My father, Bob, took one of those mail-order genetics tests earlier this year to find that he was not strictly a pureblood.
Turns out he’s just 97 percent Irish; his 3 percent Swedish side is a complete mystery to him, which believe bothers him not in the least.
Most of my mother’s first cousins — she has 23 of them — had already taken the assessment and all had turned out 100 percent Italian. Why shouldn’t they be? They were all second-generation Americans who grew up in Italian enclaves in New Jersey.
But my mother’s results were different.
My mother, it turns out, is 31 percent Armenian, which I imagine came as quite a shock. In the early years of the 20th Century, Italians didn’t generally intermarry. My own parents’ union in the late 1960s was looked upon as a mixed marriage, because he was Irish (though just 97 percent) and she was Italian — or so she thought.
Through some genetic sleuthing and using knowledge gained from high school biology, we determined that one of my grandmother’s parents must have been full-on Armenian — either Kate on the Chiarella side, my Noni who died in 1997, or her husband, Joe, on the DeSantis side, who died many years before I was born.
My money’s on Joe, for what it’s worth. Not that it maters.
Armenians had been fleeing the Middle East for Europe since the early days of the Ottoman Empire in the 19th Century. Later, in 1915, the empire would slaughter 1.5 million Armenians in the Middle Eastern theater of World War I. A lot of Armenians landed in Italy in the years between 1860 and 1915. And some of them made it over here.
It’s ironic, though, that genetic tests like these would have greatly aided the Ottoman Empire in its pursuit to rid itself of the Armenian bloodline. Hitler could have used them to positively identify Jews in Germany in the early days of the Reich. White supremacists rely on them now to ascertain their degree of whiteness — often, as has been reported, with disappointing results.
I am interested in exploring my Armenian side. If I can find a proper restaurant.
But I know too much about eugenics, its weaponization and its role in shaping our society, from Jim Crow to redlining real estate deals — too much to be turned on by discovering specifically how Irish I am.
And I’m happy being a mutt.