I remember 16 years ago when I did a genealogy tree for a project in my first year of Architecture school. But, this was no elementary genealogy tree that would end with my parents and grandparents. It was big. I interviewed every family member I could get in contact with to dig deeper into the family’s history, gossips (of course), and descendants.
Even though I managed to add 366 family members into that tree before exhausting my family’s oral history, I only reached as far back as my great-great grandparents. I wanted more.
I wanted to reach back to the “mythical” Puertorrican ancestry we learn when we are in elementary school. I remember several of my social studies teachers saying how Puertorricans are a mix of Spanish, Africans, and Tainos (local natives). I wanted to get there.
Unfortunately for me, my tree didn’t reach as far back to add that first African member and much less that first Taino – which has been extinct for centuries now. And, of course, my family is not all from Puerto Rico. Half of it is from the Dominican Republic, and most of them came from Spain a few generations ago.
After that college assignment, I let my family history rest and didn’t think much of it until maybe three or four years ago when I traveled through Spain and passed through the village of Figueres. Automatically, I assumed this was the place where my father’s surname originated. Since it was just a train stop on my way to Barcelona, I didn’t have time to get off and walk around the town I assumed saw many of my ancestors on my father’s side.
I promised myself I would someday visit.
Enter 23andMe and my DNA
Recently, 23andMe offered me a free kit to take a DNA test to see what else I could learn about my ancestry. Would it match what I learned back in college? Would it show me even more family history, other potential places of heritage, or more?
I gave it a try… why not? I received the kit by mail, spat (like crazy) on the test tube, and sent it back in the same box it came. In about three weeks I got my results online, and they were both expected and surprising at the same time.
On one side, my DNA showed a substantial European ancestry with a total of 62.6%. About 27.6% of it was Iberian (meaning Spain and Portugal). To me, this was expected as I knew already that I had Spanish heritage from both sides of my family. At least, as far as I got on my family tree back in 2001, I learned that I had family coming from the Canary Islands and Cataluña, both in Spain. In a way, 23andMe’s generation timeline matched my family’s oral history timeline (or at least, the bits that still survive).
What surprised me was the 8.4% Northwest European; meaning British, Irish, Scandinavian, and such. But, considering that my great-great grandmother had a Dutch surname (Hoogluiter), this shouldn’t have been much of a surprise.
Then, the second most prominent region was West Africa, with 19.9%. Another thing I expected to see, considering our racial blend in Puerto Rico is based on the Spanish, African Slaves, and Native Tainos (which came with a 7.7% in the broad Native American category).
Given my facial features (and based on how a lot of people perceive me) I expected to have a slightly higher Middle Eastern and Jewish percentage. It only came to a 2.9%. I also expected more based on the fact that I have a great-grandmother with a Jewish surname (Cohen), so I need to dig into that family history.
In addition to the ancestry, 23andMe also tells you about your Neanderthal ancestry and how many Neanderthal variants you have. Apparently, I have 230 variants, which is less than 92% of 23andMe customers. I’m not sure what to make out of this, yet, but all I can say is; me no talk like ape.
23andMe can also tell you about your Genetic Health Risk, but I’m still waiting for those results. There are also Maternal and Paternal Haplogroups, DNA Family search, and more, that you could get via your DNA test.
Ancestry Travel Back to Spain
As in most Latino cultures, in Puerto Rico we keep both father and mother’s surnames in our name; hence, my full name is Norberto Figueroa Quezada (father’s surname first). Most Spanish surnames come from the village where they originated, so in my case, my family “originated” in the village of Figueroa in A Coruña, Spain (not Figueres, as I thought before), and the village of Quesada in Alicante, Spain.
You might have noticed that my Quezada is with “z” and not with “s.” Most of my family has Quesada, and it’s only my grandfather, mother (and her siblings), and me and my sisters who have Quezada. This was a tactic my great-grandmother used (changing one letter in her surname) to avoid getting targeted by a dictatorship that plagued the Dominican Republic in the 1940’s, and to be able to escape the country to save her family. It’s a longer story, but that can go in another post.
I never considered visiting Figueroa or Quesada in Spain, but considering these are the most likely origin places of my family (surname-wise), I’m now strongly considering visiting them on a future trip to Spain. I already love Spain as a destination, so when I visit these villages, it could gain a new meaning for me.
Could I find some long lost relative there?
So, what about you? Do you know where you come from? Have you been there?
Here’s your chance! 23andMe is having a sweepstake running until August 3rd where you could win a trip valued up to $20,000 to trace your DNA lineage around the world. Click here to know more about your DNA and participate. No purchase necessary. Visit page for Rules.