An old high school friend and his wife were in town. They’re good Mormons and had been chasing down family history in Baker County.
But the conversation ranged over old classmates and current national and world affairs as well. At one point, somewhat to my surprise, we agreed that the acceptance of gays in our culture has already happened with those under 40, and that it is moving towards wider acceptance as more and more people find that a relative or good friend is gay.
We wondered together whether, eventually, the same thing might happen with color. Whether the increasing incidence of “mixed” families might lead to a situation where most Americans have family of different flavors and hues. It’s happened in mine, with a brown son and brown grandchildren.
But that is due to adoption, you might say. My friend had an answer for that as well. How many times, I asked, does adoption, abandonment or some other family mix-up interrupt bloodlines?
Almost always was the answer. And Mormon elder Garret Lowe told a Rotary audience the same thing a few weeks ago.
The Mormons, who have the most sophisticated ancestry programs around and have been doing it for decades, know that men leave pregnant women for war and more selfish reasons, that uncles and aunts have raised nephews and nieces forever — in the Plateau Indian culture, as I understand it, there are no clear lines between cousin and brother and sister.
They know that there are interruptions of one kind and another in every family — if you go back far enough.
My sister decided to check on the all-Scandinavian family of our mother and the all-German family of our father, with a DNA check. What she found was the Scandinavian peppered strongly with British Isles and mildly with Mediterranean, and the German more East European (Slavic) than West European.
Makes sense, I thought, as the Norse traveled the world raiding and capturing, and the national boundaries in Europe — recent in any case, as Empires ruled the region for centuries before nations came into being — have floated for the decades.
DNA has brought up other families and institutions as well. I just read that Thomas Jefferson’s estate-museum at Monticello is opening a Sally Hemings Exhibit.
People could — and have — debated (and often denied) the colored heirs of the third president, but DNA kind of seals the debate, to the extent that the Daughters of the American Revolution must now admit that one of the founders in fact has African-American heirs.
In the Northwest, DNA testing specifically gave the lie to some anthropologists’ claims that the remains of Kennewick Man, found along the Columbia River in 1996, showed European or “Caucasoid” features.
Indians of the region claimed the 8,500 year-old man, who they called “The Ancient One,” as an ancestor and wanted him buried with ceremony. Scientists wanted further study, and after years of litigation, won the right to further study the remains.
In the end, the Indians were right. According to Eske Willerslev, a geneticist at the University of Copenhagen who is the acknowledged world leader in tracing ancient DNA: “It’s very clear that Kennewick Man is most closely related to contemporary Native Americans.”
Many Indians had been reluctant to provide DNA evidence — they’ve been burned by “scientific study” before — but in the end, Willerslev invited tribal members to Copenhagen, explained his work and took more samples. A friend enrolled at Colville tells me he has a letter saying he is related to the Ancient One.
But the ultimate DNA gatherer of most of us might just be the Neanderthal. According to recent studies, “People of European, Asian and Australasian origin all have at least some Neanderthal DNA, but not people of purely African descent. That’s because Neanderthals arose in Europe after pre-humans left the African continent and apparently never made their way back south.”
From the Christian religious right, where Adam and Eve are responsible for us all, to the most liberal scientific theorists, there is broad consensus of common origins and ancestry.
And purveyors of white or any other kind of supremacy are a diminishing minority. But their cries become shriller as modern interracial marriages increase and science reaches back in time.
What if DNA testing were required along with childhood vaccinations? Can we get to a world where gender, color and understanding unify rather than divide us?
Columnist Rich Wandschneider lives in Joseph.