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Private Eye | Ye’s My Brother: No hobbies nor DNA for me

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I envy people with lifetime hobbies. I don’t mock scrapbookers, I stand in awe of them. Coin collectors? Anyone who bends over to pick a penny off the sidewalk has my respect. I used to collect bottles. Way back when Max Davis got me into it and we used to dig for bottles all over Bingham Canyon. Found some really valuable ones, too. I remember digging for bottles with Max once up in Park City at an old historic dump. Now it’s an Albertsons.

I tried collecting pennies and stamps. No go. I tied fishing flies, learning at age 14 from one of Utah’s masters, Frank Swain. I still have the rooster hackles he gave me back in 1968, so that tells you I haven’t tied flies in awhile. I’ve studied the Vietnam War. I’ve collected music. I took up the guitar and after teaching myself how to play and write music, helped co-found the Utah Songwriters Association and, for one year, paid my dues to the Nashville Songwriters of America. After four score of songs, including a few that were pretty good, I just quit.

I dived into Chinese cooking for a few years. My woks are dusty now and the once-red spicy sauces in my fridge have taken on the color of an Egyptian mummy. Then it was Dutch oven cooking. I’m more of a campfire cook anymore. Mentioning the following will only invite scorn and derision among people whose ultra-lame hobby it is to make anonymous posts on newspaper Websites, but it was my destiny to declare—and then abandon as a hobby—Greek cooking. Despite that, I still have a collection of more than 100 Greek cookbooks. Haven’t added any lately, though, despite that one of the best meals I ever had was spanakopita cooked in a Dutch oven.

Some relatives have taken on the dual definitive Utah hobbies of scrapbooking and genealogy. Once somebody does all the genealogy work and dutifully submits it to a database or a charming family history book with plastic page covers and purple yarn adornments, what’s left for the next person to do except read the damned thing? Oh, and tell tales: “Yep, ole Great-Great-Granddad was a good buddy of Brother Brigham (true), and his very cousins were right there with Butch and Sundance, yessir (true). And his folks come outta the middle South and North Carolina, and we have kin who cut through Kentucky with Daniel Boone (a family legend but probably false).

“We all come over on the ship right after the Mayflower (well, pretty close), fought in all the wars ever since (true), and if you lookie real close here, you can see we even came from the Queen of England herself (everyone claims royalty in their lineage eventually). Cousin Mary Ellen can show we go right back to the very beginning with Adam and Eve.”

That’s my Utah grandmother Caldwell’s side. My other three grandparents were born in Crete and Greece. Their genealogy went something like this: “I don’t know my exact birthday. I lied about my age at Ellis Island to get into the United States. The Turks burned all the records. I haven’t seen my family in 70 years, and they never told me anything. Hey, are you cooking squid?”

So, looking for something new to do—again—I purchased a couple of DNA test kits from Family Tree DNA figuring it would be easy as pronouncing Single Nucleotide Polymorphism (SNP). I picked Family Tree DNA because it not only traces mtDNA (the one the ladies use mostly), but it also tests for Y-Chromosome DNA, the first choice of all males ever born. I sent back my mouth swab that would yield information on all the males I’m descended from on my dad’s Greek Megara side. My sister did another one, which traced all the females we are descended from on my mom’s Utah mother side.

Before this gets on, I must say upfront: Studying DNA is like reading Goethe in a room without lights. Maybe one of the other DNA testing groups produce easier to understand materials. Somehow I came to know I belong to the R1a1 Haplogroup with positive SNP testing for M173, M198 and M207. I think that means I’m descended from a man who lived 30,000 years ago near the Caspian Sea—a mere 25,000 years before the Earth was created, according to my local genealogist cousins.

We R1a1’s can be found everywhere from Siberia to India to Scandinavia (we were the Vikings!!) and to the British Isles. I’ve always liked eating sarma, and now I know why: R1a1 dominates the Slavic lands. Some of us made it to Greece, where it looks like more than 12 percent of the population is of the R1a1 Haplogroup, but thanks to those firebreathing Turks, we don’t know when we got there.

My sister’s female trace tested into Haplogroup K. There are about 3 million Ks in the world, so we have lots of new cousins including more than 30 percent of the world’s Ashkenazi Jews—plus Katie Couric and Stephen Colbert. Besides quaint royalty, it’s equally likely we all have a demon in our past—heck, even my family’s primitive genealogy books seem to show my Utah grandmother has a pretty close tie to John Caldwell Calhoun, one of the gnarliest racists this country has ever known.

That doesn’t sit well with me. I could be related to all kinds of pond scum, former and past, and that’s a real downside of a DNA search. I want the Greek Homer in my blood, not Homer Simpson. I could use some help here: If you understand these DNA Haplogroups, fill me in. E-mail john@slweekly.com. Not only am I a bad hobbyist, I’m a lazy one.

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