By Eileen Douglas

Is there a gene for journalists? I wonder.

Lately, like more and more curious people --- and who is more curious, by definition, about life and the affairs of man, than a journalist --- I sent away for one of those DNA kits, swabbed the inside of my cheek and dutifully sent it off for a report. What I was thinking was, “Where did I come from?” Something many of us wonder. I meant what people. What place.

DNA tests for a woman can trace only the female line. So, as my grandmother came from Romania, I was thinking about my mother’s mother and her mother’s mother, and the long line of great and great-great and great-great-great grandmothers who came before her, back into murky time. How did they get to Romania? Who went into making them who they were? Who I am? In other words, I am thinking genealogy and geography. Nothing more.

Sure enough, before too long, back comes the answer to the mystery. And, as they say, everything is illuminated. There in the package is a map which draws a clear line of my ancestors and their journey. Out of Africa. Looping thousands of years ago into what is now the Middle East. Another mutation and another migration and “my people,” my ancestors circle around the far side of the Black Sea into Europe, making me what’s called an H, and finally, and I would say, amazingly, depositing me --- that is my forebearers – in what is now Romania.

That, as it turns out, is not the end of the story.

The DNA lab offers an option. You can add your name to the list of the others tested who share with you a common female ancestor. Some woman who may have lived 500 years ago. Hundreds of names crowd this list. All of them with roots, as it turns out, someplace in Europe. But along with that list, there is a further breakdown. A much smaller list. Lets call them “the people with whom you most closely share DNA.” Here the common female ancestor is much closer in time. On this small list, for me, there are two names, both men.

The first, David M., lives in Texas. We talk. His grandmother came to America from the Ukraine, just up the road, as the crow flies, from Romania. Then I ask him what he does for a living. David, it turns out, is a university professor. Of anthropology. The study of man. We laugh. Knowledge workers. Both of us. Hmmm.

In the genes, I wonder?

The other name on the list is Dmitri K. Dmitri lives in Russia. Clearly, his grandmother never left, like ours, to cross the ocean. But Romania, Ukraine, Russia. Somewhere in that territory once lived the mother of us all.

Dmitri’s name also comes with an email. I tried to find him, but so far have not. Not to worry, though. David M. tells me they had an exchange. And so I learn, in far off Russia, at a time when the Iron Curtain was in place in the years when the three of us were setting out on our path in life, choosing to do the work we do, carrying the genes handed down to us by those who made us what we are, at a time for him of restriction and no free press, what was Dmitri?

Dmitri is a journalist.

Eileen Douglas

Eileen Douglas is a broadcast journalist-turned-independent documentary filmmaker. Former 1010 WINS New York anchor/reporter and correspondent for ABC TV's "Lifetime Magazine," she is the author of "Rachel and the Upside Down Heart," and co-producer of the films "My Grandfather's House" and "Luboml: My Heart Remembers." She can be reached at http://www.douglas-steinman.com.




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