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What I Learned From My DNA Test

I’ve always known I was adopted. I can’t remember my parents actually sitting down to have “that talk” with me. It’s just something I grew up being aware of. Apparently, they had a book they read to me before I could even talk that told me how “special” I was – because my parents had CHOSEN me!

A lot of adopted kids have difficulty processing their feelings about it (obviously, not all. But many of us.) For one thing, we’re not allowed to actually HAVE feelings about it. It’s as if we’re told that we’re just lucky to be alive at all and that we should just be grateful that we have someone who DID want us and a roof over our heads, and everybody would just be better off if we accepted that and didn’t ask too many questions.

I’ll never forget the day we learned about “recessive genes” in science class. The teacher explained that brown eyes were dominant and blue eyes were recessive, and that 2 brown eyed parents could possibly have a blue eyed baby if they both had a recessive gene, but that two blue eyed parents could never have a brown eyed child. I sat there frozen in class. “DOES EVERYBODY KNOW ABOUT THIS???? YOU MEAN EVERYONE OUT THERE LOOKS AT MY PARENTS AND THEY CAN TELL I’M ADOPTED?” Because both of my parents had blue eyes.

Every adopted child has the same fantasy about their birth parents. Maybe my mother was a famous actress who had to leave me behind to pursue her career. Maybe I came from a rich family who live far away and harbor some deep secret. (That was the plot of every VC Andrews book I ever read.) Maybe I’m the lost heir to the Romanov throne! Or maybe, I just had a very active fantasy life as a child.

Turns out, finding my birth mother was a piece of cake. Mine was a private adoption, so even though the official records were sealed, the minister who arranged the whole thing had kept tabs on me. We’re even kind of related. His mother and my grandmother were step-sisters, so he knew where she was too. When I became an adult, I was given the choice: do you want to meet your birth mother? OF COURSE I DID! Finally, I was going to get the answers to all the questions that had haunted me my whole life. I was thrilled.

The one thing my birth mother couldn’t help me with was finding my biological father. Apparently, he had taken off before she even knew the rabbit had died, and she hadn’t seen him since. As I grew older, I eventually gave up hope of ever meeting him.

And then I started seeing those ads. You know the ones. The guy thought he was Irish his whole life, only to discover he was really German. Tracing your DNA suddenly became all the rage. It’s an easy thing to ridicule, especially if you KNOW where you come from. For the rest of us, it’s a miracle.

Ethnicity in America is complicated. We SAY we’re a colorblind society, but we’re clearly not. We claim to be one nation of many. There’s been a pushback against hyphenated Americanism. But there’s a reason it persists. And it’s the reason these DNA tests have become so wildly popular. We all have within us a deep desire to know our origins. Where we came from. WHO we came from.

Mail order DNA kits have been a a major gift for two groups. One of them is law enforcement! Every day, I see a story in the news about police solving a decades old crime after getting a DNA match, not from the criminal database, but from these private companies. They found the woman who left her newborn son to die on the side of the road in Sioux Falls, South Dakota 38 years ago. They solved the murder of a Montana couple after 45 years. So, if you’ve ever committed a crime, they WILL find you eventually because someone in your family will get curious one day and spit in that tube.

The other big beneficiaries from do-it-yourself DNA tests are people like me: adopted kids searching for their birth families. The courts can seal the records, but all you need is one distant relative to send in a sample, and everybody’s dirty little secrets come spilling out. My sister-in-law sent in her sample, and was contacted by her nephew, a baby that her sister gave up for adoption. Lucky for both of them that they’re happy about the news. Not everybody is. Some women have kept their adopted children secret from their husbands and other children and want to continue to protect that secret. I’ve heard horror stories of the rejections. Some people may find things they wished they hadn’t.

Did I REALLY want to take that risk? I thought about it for a long time. I realized that my father might not be thrilled to find out he had a grown daughter after all this time. He might not be the kind of person I wanted to claim as a relative. And I learned from the last time that some things can’t be undone. No matter how much you might want to, you can’t make up for something that has been lost. But I decided to go ahead with it anyway.

It only took a few weeks to get the results. When I did, they weren’t surprising. 76% of my ancestry is England, Wales, and Northwestern Europe. I’m 22% Scotts-Irish and 2% Norwegian! My ancestors settled in the same region of the Carolinas as my adopted family did. And I got what I had been hoping for: DNA matches. The database showed 3 matches that were supposed to be my first cousins. My mother wasn’t able to give me much information about my father, but I recognized the last name immediately. So, I reached out to them and told them what I knew. Imagine my surprise when I got a response back from one of them “I don’t think you’re my cousin. I think you’re my SISTER!”

That’s right, I’ve got 2 more sisters and another brother. I have 2 older sisters and an older brother on my mother’s side of the family. And I have two younger sisters and a younger brother on my father’s side. We’re like a dysfunctional Redneck mash-up between the Brady Bunch and the Waltons!

The most surprising part of all of this is that I’m the SECOND sister to find a match through Ancestry DNA. Like I said, everybody’s secrets are coming out of the closet.

I’m surprised at how well my other brother and sister are taking this. They’re the only ones that grew up together and now they find out that our father had two other daughters before them (that we know of so far.) But they have been awesome, welcoming us both into the family. Last weekend, I traveled to Virginia to visit some old friends. They both drove up to meet me and we spent the whole day together sharing stories.

You can’t imagine how overwhelming this has been for me. The only child who always wanted siblings now has SIX of them! And when I saw a picture of my father, I finally saw where the brown eyes came from. I can see the various pieces and where they all come from. People now tell me I look like someone, and it’s true!

Sadly, my biological father died six years ago from lung cancer. I wish these tests had been available sooner.

Some of you may think that DNA tests don’t matter. But they have meant the world to me. I feel as if I finally have answers I’ve always been seeking. Maybe it shouldn’t matter, but to me it does. I also realize that I am truly blessed. Not everyone will find a happy ending from these tests. Not every family will be as welcoming to new members as mine has been. Some people may regret what they find. But at least they will KNOW.

I don’t look at this as having a NEW family. I still love my OLD family. And I will always be a part of it. But now I have MORE family. And who would turn away from that?


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