The ancestors, via a spit test

Part of my current project for the Henge of Keltria is connecting with my ancestors. Of the three Kindreds, the ancestors are the ones I have the least connection with, likely because I grew up — as many Americans do — knowing little about them. And so, for the past year, I have swum in the heady waters of ancestral research.

This week, Ancestry.com reformulated its DNA analysis, giving a lot more detail than heretofore. I’ll go through what I found, and ask your pardon for not sharing particular sources. This is a scratch pad of sorts for the Keltria report, which currently dwells solely in my cranium.

My results:
* 61 percent Eastern European. No surprise there; I’m mostly Hungarian with a goodly dose of Slovak on my mother’s side. I’m ostensibly Hungarian from my father’s maternal line — but more on that in a bit. At least, my paternal great-grandmother, Rose Szepesy, almost definitely was. Szepesy is a well-attested Magyar surname; the name of an old province, as it happens. Once known as Szepes, it’s now in Slovakia and known as Spiš. In Roman times, it was known as Scepusium. Judging from the name, the Bazsikas were probably originally from the area of Bazsi, near Lake Balaton. Prior to emigration, they lived in Zala, a county over.

The Kocuns were from Stará Ľubovňa, now in Slovakia and occasionally in Hungary, depending on who was in power. The name, I read once in college, is a Slovak version of a Hungarian word meaning “stagecoach maker.” In short, the Slovaks and the Hungarians intermarried frequently, as their home regions were punted back and forth between kingdoms and nations. It has always been a polyglot region full of Slavs, Magyar and Germans.

* 15 percent Italy/Greece. *This* is perplexing. Granted, huge swathes of Austria/Hungary were part of the Roman province of Pannonia, and the DNA could have come from that period. But a likely source: my paternal grandmother’s family, the Demeters. Pronounced deMEter in Magyar, Demeter comes from the Russian Dmitri, and ultimately the Greek Demeter. What’s more, it’s a common Roma name — by way of journeys in Greece.

I’ve often suspected the Demeters were Roma, due to family tales; my great-great-grandfather Julius Demeter apparently wore his wedding ring in his ear, “in the gypsy way,” my father says. And the aforementioned Rose Szepesy wasn’t buried alongside my great-grandfather, also named Julius Demeter; she was buried in her own grave under her maiden name. This makes me wonder if she offended her Hungarian family by marrying into a Roma one. Now, there were campaigns to encourage Roma to settle and become regular citizens of Austria-Hungary, but the ones who did still presumably remained a type of underclass.

Once held as slaves in Romania and other Eastern European countries — yes, actual slaves, bought and sold — the Roma of the day didn’t exactly “pull themselves up by their bootstraps” — the same canard the privileged fling at all oppressed people, when those privileged folks have a firm heel holding that bootstrap down. They are regarded to this day in Eastern Europe in the same way that bigots in this country regard people with darker skin and ancestors in chains. And yes, like the descendants of slaves everywhere, they have issues of “cultural assimilation,” in the eyes of the privileged.

This is not, by the way, a slam on the Roma or on the descendants of African slaves. I have great respect for them, and for the historical suffering we often want to paint with genteel magnolias.

Getting back to the Demeters, I think it likely that they were originally Kalderash; the name Demeter is common among them, and the Kalderash were among the first to make the leap over the waves to North America — around the time the first Julius Demeter did, as it happens. The Kalderash were metal-workers. I’ve never found Ellis Island records for the original Julius Demeter, although his personal name could have been Janos. Many Demeters at the time seem to hail from Miskolc in northern Hungary, although where this particular Demeter branch comes from — and who they are related to — has always remained a mystery. Until now, really.

* 9 percent Finnish/northern Russian. Love for kanteles aside, *this* was a surprise. What’s more, it’s a decent chunk. The DNA profile of this region is quite closed, according to Ancestry.com; they have 99 percent of their DNA unique to the region. Because of this, I think it unlikely that the DNA traveled down the Finno-Ugric tree — linguistically, at least, Magyar is a distant relative of Finnish. Instead, I am looking at another mystery in my paternal line: Olaf Folkvath.

My great-great-grandfather, he lived in Perth Amboy and married the daughter of Danish immigrants who herself ended up marrying a handful of times — likely because she outlived all her fishermen/sailor-spouses. The only record of Folkvaths at Ellis is a group of girls — no adults — sailing from Stavanger, Norway. And that’s it. There are no records of Folkvaths. The name meaning, as far as I can tell, is “man of the people.”

I’m thinking that Olaf might not have been Norwegian at all, and his surname might not have been Folkvath originally. Could he have been a Finn? Certainly, they did settle in Norway and Sweden — and viewed, like many immigrants, in a less than flattering manner. They, too, were encourage to drop their language and customs to assimilate. Immigration would have provided Olaf with a way to finally attain the ranks of true Norwegian; who would know the difference?

* 8 percent Great Britain: This is well-known and attested through my paternal line, the Bunyons, who ended up in Barbados in the 1640s. They married many prominent colonial American families early on. Those families, in turn, had quite the pedigree. Simply put, it took money to emigrate early on, set up plantations and businesses, etc. Through these marriages, I’m related to a host of nobles and, like most of Western Europe, to Charlemagne, the Visigoths, Roman Emperors, ad nauseum.

Prior to emigration, however, the Bunyons themselves didn’t stand out. There are few records of them before they went to Barbados, although it seems likely that they came from southeastern England. The name is Norman French (“good John’), and they probably have lived in England since the time of William the Conqueror, having come as retainers. The Normans, of course, were the French descendants of Viking invaders.

* 4 percent Scandinavia: Also not a surprise. The woman Olaf Folkvath married, Gurda Marie Sorenson, is of Danish descent. Her lines go back to around 1600. Interestingly, their daughters — including my great-grandmother Dorothy Folkvath — both ended up marrying men from Barbados. Dorothy was the cook on the ship where her husband, Thomas Curtis C. Bunyon, was a sailor. But more on him later.

*1 percent Western Europe, defined as France, Germany, etc. Probably largely through intermarriages. Agnes Herrmann, my great-great-grandmother from Hungary and the wife of Joseph Bazsika, certainly had a German name. Populations were mixed, certainly, in Austria-Hungary.

*1 percent Mali. African genetics are interesting. As the heartland of the human race, there is greater genetic diversity on the African continent than the entire rest of the world put together — which allows searchers, as it happens, to reliably pinpoint where their African ancestors came from. My African ancestors came by way of the slave trade; Mali is a bit inland, but overall not far from the Slave Coast.

My great-grandfather, the aforementioned Thomas Curtis C. Bunyon, was a Barbadian sailor who never adopted U.S. citizenship; his death records are in Barbados, not here. On ship’s manifests, he is listed as white — but whites in Barbados, especially by that day, were all mixed race. Simply put, not many women made the journey to Barbados during colonial times; it was a hellish place run by and for young white men who brutalized everything and everyone else. Rape of slaves was common. The less well-heeled often ended up marrying indentured servants, who came over after being convicted of crimes such as prostitution or theft, or the mixed-race descendants of planters and slave women.

Early on in settlement, before race became a factor — it was actually a product of slavery, rather than the other way around — marriages did occur between white men and black women.

*1 percent South Asian/Indian subcontinent: This is how I know the Demeters were Roma. The Roma, of course, came from northwestern India, likely in the area of Rajasthan, more than a thousand years ago. They were dalit, or Untouchable, people, and their departure likely had something to do with wars at the time. According to current research, the Roma’s closest Indian relatives are the Meghwal, or Chamar, of Rajasthan, who were originally tanners and cobblers. (Hence the low caste: they touch dead things.)

And, finally, less than 1 percent Irish — also possibly by way of Barbados, where kidnapped Irish were sold as slaves or indentured servants. (They were considered less desirable and more insurrectionist than slaves of African origins.) An indentured woman sprung from prison and sent to Barbados could have been of Irish descent.

And there you have it. What mysteries have your own ancestral research resolved or unearthed?

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About whitecatgrove

The musings of a Druid priestess, singer, poet and musician in Upstate New York.
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