A few weeks before the existential pandemic hit us, my oldest daughter purchased a DNA kit for me from a popular genealogical internet site. I sent in my specimen and a short time later the laboratory emailed a report with page upon page listing 1,341 relatives I never knew I had. The centerpiece, however, was an analysis of my ancestry composition. The study of my DNA found that I was 99% Ashkenazy Jewish.
That was no surprise. The real revelations were in the interstices of the remaining 1%. I am, so it stated, .4% Scandinavian — which meant, according to my report, that a distant grandparent 300 to 400 years removed was 100% Scandinavian, a surprise at first blush. I don’t, as the saying goes, “look Scandinavian.” On further reflection, however, I realized that back then Sweden (beginning with King Gustavus Adolphus, the namesake of the college), Poland, and Russia were constantly invading and re-invading one another. It was not too hard to understand how a Scandinavian during that time could have seeded the family tree. From there the report gets still more intriguing.
Delving beyond the more obvious Ashkenazy and less obvious Scandinavian heritage, the researchers went much further into the distant past. They found that my DNA is .2% Vietnamese and .1% Indian and another .1% Central Asian. What does this mean?
Hundreds of years before my Scandinavian forebear, a 100% Vietnamese ancestor grandparent entered the paternal or maternal Rothenberg family. Hundreds – probably thousands — of years before the unknown Vietnamese grandfather or grandmother were 100% Indian and 100% Central Asian ancestor grandparents. The upshot was that in ancient prehistoric times, my family was entirely Asian. A was amazed to learn that I do not have a single ancestor from the Middle East. We originated in the heart of Asia — not in Europe and not in ancient Israel either.
We and not the Nazis were the authentic Aryans, then. Too bad the revelation comes long after it would have done the most good.
It was family lore in my childhood household that everyone in the world surnamed Rothenberg had an ancestor way back when who resided in the remarkably preserved beautiful medieval walled town of Rothenberg on the Tauber in Bavaria. It would be nice if the family epic were true. The real story turns out to be much more complicated. Rothenberg is a long way from India and Vietnam. How, when, and why did we ever get anywhere near there in the first place? The genealogical report doesn’t tell us, but the trek must have had an astonishing history.
Micro as my family history is, it does exemplify a more universal principle.
At the same time that we have had all the advances in the DNA technology of genealogy, we’ve had a backlash of our politics into something quite the opposite – a descent into an anti-science nativism metastasizing the poisons of master race white nationalism, racism, anti-Semitism, hate crimes, the closing of borders to the ethnically incorrect, xenophobia, and other forms of invidious prejudice.
Bigotry has always been evil. Modern science shows that it is stupid as well. There is no such thing as racial purity. When the real Aryans are Jewish, what is the point of it all – not that there ever was any to begin with.
All of us are a combination of many peoples. More than that, the more we go back in our family trees the more obvious it becomes that we are all one people.
Minneapolis resident, attorney, and author Elliot C. Rothenberg was in the U.S. Department of State from 1968 to 1973, serving at the American Embassy in Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City), Vietnam, and the U.S. Mission to the United Nations. He represented St. Louis Park in the Minnesota House of Representatives from 1978 to 1982.
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