I have always considered myself a mutt.

But it turns out I have quite the pedigree.

For Christmas this year, our three oldest decided to give us a DNA test to solve the mystery of our family tree. I think the gift was as much for them as it was to show their love for their parents.

I must admit, I was a bit apprehensive when I first tore into the festive paper only to reveal the tiny box from 23andMe.

"What if those people in the black helicopter that hovers over our house get their hands on this valuable information?" I asked.

As the kids rolled their collective eyes, my mind wandered further.

"What if we find out a family member is a serial killer?" I pondered. "Worse yet, what if we are related to a Michigan fan?"

I didn't want to tell them, but a part of me has always been curious where my ancestors hailed from.

My wife, Jennifer — whose relatives must be descendants of Sherlock Holmes, as they had previously traced their roots the old-fashioned way through genealogical records — seemed to have a pretty good idea of the branches of their particular family tree, or so they thought.

As for my family, we were blissfully unaware of our origins.

There were some rumblings that so-and-so (no one remembers the name) might have been a court jester or beheaded or banished by a king, and there was a great-great-great-great-whatever who might have been from Germany, or at least rode an ox through Germany once.

Growing up, I was always a bit jealous of my friends who proudly embraced and owned holidays like St. Patrick's Day or Columbus Day, or held Oktoberfest parties where they ate Bavarian pretzels with reckless abandon.

About the only thing my family celebrated with zeal was Black Friday, which ironically I believe is when the kids purchased our DNA kits.

The tests are pretty simple, although it did take some effort to muster enough saliva to fill the test tube, and also refrain from eating or drinking during the prescribed time beforehand.

After sealing the test tube, you register online and simply place the kit in the mailbox and wait for the results.

I have to admit my knowledge of just how the testing works is pretty much limited to the DNA cartoon guy in the movie "Jurassic Park" who bounces around the screen and tells how the cute dinosaurs were re-created.

There is a nifty explanation included in the kit and also online, but it is hard to compete for my attention when Chevy Chase is playing on the TV across the room, falling off the roof while putting up Christmas lights.

They did send me email updates on the progress of my saliva, er DNA, as it made its way through the 23andMe lab. It took about three weeks for the results to arrive.

Turns out I am pretty boring and pretty specific in my lineage.

I am 99.9 percent European.

And more specifically, British and Irish (59.1 percent) along with 28.2 percent United Kingdom, Ireland, French and German and broadly Northwestern European, and percentage points of broadly European mixed in for good measure.

The most exotic I get is the 2.2 percent of Scandinavian blood I must have inherited via a brief "holiday" one of my ancestors took eons ago.

The test revealed on my mother's side that my DNA can be traced back to Marie Antoinette, so maybe we weren't too far off in that whole "someone losing their head" legend. As for my father's DNA, its origin included Niall of the Nine Hostages, who aside from having a really cool name, was an Irish king.

My test results did take an unexpected turn when the lab found that I have 57 percent more Neanderthal variants in my DNA than the typical 23andMe customer. The disclosure elicited a cackle from my wife and a comment to the effect that she "wasn't surprised."

Before my knuckles could hit the ground, I read that my Neanderthal ancestry accounts for less than 4 percent of my overall DNA.

Phew. I think.

Before that could sink into my apparently genetically thick skull, it was time to discover the results for Jennifer, who would often talk about her proud Irish roots, typically on a specific day in March.

Turns out, like me, she's fairly boring, too. Her results came in at 99.3 percent European. She is, in fact, mostly British and Irish, at 49.4 percent, but also French and German at 28.8 percent.

Jennifer did find out that she has minuscule portions of her DNA that are both Eastern and Western Asian, North African and even Native American.

The biggest surprise came last when Jennifer's results showed that her Neanderthal variants were even higher than mine and some 65 percent of 23andMe customers tested thus far.

Knowing how volatile we Neanderthals can be, I stifled my laughter and kept my mouth shut. I just gave her a loving gaze and let out a loud grunt.

The whole exercise was good for a laugh and the kids enjoyed learning a bit about their parents' ancestry — aside from the whole Neanderthal thing — and it helps explain my love of fish and chips and old Benny Hill episodes.

I am now looking forward to our next family gathering when I plan to whip up tea and crumpets, bangers and mash, mastodon meatballs and some primordial soup.

 

Craig Webb, who is now looking for green pants to wear on St. Patrick's Day, can be reached at cwebb@thebeaconjournal.com.