Finding Family with DNA Testing
There was a new face at my step-grandmother’s funeral—another Nordic face, like my step-grandma and her children and grandchildren. He had never met my step-grandmother, but in the few days after her death and before her funeral, he had taken a DNA test through one of those testing websites and discovered the identity of his biological father. His father was one of my step-Grandma’s sons, who had dated the young man’s mother about two decades before. He was just in time to learn all about his biological grandmother by attending her funeral, although, unfortunately, just too late to actually meet her. The family flocked around this charming young man and the big, playful dog he brought with him to the family picnic after the funeral, thrilled to bring this unexpected new cousin into the fold.
Last summer, I met another stranger at a family reunion of another branch of my big family tree. This older man had also found us through DNA testing. The story uncovered by the DNA was a bit messier this go-around; his father was the family patriarch, my husband’s grandpa, who had been married to my husband’s grandma at the time this man was conceived. Did she know that he had cheated on her? Did he know that his infidelity resulted in a son? We can never know what they knew; they are long since deceased. “Ask your parents all your questions while they are alive,” one of my husband’s aunts told me with a shrug. The backstory may have been awkward, but family is a gift, and most of my husband’s aunts and uncles embraced their newly discovered biological half-brother.
I attended another family reunion last summer, for another branch of in-laws. There were no newly uncovered relatives present at this one. Several of them had taken DNA tests, and unsurprisingly, the app had grouped them together as biological relatives. But there was one extra person included in the mix, a profile for someone they hadn’t met who identified himself as an adoptee. They mulled over theories about how this one stranger was connected to their family and debated whether they should reach out to him. They weren’t sure if they should give him information that could lead to uncovering the identity of the man’s mother, who had apparently chosen to remain anonymous through a closed adoption.
Shortly after that reunion, I had my own DNA tested. The results were boring to the extreme. I learned that my ancestors were homogeneous white people who spoke English (one Viking invader excepted). In equally boring but reassuring news, the biological relatives identified for me by the app were the family I had always known. No surprises.