Filling Gaps in Family History by Sydni Tanner

     From the first paper I was fairly informed from my family about my family history and culture. From what they told me I am Jewish, Muslim and European. Once I took the Ancestry.com DNA test I found that this was true, but I got a more in depth look into my DNA that even took my family by surprise a bit.

The results showed that I am European Jewish, West European and West Asian, primarily. The West Asian was categorized as Caucasus ethnicity, which is where my Persian side is from since the map showed that area as Iran. The website showed that the West European in my DNA was primarily located in Belgium, France, Netherlands, Switzerland, Luxembourg and Liechtenstein, which relates back to the family history I was already informed about. My DNA showed that I am Scandinavian and Irish, which was no surprise to me.

The DNA that surprised me was that I am apparently Italian and Greek, which I had no idea about and is a pretty significant percentage in my DNA. Another part of my DNA that was a surprise was the smaller percentage of South Asian in me that I wasn’t even aware of. The map showed me that part of my DNA is primarily located in India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. However, it would make sense for me to have some DNA from Pakistan since I am Muslim. The smallest percentages in my DNA showed Great Britain, Iberian Peninsula and East European. Iberian Peninsula was a bit of a shock because even though it is a small part of my DNA it showed up to be Spain and Portugal. My great grandmother had claimed that we had family from Spain, so this test helped verify that.

Learning what makes up my DNA helped fill in some holes. For example, my grandfather on my mom’s side who is Persian is very tall, which wasn’t the typical height of the men they saw in Iran. This made everyone in my family have their assumptions of my grandfather being part Russian. As my DNA results show, the East European part of me showed up as primarily Russian. In the first paper, I had discussed a family story that had been passed down from my mom’s side about a priest in the family from Luxembourg who used to hide British fighters. Unfortunately, they were all rounded up and sent to concentration camps during World War Two. During World War II I had family from my dad and mom’s side that were in the concentration camps. It’s inspiring to know that even though I had so much family in concentration camps some obviously made it out to pass down their different ethnicities. I completed the tree as far as I could of my family tree on Ancestry.com.

The website gave me further information that filled a hole from our family history. For example, this website helped with a hole from the past of how my great-great grandfather from my mom’s side, Nicholas Berchem, was the Secretary Treasurer of Butte, Montana. My family didn’t have all of the details about his life. Another hole I was able to fill was about my great-grandfather from my mom’s side, Julius Berchem. My family never had all of the specifics of his second marriage, but Ancestry.com showed his marriage certificates and how he actually married his second wife in Germany. My family also has documents and pictures of their own that have been passed down.

I have a picture from The Saturday Evening Post of my great grandfather from my dad’s side of the family. My great grandfather was involved in moving silver from New York to Fort Knox, Tennessee. In the picture my great-great grandfather is the one holding the papers. I also have a document of my great-great grandfather on my dad’s side passenger record. This passenger record is from the American Family Immigration History Center at Ellis Island. In 1914, he came from Stanislaw, Austria to New York, which is where my grandfather was born and raised. This document gave me some insight to exactly where my dad’s side of the family had originated from and why I have so much family in New York today. The passenger record also has his ethnicity on it, which states “Austria, Hebrew.” Along with the documents and pictures, various traditions and religious practices have been passed down from previous generations.

The religious practices that my family still takes on today are mostly in the forms of the different holidays we celebrate. For example, we celebrate Persian New Year, Passover, Hanukkah, and Christmas, which is in itself a vast mix of cultures. A spiritual practice that was passed down was a Muslim prayer my mom taught me that I would recite before bed every night. I was supposed to repeat this prayer five times and the prayer itself was called Paj Tan Ghulam Hoon. This prayer was supposed to give me good luck and help me in times when I was scared. My sisters and I also carry a tradition of having Persian names. For instance, my middle name is Farzaneh, which is in Farsi and translates to wisdom. My mom and dad’s last names also reflect their different ethnicities. My mom’s last name Towfighi, which means to be successful and my dad’s last name Tanner, which was shortened from Tannenbaum. Both of those last names are traditional and have been passed down from previous generations. Now that I have learned more about my DNA, I think I should take this opportunity to celebrate holidays or any other religious practices that come from the DNA I wasn’t even aware of.

These insights help me as a journalist covering a diverse community because my heritage itself is pretty diverse. I am knowledgeable about different cultures and have even first-hand experienced various religious practices. I also have other family members and close friends from a variety of different cultures and that I don’t share. My close friends have included me in their traditions of their religion and have made me more knowledgeable. Some examples are the baptisms I have witnessed, confirmations, Chinese New Year celebrations and traditional weddings I have attended. One in particular was a traditional Vietnamese wedding that was hosted in a house where there were religious offerings to the ancestors and traditional rituals. Some of these traditions transcend religious beliefs that are similar with other cultures. For example, my parents had a Jewish wedding and a Muslim wedding. Both of these weddings shared similar symbolic rituals like a canopy that was used to symbolize the start of a family. This example shows how connected cultures are to one another, even when they are seen as polar opposite races.

Through this experience, journalists could uncover more about the cultures and some of the similarities they share with one another. By doing this experiment I found out more about myself than I was aware of and I think finding out that newfound information would be vital to the news media. The news media would gain a greater sense of understanding how different races might be all over the map, but how they may share religious preferences. By doing this experiment, the news media would see how different communities are a melting pot of cultures and ethnicities coming together. This would be beneficial for them by not focusing on someone’s race and any radical groups that are out there that happen to share the same race. This will cause the news media to stop grouping people from the same race and instead have to focus on the characteristics of that particular person. The news media will have to stop stereotyping, and categorizing different races and the threats they might inflict on the public. They will finally realize that we are all related to each other in one way or another.

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