a part of history

helsinki anna
Anna at Linnanmäki in Helsinki on her fifth birthday, 2012

FOR SOME TIME NOW, our mornings have begun with the same question: “Did my results come yet?”

I check my email again and answer: “No, they haven’t. We have to wait a bit longer.”

“How long?”

“I don’t know. The system shows that they are analyzing your sample and preparing your reports. Maybe this week they’ll be ready.”

“You said that last week!”

“I am sure they will come soon.”

“But I have already waited for so long! What do you think, am I more Finnish than Marta?” asks my daughter Anna.

Marta is her sister, who is almost 15. I bought both daughters DNA tests at a good price. The process is simple: the person spits in a vial and sends it via mail to the laboratory. Numbers are printed on the vial that are entered into the system. This makes the process more or less anonymous. In the lab, they analyze your DNA and compare it to reference samples from different populations. In this way, they can determine how much of your genome is Finnish.

This is very interesting for people these days, especially for children who want to know their origins. Numerous companies sell tests in Estonia, including 23andMe, AncestryDNA, Family Tree DNA, Insitome, and others. Some of them also provide information about your health, including data about your genetic risk for certain cancers or neurological diseases. Since our children are so young, they haven’t expressed interest in their health data, only in their ancestry. They want to know more about their identity, for example, what soccer/football team to support. If they are 6 percent Swedish, then why not support the Swedish team?

I decided to use 23andMe this time because my mother and my children’s mother have both taken the test. At last, the long-awaited results arrived for Marta. She found out that 31 percent of her DNA comes from my mother, her grandmother, while she got 19 percent from my father. Inheritance is indeed arbitrary.

Since we have an international family, I wondered if this would be at all interesting for Estonians. They already know that they are “Estonians,” so why should they waste their money on a test that would only confirm it? But when my children’s mother’s test came back, someone who should be a “pure Estonian,” it said that she was only half Estonian.

A quarter of her ancestry was actually Finnish.

I had read that after the Great Northern War, there were so few Estonians in Virumaa that many Finns moved there to work. I know that my daughter’s mother’s grandfather was from somewhere near there. Maybe that’s why she has so much Finnish blood? Or is every Estonian a bit Finnish? Who knows. For my daughters, this was very interesting. Though their mother was a quarter Finnish, it showed that Marta was 8 percent Finnish.

Now Marta’s sister Anna can’t wait to find out how much Finnish ancestry she has.

“I think you have a bit more,” I told her.


“Because when we were in Helsinki, I noticed you looked like the other Finnish girls.”

“Aha. But have my results come yet?”

“Let me check. No, they haven’t come yet. But maybe tomorrow.”

I don’t know why this is so interesting for our kids, but maybe because family trees are so complicated and connected to history. For children, it’s very hard to understand why something happened in history and how that can impact our identities to this day. But when you can show them a chart that shows them that they are 10 percent Finnish, for instance, then history is somehow closer. It isn’t just history anymore. It’s a part of you.

You are a part of history.

Note. This story was originally written in Estonian and posted on the Parim Aeg family blog. Shortly afterward, we learned that Anna was 44 percent Estonian, 17 percent Italian, 7 percent British & Irish, 5 percent Balkan, and just 3 percent Finnish. She was also more than 3 percent Middle Eastern.  The remainder was classified as generic “Southern European” and “Northwest European.” It meant she was just 96 percent European according to the test.

If you believe it.