I write this essay because 20 years from now I believe that everyone will be
given a DNA test at birth. I myself would never force anyone to take such a test
unless it meant the difference between innocence and guilt in a court of law. Yet, DNA
is something that cannot be denied. What I discovered in my personal journey is
undeniable. It is indeed the truth, and I gained a great deal of satisfaction
knowing that my mother did tell the truth herself when she told me of the relatives
we had to the north.
Towards the end of 2021, at the age of 70 years, I took a DNA test to see what my mother was talking about when she said we had relatives to the north. It is similar to what Senator Elizabeth Warren went through when people questioned her mother concerning her ancestry in Oklahoma.
I wasn't really looking for any particular heritage, but I always wondered what the subject of her comments was. She passed away in 2016 at the age of 95 years, and she had never been very specific about those relatives to the north.
Upon receiving the results of the DNA test from "MyHeritage," I was quietly surprised.
Although I was born in Italy in 1951 and immigrated to America in 1953, I had always thought I was about 90% Italian. I knew that everyone had had their hands on Italy because it was the prize of the Mediterranean, so I knew there would be some mix in the genes, but I found out that there was more to it than what I had imagined.
It turns out I am only 66.1% pure Italian, and 5.7% southern Italian and Greek. That is 71.8% Italian, which is far below what I expected. As a matter of fact, most of the relatives that I had been aware of were born in the same town, and they also died in the same town. Montenero Val Cocchiara, Italy, has a current population of about 524 people. It has always been a small Italian town which relied on the local agriculture for most of its success.
Yet, the only relatives I had to the north were the Ashkenazi Jews, which make up 3.8% of what I am genetically. This is in addition to 15.1% West Asian which includes Mizrahi Jews, and 9.3% North African which includes Sephardic Jews and Ethiopian Jews.
According to the charts that "MyHeritage" issues, the additional Jewish connections are each less than 1% so it looks as if I am about 4% Jewish, with 3.8% Ashkenazi the main part. In other words, the significant portion is Ashkenazi, although a good portion of Italy is also Sephardic in ethnicity. The Sephardic Jews in Italy were those who primarily migrated from Spain after the Inquisition and settled into the Italian peninsula. The Ashkenazi were of a different variety inhabiting northern Europe.
The point is that my mother was telling the truth. We did have relatives to the north, and the only relatives were the Ashkenazi Jews who migrated to Italy and then converted to Catholicism. Many Italians marry Polish people, so the Jews could have been from Poland, but there is also a chance that they came from France, Germany, or Lithuania. There is also a possibility of Denmark because of the Italian version of a description of Danish people embedded into one of the surnames on my family tree. Whatever the case, they were ethnic Ashkenazi Jews from the north.
I myself left the Catholic Church in the 1970s, so the story has become quite interesting to me, and I have been doing the research on it. Recently my first cousin found out that she has no Jewish DNA above 1%, so it is obviously my mother, and not my father, that produces significant Jewish DNA. Less than 1% may be reality, but insignificant at this point.
I have even developed a theory about how this all happened, because there are certain ancestors I have which seem to point me in a particular direction. Although they are all dead, I am fairly certain I know which branch led to me from the Ashkenazi of the north, and there is a connection to the Sephardic that also seems to be there as well. The family tree has become much clearer now.
Over time, the Jewish portion gets diluted, since each parent gives about 50% of the genes to the offspring. Since my town of birth is so heavily Italian and Catholic, a Jewish woman most likely married an Italian Catholic man and converted. It could have been the other way around, but it is more likely that a Jewish woman converted than for a Jewish man to convert.
I know my mother was telling me the truth about having relatives to the north, although she never mentioned they were Jewish. She had told me a few times that someone had asked her if she was Jewish, probably because of the way she looked and spoke. She had always told me her answer was, "Why you ask?"
Indeed, I wondered myself why they would ask, but I do know that looks mean something to many people. I also know that a mother would rarely lie about something of this nature. Perhaps Senator Warren's mother was really telling the truth as well, because the person in question did not have to be 100% Native American, just like I myself am now really only 66.1% pure Italian. Even if that person was the only Native American in her family tree, thus resulting in a low DNA score, it would still be reality.
The total percentages of the DNA report for ethnicity are all rounded off, so the major portions are sectioned off, and then the remaining portions are listed as less than 1%. Those less than 1% would be, as I said, insignificant, but still are there in reality.
West Asian 15.1%
North African 9.3%
Greek & South Italian 5.7%
Ashkenazi Jewish 3.8%
Those less than 1% include Sephardic Jews, Mizrahi Jews, and Ethiopian Jews.
As far as Native American genes from North America, there are absolutely none in my chart, so I can conclude that is why it is not even mentioned. I do know, however, that there is a Sephardic Jewish connection, which makes sense from what I have learned, but since it is less than 1% it means that there was a time when it was diluted from the original migration into Italy from Spain.
Many Sephardic Jews who migrated to Italy from Spain were secular Jews, escaping the Inquisition, not wanting to believe in anything. They were welcomed in Italy, and they settled. Many of them took the names of towns in gratitude.
At my age, all of this is good to know, because when I came to America as a young boy in 1953, I was different from even my own relatives who had been born here. The Presogna family has been in America since the turn of the 20th Century. My father's visa to come here to be with his brothers and sisters who had already immigrated was canceled by the Italians before World War II. That is why I was born in Italy instead of being born in the USA like my cousins.
Nevertheless, being different is what certain people experience, whether they are Italian immigrants or Jewish immigrants. It was most gratifying to know, after this DNA test, that my mother was indeed telling me that there was something to discover in our past, and it was all true.
I left the Catholic Church in the early 1970s. The Gospel of John had a lot to do with it, although that would take a little bit of explaining.
I became a Buddhist in 1979. I call myself a Christian-Buddhist now. I used to say I was Bible and Buddha, but people would think I was Jewish, so I started saying Christian Buddhist.
Since I have found out that I am 4% Jewish, this complicates my answer somewhat.
To explain that, I would like to say, "My way of life is Buddhism, and I like the teachings of Christ." The Buddha and Jesus Christ would have been good friends.
In other words, although I do not think that Christ is the savior of this planet, I kind of like the rules he tried to establish to eliminate hate from the land. The Bible, Old and New Testaments together, represents a historical document for me which can indeed be corroborated in many instances, not actually a religious one.
Buddha never denied the existence of a God, which in those days was called Brahma, who was referred to as the Almighty.
The people who say Buddha denied God are wrong. He denied Creation, not the existence of some God. Buddha said you cannot get something from nothing. Yet, he never denied that there could be a God, or what might be the biggest bear in the woods, the so called Almighty.
Buddha never called himself God either, which is another mistake that many people make. Buddha was the great teacher, not the Almighty. It amazes me how many misconceptions there are about the Buddha. He was married with children as well, and he never said that you should eliminate sex from your life. What he said was to understand your desires and not let them control you.
So, this is basically the evolution of my religious character spelled out in synopsis.
The reality is that the discipline of life preached by the Buddha is fine regardless of your personal religious beliefs, or your ethnicity. Buddha taught people how to live, not necessarily what to believe.
END OF ARTICLE
Mr. J.V. Presogna is a published writer, composer and artist with a strong background in science and mathematics. He is the author of "The Truth About Eden," his first novel, and numerous other works, including "Starlight," about wave-particle duality for the photon, as well as other publications.