Oktoberfest in my DNA

By Eilene Lyon

DNA is not necessarily destiny. But recent studies have found genes that can, when combined with environmental and mental health factors, lead a person to have an unhealthy relationship with alcohol.

I drink almost daily, but I do not have to drink; I just happen to really like it. It might be because I have a “lazy” ADH1B gene.

What’s interesting to me is my family history with alcohol, and how it might relate to genetics.

My mother and her sister are teetotalers. When I was growing up, Mom might have half a glass a wine a few times a year – like on Thanksgiving, for example. As far as I know, neither of their parents drank. Their maternal grandmother Clara was part of the temperance movement. Sounds pretty sober to me.

That doesn’t mean that there weren’t any alcohol issues on these maternal family lines. My Grandpa Smith had this uncle: “Uncle George in this day would have been called politely an alcoholic.  In those days he was considered merely a harmless drunk,” according to Grandpa’s memoirs.

As for Clara’s ancestry, her grandfather, Henry Jenkins, may have had alcohol issues in his younger days, but he used his family and spiritual ties to check his impulses to drink.

Henry’s ancestors, the Zanes (Quakers from Philadelphia), certainly had issues, going back to the 18th century. They were chastised in meeting minutes for alcohol abuse, fighting, and even for pregnancy out-of-wedlock (with a non-Quaker, yet another issue).

I wonder what drove them to drink in those days? Certainly the Revolution was hard on Quakers. They wanted to be pacifists, and many were imprisoned for it. Some had their property confiscated.


One of the Quaker records regarding Jonathan Zane’s “continued practice of of [sic] using strong Drink to excess” dated 1781. Jonathan is my 5th great-grandfather.

On the other side, my father was never a big drinker. He did like an occasional Jim Beam, usually mixed with his family’s favorite beverage, Pepsi. No one else in his family is/was a drinker, though, to my knowledge.

I think I may have come up with an answer, though. Through DNA testing, I’ve discovered a whole new branch on my family tree – the Schaaf family. A “new” cousin of mine sent me this family group picture. Yes, those are beers everyone is holding, not soda pop! Did my drinking genes come from this side of the family? Maybe so!

Schaaf Family Drinking Beers

The Schaaf family ancestors are fairly recent immigrants compared to other branches on my tree, and they’re partly responsible for my dominant German DNA (like 72%). Could it be that Oktoberfest is in my blood?

I was never partial to beer, but my 40s happened to coincide with the micro-brew movement (and the end of my martini days). That’s when I discovered that beer didn’t have to taste like Bud, Coors and PBR. Now I actually enjoy trying a taster flight at breweries around the country and in other travels, including Germany, of course.

So maybe I’ve come by my habit the “Old Fashioned” way.  In that case, I’ll just say one last word:



Photo by Kats Weil on Unsplash

Feature Photo by Patrick Fore on Unsplash

Source of Quaker minutes image:

Haverford College; Haverford, Pennsylvania; Index, 1772-1781; Collection: Philadelphia Yearly Meeting Minutes; Call Number: JK2.1 from Ancestry.com. U.S., Quaker Meeting Records, 1681-1935 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2014.

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