The first time I heard the word Balkans was in the nineties: the Yugoslav Wars were (sadly) taking place, so the word was often mentioned in the news. The Balkan Peninsula is a geographic area in Southeastern and Eastern Europe. It comprises the following countries:
► Bosnia and Herzegovina
► Greece (except its islands)
► Macedonia (also known as the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia)
► Romania (mostly outside of the area)
► Turkey (only its European part)
Two decades later, I’m working on my genealogy. As I outlined here, I surprisingly found out that I might have Balkan DNA. Since 23AndMe doesn’t specify where in the Balkans, I had to go through my DNA matches to get more information. DNA matches are people with whom you share DNA: that makes them blood relatives.
Luckily, I came across several people whose origins are in countries like Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Macedonia. One person, in particular, showed 100% Balkan DNA. That proves that I must really have Balkan ancestors. That relative claimed that, as far as she can trace her family roots, all her ancestors are ethnic Albanians.
How could I possibly have Albanian roots?
The answer is that it must be through my Italian ancestors. Some of those could have been Arbëreshë (or Albanians of Italy). They are the descendants of Tosk Albanian refugees who fled Albania between the 15th and 18th centuries as a result of forced Islamization during the Ottoman Empire‘s invasion.
Considering that my Italian relatives arrived in the Iberian Peninsula between the late 18th century and the early 19th century, it seems possible that an ethnic Albanian in the family might have emigrated from the Balkans to Italy sometime during the 18th century.
Isn’t history fascinating? I look forward to learning more about my family. I also like the fact that now the word Balkan means more than just a geographical region. I used to associate it with political turmoil, but now it’s another word for home 🙂