Galore: A reflection on where I’m from

galore (adv.)
1670s, from Irish go leór, and equivalent Scottish Gaelic gu leóir “sufficiently, enough,” from Old Irish roar “enough,” from Proto-Celtic *ro-wero- “sufficiency.”

My father was adopted.

He was raised with love by a family with Irish roots. My entire life I associated strongly with that Irish heritage. I sang and danced during the loud and proud St. Patrick’s Day celebrations in Canada’s Ottawa Valley.

Then, this past Christmas, my son gave me a DNA test as a gift. The results showed my Irish DNA at the BOTTOM of the list of the ethnicity estimate, at 2 %.

2 %. I couldn’t have been more astonished.

A second surprise lay in store. The largest percentage of my DNA indicated Scottish and Scandinavian heritage. I am three-quarters Scottish and . . . Viking, I guess?

In September, as fate would have it, my son headed off to Edinburgh, Scotland to do his Master of Physiotherapy. We won’t travel there just yet (you know . . . COVID), but we’re making plans for future trips. I began to read Love of Country: A Journey through the Hebrides by Madeline Bunting.

I read about the land of my DNA. I read of crofts (small rented farms with a right of pasturage held in common with others), and machair (fertile plains), and lochan (small inland lakes). I learned the roots of the word galore (see above) and mused about how wonderful it is that galore really means that you have everything you need for the given moment.

All of this got me to thinking about where I’m from (Scotland/Scandinavia) as opposed to where I am really from (the Ottawa Valley, Canada).

This past week, the book Where Are You From by Yamile Saied Méndez passed through my hands at the library where I work. It is the story of a child who must answer where she is from—no, where she is really from—to the point where it hurts.

When people ask someone like me where I’m really from, it means Where were you raised? What is the place that formed you?

For racialized people, the situation is reversed. For them, where are you really from means What foreign country did your people come from?

That makes it a backwards question, because for any of us, the place where we are really from is the place that has formed us.

My DNA says that the foreign countries my people came from were Scotland and the Scandinavian countries, but I’m really from a farm in the Ottawa Valley. I’m really from a place where we dug in the dirt to grow our food, where we wore hand-me-downs, and where neighbours and families helped each other out. On any given day we had everything we needed. Sufficiently, enough.

In other words, we had plenty galore. What a fine place to be from. Really.

Arlene sitting on a round hay bale in a farm field.

12 thoughts on “Galore: A reflection on where I’m from

  1. marianbeaman

    What a happy coincidence here–or maybe it’s serendipity. Today I’m expecting an order from 23andMe, a birthday present for a grandson. He’s a curious sort and wants to know his lineage.

    Yes, as you point out, “Where are you from?” has more than one interpretation. Thanks, Arlene!

    1. Arlene Somerton Smith Post author

      It’s amazing to me how events, situations and people knit together in life in serendipitous ways. One of the most interesting things I found in my reading was that the people of the Gaelic tradition really value balance. I thought, “My DNA has spoken!” I always, always seek balance. Before, I would have said it was because I’m a Libra. 🙂

  2. Joni

    That was very interesting Arlene. I was wondering how specific those kits are for country of origin? Or is it just a general region of the world? My brother did one of those on my mother in the early days of the kits and it came back Laplander, which I guess would be Scandinavian? but her folks were really from Holland. I guess it explains why she loves cold weather! Loved the picture of you on the bale. I grew up on a farm but it’s been a long time since I sat on one!

    1. Arlene Somerton Smith Post author

      The test my son gave me was from Ancestry. It test for some 1,500 regions of the world, so it can get pretty specific, I guess.
      My days on the farm were so long ago that any bales I sat upon at that time would have been smaller and rectangular. 🙂

      1. Joni

        Oh I well remember the small rectangular ones – first cut, second cut, the baler always breaking down on the hottest day of the summer and my mom having to go into town for a part….and then the whole wagon would have to be unloaded in the cool of the evening into the haymow.. I drove the tractor once for my dad when my brothers were at baseball and I couldn’t turn the corners so he had to get off at every corner and turn for me. I think I might have been 14? He never asked me again! Every time I see those big bales I wonder why they didn’t think of that before!

  3. Ally Bean

    I’ve never done one of those tests, but am fascinated to read about your results. Do you suppose they are accurate? I agree that “the place where we are really from is the place that has formed us.” Profound observation that rings true for all of us.

    1. Arlene Somerton Smith Post author

      I know that people have received conflicting results from different tests. I won’t do other tests to find out. I’ll stick with exploring my new-found Scottish-Viking blood and run with that.

  4. karen

    Really loved this piece, Arlene. Speaks to me personally and professionally.
    Scottish heritage! Pretty cool discovery. It has always interested me which ancestry we connect with more. I gravitate towards my Icelandic roots.
    PS galore is my new favorite word now

    1. Arlene Somerton Smith Post author

      Thanks, Karen. It’s funny how life knits together. My son goes to Scotland to study, so as a result I read about Scotland just as a DNA test indicates Scottish roots. I really want to travel to Scotland now. I guess Iceland would be on your itinerary then . . . The same son who is in Scotland now travelled there a couple of years ago and loved it. Watching the aurora borealis from an outdoor hottub was a highlight – sounds like I place you should go!


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