The surprising discoveries in my ancestry DNA results

Dec 11, 2023
Join our Starts at 60 blogger as he embarks on a journey of self-discovery and unravels the mysteries hidden in his genes. Source: Getty Images.

My Ancestry DNA results came in this week.

Six weeks ago, I paid a fee of $135, spat some saliva into a tiny plastic tube, and sent it off to Ancestry’s testing labs in Liverpool, England.

Over the next few weeks, Ancestry emailed me regularly to advise that my DNA sample was working its way through its laboratory system. Last Tuesday my email pinged and there were the results. I’m 49 per cent Irish; 30 per cent from England and Northwestern Europe; 8 per cent from Sweden and Denmark; 6 per cent Welsh; 4 per cent Scottish and 3 per cent German. Everything now makes sense.

I love Kilkenny beer. Adore The Pogues. And there’s no better meal on a cold winter’s night than Irish stew, soda bread, and colcannon. Before the test, I knew there was more than a dash of Irish in my DNA. My mum’s maiden name was Timbs, and her mother’s maiden name was Kelly. That says it all really. And I also knew, through some previous Ancestry searching, that my father’s family had lived in Cambridgeshire in the UK in the 1850s.

But Sweden and Denmark? I’d never met a relative with Swedish roots. Perhaps that part of my DNA explains why I once owned a Volvo, why I’m a whiz at putting IKEA furniture together, and why ABBA has been part of the soundtrack of my life since Molly Meldrum played Mamma Mia on Countdown back in 1975. Speaking of relatives, the DNA test also advised me that I have more than 1000 first, second, third, and fourth cousins (yes, we are Catholic) – and it listed all their names on the Ancestry website. Some family names, I recognised, but most were people I’d never heard of. Crisp is not all that common a name. When I travelled, back in the day when there were phone books in hotel rooms, I’d always check the local directory to see if there were many Crisps living in the town. The most I ever found was in Burnie in Tasmania. In 1984 there were 21 Crisps listed in the phone book.

I did have a surprise meeting with a Crisp family in 2019. I was attending a UK Nomads Gold Cup match at The Belfry Golf Club & Resort, near Birmingham. When I looked at the list of attendees, I noticed a Kelvin Crisp amongst the 80-odd names of participants. When I walked into the room for the first function, I wondered if it would be possible to pick Kelvin Crisp out of the crowd. I scanned the room a few times and there he was.

I noticed him at the bar, a place you will often find my family members. He looked just like my brother. Same short legs, same sprouting eyebrows, same sparse hairline, and – just like my brother – he looked like he had swallowed a watermelon seed and it had started growing, bigger and bigger, in his tummy. I walked up to him and said: You must be Kelvin. We chatted for a while and he told me that he’d grown up in South Africa, but that his family – as far back as he could trace – was from Soham in East Cambridgeshire. What a coincidence. So was mine.

It turns out we shared the same great, great-great-grandfather. A chap by the name of William Henry Crisp. No wonder he looked like family. He was. So far, at least 33 million people around the world have taken some form of DNA test. Ancestry DNA, possibly the best known of the DNA testers, says that some 22 million people have taken their test, which gives it a massive database. Other companies, with good reputations who test DNA, include 23andME and My Heritage.

These tests, while estimating your geographic origins and ancestral roots, also allow you to discover past and contemporary relatives. The key word in this sentence is Estimating. It is not 100 per cent accurate, but it is pretty good. The results you receive are easy to follow and are presented clearly with some historical context. You definitely don’t need a science degree to take the test or follow the results. Ancestry DNA doesn’t use a lot of jargon, the language is simple and easy to digest. If your plan is to build a detailed family tree, the Ancestry DNA tests provide links to people as distant as 6th cousins.

I met a man on a Holland America Cruise in Europe who had planned his travel itinerary based on the results of his DNA test. He was visiting the places, histories, and cultures that shaped who he was. He told me he wanted to see if he had an innate understanding of certain cultures because he had historical links to them. Interesting concept. Not sure what I’ll do with my results, but I will visit County Clare in Ireland the next time I head to Europe.

That’s the part of Ireland my ancestors inhabited. Famous for its Wild Atlantic Way and Hidden Heartlands, County Clare boasts towering cliffs and sandstone landscapes.


Before going to India last week I grabbed $200 worth of Rupees. Because it was a work trip I didn’t spend any of my money. When I went back to the same money exchange place, I got $113.80 for my Rupees. What a rip off.

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