Joris Jansen Raplaje may have been the descendant of Jews who fled the Spanish Inquisition.  Another family in our lineage, the OpDenGraeffs are also described as originally Jews from Spain or Portugal.  A link here http://familypedia.wikia.com/wiki/Op_den_Graeff_(surname) will help those interested in studying this line.

So, the Spanish and Jewish percentages might be true.  At less than one percent, this connection is more than seven generations back, and our link to the Rapaljes is 13 generations back through our Morris-Aten line.

Perhaps most surprising is my mother’s  indication of Middle Eastern ancestry.  Notice from the map that Middle Eastern includes part of Egypt and Saudi Arabia, north to Turkey and Georgia.  There are overlapping areas in these cultural boundaries.  Middle Eastern might mean Egyptian or Arabian, but it might mean Turkish.

My mother’s sister, Diann, tested last year.  Her results are below.


Aunt Di shows Western Europe, Ireland, and a much larger percentage of Great Britain than my mother.  Trace regions include Scandinavia and the Iberian Peninsula.  No Jewish is found; neither is any Middle Eastern or Asian.

Aunt Gina’s results are next.


Aunt Gina shows up more Irish than her sisters.  Western Europe, Great Britian, Scandinavia and Italy/Greece show up, similar to my mother.  Aunt Gina’s West Asian ancestry states Caucasus.  Looking at the graphic, we see that according to the map, it overlaps a large portion of my mother’s Middle Eastern area.

I was sharing my results with a class, and the obvious question arose:  If they are sisters, why are their results different?  I heard a chuckle, and one student whispered, “Maybe different dads.”  Before we disparage my grandmother, let me explain that DNA is a tricky entity.  It breaks down and recombines differently each time a baby is conceived.  You get half of your DNA from your father (that’s the Y) and half from your mother (that’s the X).  But, you have to remember that your parents are half of Grandpa and half of Grandma.  If you are only receiving half of your parent, you could (and will) receive different portions of that half.  My mother’s grandparents were Billingsley, Morris, Beghtol, and Phillips.  Mom might get more Beghtol DNA, whereas Aunt Di might get more Morris, and Aunt Gina more Phillips.  The DNA tests will show that they are all related, but they might not all have the same Beghtol genes in their blood (or saliva, as tested by AncestryDNA).  Furthermore, let’s say that the Middle Eastern comes from the Beghtol side, but Aunt Di got very little DNA from her grandfather’s Beghtol side and mostly from his mother’s side.  Mom will show that Middle Eastern Beghtol, while Aunt Diann will show none.

All of that is to point out that, IF one of the sisters has Middle Eastern or Asian in her DNA, they all have Middle Eastern and Asian in their ancestry–it just didn’t show up in the test.  But we also must remember, the overlapping geographical areas and migration of groups throughout history.

Recently, mom’s brother, Mike, was tested.  Mike

His ethnic percentages, although different amounts, certainly confirm an Italian or Greek ancestor somewhere in the family tree.  Which branch?  Uncle Mike showed a little more Spanish or Portuguese than Mom.  And then, matching Aunt Gina, he also shows West Asian, Caucasus, as a trace region.

Here is a five-generation chart of my mother’s family tree.


If you are 50% of each parent, then roughly you would be 25% of your grandparents, 12.5 of the greats, 6.25 of the great-greats, and you can figure out the math from there.  Robert Joseph Billingsley’s mother and father were both of English families, but his grandmother had one strange last name, Mewshaw–it’s origin is still a mystery.  Brown is Irish, Grewell is French.  Morris is likely Welsh, and the Atens were from Belgium.  Walker is direct from England.  Ackman is probably Dutch.  Beghtol is German, but the y-DNA goes back to the Middle East.  Collins is unknown.  Fry is supposedly German.  The Green line sounds English, and up that line are the Shavers–no idea, but that line is my best link to Native American.  The Phillips line is definitely Welsh.  Oh, look, a second Billingsley line, so one of the brothers or sisters could get a little more Billingsley than the rest.  Montooth is from Donegal, Ireland; Sloan is from Dublin.

Why do I not have any Native American in my ancestry?  It’s always been reported that the Beghtol side was part Indian.  Well, so far, DNA shows that there is no Native DNA in my family’s blood.  But recall that as the generations descend, the DNA is thinned out.  If I had a Native American ancestor past eight or nine generations, it almost surely would not show up unless it were my father’s y-DNA or my mother’s mitochondrial-DNA line.

This has been very exciting.  It is intriguing to wonder who those mystery ancestors might be.  It is also nice to have some confirmation of French ancestry.

In the next blog, I’ll share details of mom’s uncle’s and great-aunt’s ethnicity percentages, and how some first and second cousins matched up.



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