I’ve been to Italy several times and love it. It’s Italy! What’s not to love about pasta and wine and gelato? But my recent trip to the boot was more about exploring an emotional landscape than taking in the scenic beauty of the country. Read on to find out why I booked a trip to Italy based on my DNA test results and my experience with DNA travel.
What is DNA Travel?
The popularity of at-home DNA testing has led to a rise in DNA tourism as more and more people want to connect with their genetic roots. More than 26 million people have taken at-home DNA tests and many want to further explore their heritage by taking an ancestry trip. Tour operators have responded to this interest in ancestral tourism and even Ancestry.com offers heritage tours complete with DNA testing and a genealogist as part of the tour. Many people want to explore their heritage by visiting the land of their ancestors. Heritage tourism is a great way to learn more about your cultural heritage and can be a great jumping-off point for planning your next trip.
My DNA Story
I took a DNA test that my sister gave me expecting nothing more than to have a little fun with the results. When the email came six weeks later I was surprised to see that I was almost 50% Italian. While I loved the idea of being Italian, the results did not fit with what I knew of my family history and genealogy research I had done previously.
One thing that many consumers don’t know about DNA tests, is that the companies will match you to your DNA relatives. And it didn’t take long for me to receive an email about a new DNA relative. Someone I didn’t know, with a name I didn’t recognize, and someone that was obviously Italian. She sent me an email and we began exchanging information.
Humans share about 60% of their DNA with bananas.
Fast forward a couple of months later, another DNA test, and lots of trying to figure out how my test results could be possible it became obvious I was what is referred to as an NPE. An NPE, or a not parent expected, is the designation given to individuals that receive DNA test results that are unexpected.
Fast forward a little more and I discovered that my father, the one that had raised me, was not my biological father. My biological father was a man that immigrated from Naples, Italy a couple of years before I was born. My mother died when I was young, my father passed away a decade earlier, and my biological father passed away about a year before we learned the news. Which meant I had the ending to the story, but no beginning.
A parent and child share 99.5% of the same DNA.
Need to Connect with My Roots
My DNA test results led to an identity crisis, one that continues today. I feel like I have a foot in two worlds. The first where I grew up, where I know my role in the family and all of the dynamics that make up being part of a family. The other world is one where I have been accepted with the open arms of a big Italian family. They have shown me nothing but kindness and generosity. But I’m an outsider. Someone that kind of looks like them but is not part of their history. Another funny story about my larger-than-life biological father.
The idea, the pull, the need to visit Naples kept coming up. While listening to a podcast that mentioned ancestral pull, I started crying and knew that I needed to go. To see and feel where my ancestors walked. Where the father I would never meet grew up. To see if the ancestral pull I was feeling was more than curiosity. I was joining the DNA travel movement.
So I booked a ticket. Would I feel at home as I walked the streets of Naples? Would Neopalitians see a fellow sister in my face, in my voice? I travel alot, but this would be a journey of a different sort. A journey that would require a different set of navigational skills. One where I would have to stop and observe, really observe a place. A journey inward.
My DNA Travel Experience
I spent three days in Naples, deep in the heart of the city walking the streets and eating the food. My hope, or my need, was to feel something. To connect in some small way with the father I would never meet.
Naples is a chaotic, messy place. As a person that not only likes structure but needs it how could I feel at ease here? But I did. I was able to look past the trash and dirtiness of the city and just shrug my shoulders at it. Those that know me would tell you that’s not me. But maybe it is me. Maybe that’s the ancestral association or connection I was so desperately seeking.
Somewhat foolishly and childishly I told myself that if I found change on the ground that would be a sign that my biological father knew that I was there. That I was trying to make a connection. But I never found any change nor was there any supernatural or earthly indication that he was with me.
Waiting in the Rome airport to come home, my eyes welled with tears discussing it with my daughter. I had to turn away. And even writing about it now I’m filled with emotion that I can’t name. Maybe a mixture of longing and sadness and grief.
This isn’t easy for me to share. I’m nothing if not practical and this desire for something that I can’t quite articulate feels off. But with this news, with this drastic shift if my story, maybe I am shifting too. Maybe to a person that was always there but hidden from view.
I often feel like I’m co-opting something that doesn’t belong to me as I’m exploring my Italian heritage. Like I’m guilty of cultural appropriation but instead of wearing a kimono I’m reading books about Neapolitan cuisine.
Italians, and Neapolitans in particular love presepi or nativity scenes. I toyed with the idea of buying some pieces while in Naples but felt like it wasn’t a tradition I’m entitled too. It’s important for me to say that my biological family has in no way made me feel this way. They have been incredibly generous and loving and welcomed me into their family with big open arms in the way only an Italian family could.
I don’t think I found what I went searching on my DNA travel experience. But I found a place that I fell in love with. I also found a sense of belonging. I felt comfortable in a city that’s not everyone’s cup of tea. A place I want, no am longing, to return to. A place that maybe, just maybe, I belonged.
DNA / Heritage Tourism Resources
57% of survey respondents in the US would give up alcohol for a year for a free heritage trip.Airbnb
Here are a few companies that offer DNA or heritage trips:
- Go Ahead Tours offers heritage tours through Germany, Ireland, Italy, Scotland and more. A genealogist accompanies each tour to provide additional information to participants about their heritage.
- Airbnb has partnered with 23andMe to provide travel experiences connected to an individual’s DNA test results.
- DNA Journeys includes the DNA test and then build an itinerary that can include a stop in your heritage hometown, records offices, and sightseeing.
- The perfectly named Family Tree Tours specializes in heritage travel to Ireland, Germany, and Italy. They work with local experts in genealogy to provide general or specific tours.