Growing up, Kyle Merker believed he was German. His parents told him he was German when they dressed him in children’s lederhosen for his Germanic dance performances, and they told him he was German when they fed him schnitzel.
For 50 years, Merker believed his ancestors were German. So imagine his surprise when a genetic test by AncestryDNA showed that he wasn’t really German at all. The test said that 52 percent of his DNA came from Great Britain and Ireland and 28 percent from Scandinavia.
In fact, Merker’s DNA shows his ancestry is only 3 to 4 percent Western European. Merker’s experience shows that Ancestry isn’t just for dispelling family misconceptions; it’s also a powerful tool for learning more about your own family and the history they lived through. You may even find out that you’re related to royalty.
The Truth Will Out
In Merker’s case, he first turned to Ancestry to research a fascinating great-granduncle that another relative had told him about. He eventually discovered his Uncle Phillip was associated with a government official indicted in the Teapot Dome Scandal of the 1920s, one of the most notorious political brouhahas of the 20th century. Along the way, Merker, a volunteer firefighter on Fire Island, New York, discovered that his maternal great-grandfather had been a firefighter as well.
Ancestry also helped Merker discover much more about his father’s family. In person, Merker had only ever met one paternal family member. But on Ancestry, his father’s family tree “lit up like Times Square on New Year’s Eve,” according to Merker. Using newspapers, wills, and “hints” that point to possible family connections, Merker found ancestors who had fought in the Revolutionary War and both sides of the Civil War. Inputting information from his third great-grandfather’s Sons of the American Revolution application created a vast web of material for Merker to sift though.
A Royal Find
Going further back in time revealed even more surprises about his father’s family — including a royal connection! Merker found five ancestors who had been knighted and a 17th-century aristocrat, John Fleming, Second Earl of Wigtown. Finally, Merker uncovered his greatest surprise: his 15th great-grandfather was King James IV of Scotland.
As rewarding as it was for Merker to find out that he was descended from Scottish royalty, what Merker couldn’t find was much German ancestry, other than one individual from a region near Frankfurt. Both the DNA test and Merker’s own research confirmed it: He wasn’t really German at all, but mostly from the British Isles.
Embracing a New Past
After his discovery, Merker told Ancestry that “I switched my lederhosen for a kilt” — literally. When he got married two years ago, his Ancestry DNA discovery inspired Merker to walk down the aisle in traditional Scottish garb.
Afterwards, Merker told Ancestry, “The best part of this whole journey is that your family comes alive in history. Your family — your — history is something that you studied in high school and college. But when you trace your roots back in history, it’s a living thing. History is now a living thing. It’s not a story. It’s not something happened that’s so long ago that nobody remembers because it’s in my DNA. Who would’ve guessed that a volunteer firefighter who grew up in Queens is descended from royalty?”
You can sign up today for your 14-day free trial with Ancestry and Join Merker and millions of others discovering the firemen, soldiers, earls, and kings in your their own past.
— Sandie Angulo Chen