My baby steps in the wonderful world of DNA


Bat spotting again… this particular individual is my Christmas greeting to family and friends. A Very Merry Christmas to you too! 

I took a Y-DNA test and found out about my ancestry. My haplogroup is represented in Western Siberia and Finland but I was surprised to see red dots also in Turkey and in the Caucasus. The dots on the map represent the earliest known forefathers of other people who took the test and with whom I share snippets of DNA. Perhaps it’s time to plan a haplo tour to Kazan? Or follow a trail down to the Black Sea and to the medieval slave markets of Feodosia? In those days it was common to snatch people and either bargain for their release or sell them as slaves. That happened also on the shores of the Baltic.

I researched my grandmother’s lineage and was able to connect with the Geni family tree. Her side of the family stayed in the same region in Ostrobothnia for several centuries and their family names were tied to farms and places. With Geni, suddenly I have over one thousand ancestors all the way back to my 16th great grandfathers, who were born around 1450.

I remember my great grandmother very well. At the time she was already very old and would just sit quietly and wrap herself in that secret historicity of hers. Her grandfather had been a sniper who died in mysterious circumstances in St. Petersburg after 1889. Who was he? Why was he there? I am now very keen on finding out more about single stories among those one thousand relatives.

In the coming year, be prepared, my dear reader, to more stories about my ancestry and about writing in general, as I am in the middle of writing a novel. I might also babble something about fictional autobiography, the genre that intrigued me already in the 90’s when I was working on my master’s degree in Marseille. Now it’s timely again, with all the potential of my going back in time and finding myself in the footsteps of my unknown father and his forefathers somewhere in the Crimea or Siberia. Add to that some of the more usual glimpses of my life between the Senegal river and the Atlantic Ocean and voilà: welcome a brand-new year 2022. 

Miss Helen In The Bath


Johanna and me on our doorsteps. I still remember those shoes, my toes literally grew through them.

For a very short time Johanna was my best friend. She was a Jewish girl, we were between seven and eight years old at the time when I did not really understand what Jewish even meant. Her family lived very close and they had a piano. Her grandmother could play it and sing, I was fascinated by her voice and her long silver grey hair.

We would sing songs whenever we met. Johanna taught me one of those self-boasting provincial songs from her family’s province and my classmates laughed at me mockingly, when I suggested we sing that song together during our music class. 

When it was time to pick up a song for the exam to get a grade, I chose “I Saw Miss Helen In The Bath” by M. A. Numminen. My teacher, who was from the Karelian region, laughed very loudly until she was in tears, and I got a good mark.

Then suddenly Johanna and her family moved out of town and I lost trace of her for good. I wonder where she is now and what songs she might be singing.

Hands up!

From what I remember, our house was always full of people who would often sit in our only bedroom and play records and drink, or play cards and drink. Happy youth! I passed out once when I had emptied, unnoticed, a large glass of Long Drink, a local gin. 

Among these people there was also K who always wore a leather jacket and a hat. He had guns too. He’s in one of the photos with his hands up. I remember those guns, they were heavy.

A boyband from Pahaniemi*

In this photo my friend is playing flute and I am plucking balalaika, wearing a tatar hat. Judging from my facial expression, we never excelled as a band. But I did like to perform. My grandmother taught me vulgar folklore songs with double meanings and I would entertain the adult audience without really understanding what I was singing. I remember that in the summer my uncles would provoke me to sing some of those songs at the beach just to embarrass young women. #Metoo had not yet been invented. I would also climb up on our rooftop, particularly on Saturday mornings, and sing popular hits to anybody who would come to the grocery shop next to our flat.

*My childhood home was located in a neighbourhood called Pahaniemi. It would perhaps translate into Wicked Peninsula, or Evil Cape.

Open air gym

My Grandfather, one of my uncles and me.

In summers our courtyard was a training ground. My uncles were semi-professionals in boxing, which resulted in a bookshelf filled with trophies rather than books. It fell into my responsibility to polish them twice a year with toothpaste and a rag.

Once my cousin and I were taken to a boxing club (perhaps we had asked for it) and very unsurprisingly, and contrary to my cousin, I did not have it in me. I was more interested in animals and preferred to research for example the community of small Egyptian ants. Our apartment was in a house which had a grocery shop at the other end of the building and the tiny red ants had arrived in a shipment of oranges and nearly invaded the entire house. 

The owner of the grocery shop had a boy of my age and sometimes we would sneak into the storage room of the shop from our boiler room and eat toothpaste. But most of the time I would behave. I was a very easy child, and definitely not a boxer type.