“Would you like to discover your genetic makeup?” a woman wearing rubber gloves asked me.
To be honest, the thought never crossed my mind. I’d seen too many shows where celebrities discovered they were related to Hitler and it really didn’t go down well. The idea that I might share a bloodline with Lassie was something I could easily avoid.
“It’s free,” the woman added.
In a heartbeat, I was sitting across from her while she prepped a syringe-like thing swathed in cotton. “Swish this around on the inside of your left cheek for 30 seconds,” she instructed. Afraid I might pick up some remnants from lunch (“you’re related to potato chips!”), I acted like I was a Nobel Prize winner attempting microscopic surgery. The 30 seconds seemed longer than it should have and after dispensing the “specimen” in a tube, I proceeded with the right side. In no time at all, the DNA was collected and ready to be whisked to some lab where experts (wearing HAZMAT suit, no doubt) were carefully determining who had Queen Elizabeth’s genes and who were born to chimney sweeps.
“Here’s your log-in information,” the DNA collector told me. “We’ll send you an email when it’s ready.”
To be honest, I was expecting something a little more formal – a wax-sealed dossier that including extensive family trees and photographs of my rich uncle Cecil showing off the family estate I would one day inherit. Although I’d probably get rid of the hunting dogs, I’d keep the property just so I had a place to stop between family visits in Gstaad and Belize.
To make sure I didn’t lose the password I had created ("MYPASSWORD"), I scribbled it on a piece of paper and put it in my wallet. Three weeks later, an email arrived: “To whom it may concern: Here is your login key. Please go to our website and type in your special password to review your results. Three tries and you will be locked out. Please note: Operators are unavailable to help you if you don’t have the accurate information.”
Nervously, I pulled out the paper I had saved to correctly input the password.
With each letter I could envision the celebrities who would, most likely, be on my list.
“Congratulations, Bruc! (They had forgotten the ‘e’) we have determined that you are 62.3 percent Scandinavian and 37.7 percent north and west European. We have found more than 200 DNA matches…and more to come!”
Brad Pitt, I knew, was lurking.
I clicked the next window and found my closest DNA match (2 percent!) was a 70-year-old woman in Norway. I basically come from two little chunks of Europe (“you are 100 percent European!” the website enthused) that you could walk to. (So much for relatives getting out much.) As I scrolled down the list of fifth cousins twice removed (what in the world does that mean?), I saw a lot of people named Lars, Sven, Tor and Betty. A couple of them lived in the United States but most of them hailed from what looked like the 20 miles of property in Scandinavia where the primary source of entertainment is looking up your DNA matches.
There wasn’t a single celebrity in the bunch. If any of these were in succession to be king of Norway they weren’t letting on.
Some had photos and ages attached to their match statistics. Most were gray and in their 70s.
While a couple had three names (a sure sign of a serial killer), the “probability” of relationship was so slim I figured I wouldn’t be called by any news outlet to comment on my family’s response to their horrible deeds.
As I combed each of the “estimated relationship” bios, I realized the woman who carefully placed my swabs in the hermetically sealed envelope could have been listed as a relative had she just sneezed at the right time.
I didn’t learn anything from the exercise but I realized it’s OK to keep my family circle to those I know and, occasionally fight with.
Besides, I didn’t want hunting dogs anyway.