Sunday, December 31, 2017

The adoptee and her DNA

This past summer Liam expressed interest in finding out more about his ancestral background, so we ordered 2 DNA testing kits - one for him and one for myself.  As the adoptees of the family, we felt this would be fun to do together; Hilary can trace her ancestry back pretty far, and when you see pictures of her with various relatives, there is little doubt that they are all genetically related.

Genetic connections have always fascinated me, probably because I grew up without any.  Seeing siblings that look alike, babies sporting great-aunt so and so's nose, and all the other observable traits in families have always been bittersweet for me.  I was taller, tanned more, had genetically impossible eye colour and different hair from my parents. I did have one cousin who everyone said I looked like, especially if you compared baby pictures of us.  That led to many adoption fueled fantasies about how we really were related but that there was a  big family secret that no one wanted to tell us about. (Spoiler alert: there wasn't)

I finally got a picture of my birth mother Iris and my half sister when I was in my 30's.  I poured over every pixel looking for a resemblance.  I was very disappointed to not find much.  Even Iris said that she didn't see any resemblance in us, but did offer up the nugget of information that she though I looked like I took after my father's side.  Unfortunately that was about as much information as she was willing to tell my about my birth father.

With the easy availability of DNA testing kits today, it seemed like a great idea as an adoptee to possibly fill in some missing information.  I knew the information would be quite generalized, a list of potential percentages from different areas of the world, but it was still more information than I had before.  What I didn't anticipate was some of the emotions that doing this would unearth.  When the kits first arrived in the mail it took me over a month just to be able to open it and read the instructions.  From there it took another couple of weeks to work my way up to actually registering the kit online, spitting into the little tube and mailing it in for analysis. Once it was mailed off I was able to bury the thoughts of it in an "out of sight, out of mind" kind of way.

Until the email came telling me that it was ready.

I had chosen to do our tests through Ancestry.com  Part of the decision was price, part was based on the other main stream test being geared more towards testing your DNA for potential medical issues and partly because Ancestry.com includes family tree software.  I knew going into this that one of the possible outcomes of having your DNA tested was being connected to someone who you were genetically related to that had also been tested.  The media has been full of stories of best friends finding out they are actually siblings and other adoption-reunion situations.  Of course in the deepest recess of my mind I held out a smidge of hope that I might become one of those stories.  I already knew that I have 5 half-siblings, and potentially any number of cousins, aunts or uncles.

I opened the email and started with my ethnicity estimates


No big surprises there.  Iris had given me some indication of where her family was from, so I fully expected Western European and British.

I very quickly moved on to the next section.


Here were real people, with pictures(!) that I was potentially related to. My closest match was a 1st cousin.  The Ancestry.com website has a message option that you can reach out to people that you have potential matches with so that you can connect and discover exactly how you may be related.  By this point I was all in, so I quickly put together an email about who I was and how we may be related and sent it off to 7 possible 1st cousins. 

Within hours I had heard back from someone.  I had enough identifying information about my birth family to confirm our connection.  Overall I have had contact with 3 of my cousins, one from my birth mother's side, and two from my birth father's.  

Since then I have had many emails back and forth, one phone call, been sent dozens of pictures (including a picture of my half-siblings on my father's side) and heard stories about my birth father and his family. I was also able to find out that my birth and adoption was not the well kept secret that Iris had thought it was.  Rumours and stories of my existence have made the rounds of all the family functions.

It has definitely been an emotional roller coaster, but I've learned over the years that most things associated with adoption are.  I'm so glad for the information and connections that I have from doing the DNA test, and it may open many other doors yet.


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