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DNA Testing and Genealogical Mysteries: Are we brave enough to ask, "Who are we?"

Last year I had my DNA tested through Ancestry.com. After a discount, it was only $89, so it was an easy decision. A few weeks after spitting into a tube and mailing it in, I found out that I am 60% Scandinavian, 33% Irish/Scottish, 3% Great British, 1% Western Europe, 1% Iberian, and less than 1% Finnish/Western Russian.

I was moderately surprised that my Scandinavian ancestry was not higher, and that my Irish and Scottish ancestry was 33%. My take on the results is that I am still comfortable in my smugness about being mostly Norwegian, I need to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day more than I used to, I still might be related to that French maiden my Viking ancestors brought back from Normandy, and I have not ruled out a relationship with the Queen of England!

After sharing my DNA results with my family, a mystery arose. My mother subsequently had her DNA tested and her results indicated that I received more of my Irish/Scottish ancestry from my father than from her. I had always thought that my mother was the source of virtually all my Irish/Scottish ancestry. Her maiden name is McDonald and my father has no obvious Irish or Scottish ancestors.

It was then my eldest brother Todd revealed to me a family secret, which my mother later confirmed. The identity of my great-grandfather on my father’s side is not certain. At one time, my father confided with my mother and then with Todd that my supposed great-grandfather, Manton Hostager, may not have been the real father of my grandfather, Rudy Hostager!  Simply put, my ancestry was in question.

What does this mean to me? Over many years, I have spent many hundreds of hours researching my ancestry, my Norwegian lineage and Norwegian genealogy in general. And now I find out I may not be a true Hostager after all, and that most of my Hostager genealogy research may have been for naught?

If it sounds like I am angry, I am not. I am very surprised though. Indeed, through my genealogy research I have determined that even if my great-grandfather was Manton Hostager, my surname should not even be Hostager, it should be Amle or maybe even Dalaker. But how do I know this?

There is a farm called Hostaker (my surname), along the Sognefjorden, the longest fjord in Norway. For many hundreds of years, this farm has provided a surname for my ancestors. However, long ago it was common for a man to take the name of the farm if he took up residence there and began farming. There were two farmsteads on the Hostaker site, so sometimes a man would marry a female Hostaker, move onto one of the farmsteads, and then adopt the Hostaker name.

Further DNA testing may solve the mystery of my grandfather’s lineage. This would involve contacting a relative on the appropriate branch of my family tree and asking them to also take a DNA test from Ancestry.com. After taking a DNA test, Ancestry.com provides a list of people related to you who have also taken the test. I was provided with a large list of people labeled as 5th cousin, 6th cousin, etc. After my mother submitted her DNA test, Ancestry.com correctly identified her as my mother. So, a DNA test from the right relative should provide the answer.

I will be at peace with either result. If Manton Hostager is my true great-grandfather, then my previous genealogical work is still valid and I can carry on my family history pursuits without changing a thing. If Manton is not my true great-grandfather, then I have a new and exciting genealogical mystery to solve, who is my real great-grandfather?!  Either way I am still primarily Norwegian, and I can still claim Norway as my main ancestral home!

So, what does this mean for you? If you have any fear of surprises, DNA testing may not be for you. If you are curious about your complete heritage and are willing to accept the results, then you should satisfy your curiosity and give the testing a shot.

This last Christmas I gave my wife a DNA test kit as a present to explore her ancestry. Her mother then explained that one of her ancestors was a single Schmiesing mother with an unknown father. My wife insists that regardless, she is still a Schmiesing. I agree. Even if we do not belong to a bloodline, we belong to the family that raised us, and the family that raised them, and so on. My “nameline” still traces back to that Hostaker farm in Norway, even if it turns out my bloodline does not!

-Dean Hostager