What Influenced Me to Travel to Tbilisi, Georgia
In June 2016 I made my first journey from Tel Aviv, Israel to Tbilisi, Georgia. I have always had an interest in the Caucasus for a good 8 years before deciding it was time to make a trip to the region and explore the culture, people, food, and music that I have seen in travel books and videos. However, there were two main points of influence in my life that heightened my interest, curiosity and excitement to travel to this region of the world.
Beginning in 2013 I took my first DNA ethnicity test with Ancestry.com and to date I have taken 4 different tests and have had my raw DNA data analyzed throughout over 10 different data bases on Gedmatch.com, and others. Today these tests are even more accurate even though some people might speculate their results, my tests are as accurate to the regions in Italy where my recent family came from, Abruzzo, and southern Italy. I have no doubt in my mind ancestry tests will continue to become more accurate as they grow in popularity, because the technology is there and improving on a regular basis.
Not to move off topic of this blog, however my DNA results are what furthered my curiosity for the world, and who I really am inside. They helped me start to look at people from other corners of the world much differently and push away from the ethnocentric thinking that many people still have. For example, in the United States, it is a melting pot of different ethnicities, and there are greater concentrations of certain ethnicities depending on the region and city/state. My home state of Ohio is made up mostly of German, Irish, Italian, French, Polish, and English immigrants dating back to the early to middle 1900s, some arriving earlier than others. Many people claim they are 50% one ethnicity, 25% another, and 25% of a third. However, this is just not the case because DNA ethnicity is much more complex than that.
For example, in Italy not every Italian is the same, they even look differently depending on the region because Italy was inhabited and occupied by many different kinds of people over the course of thousands of years. No one is just Italian, or French, or Spanish; they are a beautiful mix of many things which makes them unique and this applies to everyone around the world. My own DNA results opened up my eyes to the world, and I always had a feeling I was like some of these people I would see in National Geographic magazines or travel shows, however I had no way to really prove that.
Now how does all this relate to the Caucasus region you might ask. Every single DNA test I have taken points to the Caucasus, being at least 20%-25% of my genetic makeup. The rest of my ethnic makeup is Mediterranean being the majority (including Italy, Greece, Turkey, North Africa, Lebanon, Syria, and Israel) the Middle East, and Jewish. I would consider myself an eclectic mix of the ancient world, and this makes sense considering where the Phoenicians, Greeks, Roman Empire, and Byzantines were during ancient times. The Caucasus and Middle East however have always interested me the most, and I always had a desire to explore these regions of the world and connect with my ancient ancestry.
Around the same time while I was taking DNA tests I came across a National Geographic documentary titled “A Photographer Revisits the Forgotten Land of Song.” One of my favorite photographers Aaron Huey traveled back to a remote region in Georgia called Svanetia. His photographs and story are what captivated me to travel to this part of the world even more, a region where not many people were talking about.
I will end this blog by saying like many of the other places I have visited I did feel like I have been to Georgia in the past, people there even said I looked like them and would attempt to speak to me in Georgian which also reaffirmed my DNA results and feelings I had being related to people in that region of the world. The music I would hear in the streets would give me goosebumps and chills, one song in particular that I used to listen to before I even knew about DNA tests or thought about taking a trip to the Caucasus.
First off take a DNA test, and second, try and make the effort to get back to your roots where your family and even distant family comes from. The journey and what you might discover along the way is well worth the effort.
These are some photos taken with a Sony A6000 and Canon 5D MkIII from my first visit while in Tbilisi. Please feel free to take a look at the rest of my photos in my Georgia travel portfolio.