DNA ‘R’ Us™: Genetic testing, etc.

Have you ever used or contemplated using one of the DNA services that promises to find ancestors/relatives, such as 23AndMe? Why or why not? What changes in terms of your own understanding of adoption when you think about yourself on this, the genetic level? Expand at will….

12 thoughts on “DNA ‘R’ Us™: Genetic testing, etc.

  1. Before I found my parents 3 years ago, all those Ancestry.com sites and ads were secretly triggering for me. My jaw would clench, choking back tears and anger, and these feelings were inexplicable to me. That’s how dug in I was with my denial. The Fog was strong in this one.
    As soon as my adoptive father died, I somehow gave myself “permission” to engage my curiosity about my Adoptee status, that is, I started to question who I am and where I’m really from.
    After a couple years of a monthly adoption support group, then psychoanalysis, then pulling the trigger on finding my real parents, the world suddenly became plastered with Ancestry this and DNA that. I found it triggering and distasteful. It still makes me outraged, the glib ads, the “Do You Know Who You Are” show or whatever it’s called, all this roots-awareness. Even though I’m in Reunion with my parents (actively with father; non-existent with mother), I’m more outraged than ever. For the Non-Adopted, these genealogy sites are a hobby. Or some kind of indulgence for the lucky, entitled, non-adopted. It makes me resentful of these bio kids who are just embellishing on what they already know about their people. It seems like a vanity; not a necessity.
    But most of all I’m deeply offended by who’s NOT allowed to participate on these genealogy sites. Maybe we adoptees can collect our DNA (23andMe does that I guess?), but it’s not even close to fair or just, since we don’t have the stories, the family lore, to explain what any of it means.
    My adoptive mother said to me, right before I’d found my family of origin, she actually said “You’re only obsessed with your genetic background because you’re adopted! Most people don’t care.” She didn’t mean for this to be the cruelest thing she could’ve possibly said to me. I think she was angry because I found out my natural father wasn’t Jewish, and I dared show interest in my newfound Irish and Swedish paternal line. I remember saying to my a-mother, “you’ve got your family tree…but I’d like to know what mine is now.” “SO GO FIND OUT–WHO’S STOPPING YOU?” she gently said.
    Nothing threatening there.
    She also reminded me that I essentially had no background, and my life began the day she and my a-father brought me to their home.
    Clearly I was an ingrate for even questioning my background. I would embrace my newfound identity and family, but I’d do it in secret.
    I was 45 yrs old at the time. And I was being treated like the naughtiest, betraying-est, most disappointing child of all time.
    My adoptive mother died this year, and with her death, a good portion of my adoption shame has died. I’m free to be who I am, do all the DNA tests I want, indulge in genealogy searches to my heart’s content…but at the back of my brain, someone whispers “Betrayer, you don’t belong to any of these people.”

  2. Great post, thanks for sharing that. It relieves me a bit, because each time someone has suggested to me that I go this route, I, too, cringe. The glib statement of your adoptive mother that “no one cares” is completely not true. My adoptive mother was a Daughter of the American Revolution, for example. The obsession with “roots” is a given for most people. Or should I say, to echo your point, for those with the luxury to search, or the privilege of knowing that such ancestry puts them in a particular position in terms of society.

    At my university there was an endeavor in the medical school to research Lebanese genetics. They advertised it as a way to know one’s roots, like all of the DNA testing companies, but there was something disturbing in their explanation of it. It basically came down to showing who was “pure” Lebanese, i.e., descended from the so-called Canaanites, and thus with no “taint” of Arab blood. I knew there was the possibility in their pool of tests to find family, and I was friends with one of the med students on the research team, but as I told him, the whole endeavor was so distasteful to me that I couldn’t do it.

    I also remember National Geographic’s similar endeavor, but their focus seemed to be that most indigenous people had actually “traveled” from somewhere else. I couldn’t help think that the point was to show that people we thought of as being “of” a place were actually “from somewhere else”, and thus were displaceable, or else their displacement could be excused.

    There is a woman who was in the orphanage at the same time as I was, who I refer to as my “sister”, and who shares similar interests and characteristics that makes me think we are related. Next time I’m stateside, I’m hoping to do a DNA test to look more into this. But the idea that we need to go to a private company, stockpiling our DNA and making a buck off of it, just repulses me. Thanks again for letting me realize I am not alone!

    • I just found this in an article written by Rebecca Tallbear entitled, “DNA, Blood, and Racializing the Tribe”:

      Detailed discussion of the Bering Strait theory and other scientific theories about the population of the modern-day Americas is beyond the scope of this essay. However, it should be noted that Indian people have expressed suspicion that DNA analysis is a tool that scientists will use to support theories about the origins of tribal people that contradict tribal oral histories and origin stories. Perhaps more important,the alternative origin stories of scientists are seen as intending to weaken tribal land and other legal claims (and even diminish a history of colonialism?) that are supported in U.S. federal and tribal law. As genetic evidence has already been used to resolve land conflicts in Asian and Eastern European countries, this is not an unfounded fear.

  3. I recently tried African Ancestry’s DNA test. I think I was initally interested for a non-adoptive reason (African-Americans don’t often know which nation their ancestors originated from). It always bothered me that my of my friends could say “I’m Italian”, “My family’s half-Greek”, etc. Sure, I can say “I’m black American”, which is still say even after my Ancestry test, but I wanted some ‘country’ connection.

    My interest became even greater when I started dating my partner – he and his family are Ecuadorian, and if you ask him how he identifies himself, the first thing he will say is “I’m Ecuadorian”. For a family so connected to their roots, this has been – and continues to be – difficult for me. So I ordered the kit – I have a country I can trace my lineage back to….but only for half of my DNA. I need a biological male family member to take the kit to see “what else” I/we would be. And therein lies the adoption issue. Seeing the results didn’t do much for me. I haven’t thought much about it since, especially because I don’t identify with the culture (even if I chose to find an African community in the city where I live).

    As far as the DNA tests for health are concerned – like 23andMe – I may try that. I may try that, but I’m coming to terms with the idea that a piece of paper can’t replace what I don’t have – an actual biological family member to tell me their lineage and health history.

  4. I won’t disclose much here because, by-Gosh and by-Golly, I’m going to try and get a piece of the commercialization pie by writing a book about my experiences.

    Because I had my mother’s maiden name by the time I was a teen, I was able to make connections with my maternal line after the 1940 US Census was made public. To get more information (part of the gift that keeps on giving me the opportunity to pay the price of the failed society into which I was born) I began a family tree on a commercial site and also went the autosomal testing route through a popular testing service. To say I was “surprised” by the test results minimizes what I experienced.

    All told, I now laugh about ancêtres qui portaient un chapeau d’âne, particularly given the “history” taught me through the US K-12 (and even beyond) education system.

    Yes. I was looking for history, My history, and in doing so became able to contextualize not only my experiences in life, but also why some stories are seldom, if ever, told.

  5. Ever since I heard about 23andMe (about three years ago), I’ve been wanting to do this to get some answers about medical history. I just completed this and got my results a few weeks ago. I’m a fan. I already know my birth parents names (although no reunion yet) and have not been a member long enough to see the “possible family connections” yet. My other adoptee friends were the ones who told me about the service and recommended it to me.

  6. I’m intrigued by the other groups that advocate this, like Sara mentioned. It reminds me of the “return trips” to Africa similar to those for adoptees.

    Jenny, do you mean you found your birth parents as a result of the DNA test?

    This question was prompted by the daughter of a Lebanese adoptee who found something I posted on one of those web sites where people post that they are looking for family in [X] country….it breaks my heart, because I know what they don’t know, so I put my contact info and every once in a while I hear from someone and then have to agonize about what to say what not to say.

    She mentioned offhandedly that her mother had done the test through 23&Me and had found dozens of “relatives”. This didn’t surprise me, because the Lebanese diaspora is 2 1/2 times the population of the country here; mostly in Brazil and the States.

    This discussion has me now thinking I’m maybe looking in the wrong place….

    Another question for you all, because I’m still not sure of the genetic science here….whom are they matching you with exactly? Because it seems to me that at some Nth level of the “family tree” branching out we all kind of blend together….No?

  7. DNA testing to me had always seemed like a far-off possibility for the future. Now with sites like 23andMe, Ancestry.com, and Family Tree DNA that promise results at the relatively affordable price of just $99, it has become clear to me that this is, in actuality, a possibility for young adoptees, as well. In fact, one of my adoptee friends recently told me that she was asking for a 23andMe test on her Christmas list.

    I took a look at the 23andMe website after she told me about her Christmas wish. Though the company claims to have one of the largest databases, the likelihood of transnational adoptees finding family through the site seems fairly low, simply because the target audience is an affluent, literate English speaking population. In this regard, the ancestry seeking element of the DNA testing is essentially useless to me.

    A very attractive component to 23andMe that the other two sites mentioned lack is the access to genetic health information. I certainly understand why adoptees have a desire to know this information. I have thought about genetic testing in the mindset of finding out if I have any recessive traits or am a carrier for any genetic diseases that I could potentially pass on to offspring. What concerns me on a significant level about the health information component to 23andMe is the commercialization and profitization of knowing people’s intimate health histories.

    In most states of the United States, it is illegal for adoptees to retrieve their original birth certificates. This makes it nearly impossible for many adoptees to obtain their own medical records from the hospital they were born in, because in many cases, they don’t know where it is, the name of the hospital, or the names on the birth certificate of either parent. Being able to possess your own original, unaltered birth certificate is something that I think should be a basic right for every human being. People who are non-adopted can hold this essential piece of paper in their hands. For adoptees, though, their original documents are government owned and locked away.

    While 23andMe may think that they are providing a service to domestic adoptees (in particular) who lack health information, I believe that they are actually doing a disservice. When adoptees are drawn to 23andMe, a seemingly much simpler process of finding out biological information, the private company profits and simultaneously less pressure is put on the legislature to ensure more adoptee rights. If laws are to change in favor of adoptees, we cannot lax the fight until domestic adoptees have access to their basic information.

  8. I’ve decided to do a DNA test, thanks in large part to the various discussions here, as well as contact with a search angel in the States whose mother was adopted from my orphanage…

    I found a few articles on the subject, linked to adoption in case anyone hasn’t read them. The first is from the Times:

    The second from the Wall Street Journal:

    This search angel recommended 23andMe, and I was inclined to go with it until I read that Family Tree DNA did the testing for the National Geographic DNA mapping project; I remember many Lebanese here tested themselves for this at the American University Medical Center (although mostly in a bid to prove they did not have “Arab blood”).

    So it seems to be a toss-up between looking for links in a diaspora community or in a local community that doesn’t want any A-rab long lost “son” showing up on their doorstep!

    Any advice is greatly appreciated!

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