DNA: The Great Equalizer

by | Jun 29, 2019 | Adoption, Find, Search

DNA, without a doubt, is the single most powerful tool available to those of us who search for biological family. Why? Because there is really no arguing with it. People lie, people hide their past and try to hold on to secrets, but DNA does not lie- it is the great equalizer.

In my own search, when I finally found and prepared to reach out to my birth mother’s family, I had two bits of incontrovertible proof of my claim that I was indeed who I said I was: I had my adoption records, some of which were written in my birth mother’s hand, and I had a DNA connection to one of her daughters through 23andMe. There has never be a shadow of doubt in my mind that I found my biological family, and there has never been a shadow of doubt in their minds that I am my birth mother’s son. DNA does not lie.

Over the past 15 or so years, DNA testing has taken off and entered into the mainstream. There are really three different things that you can discover through current DNA testing:

Health. Many people take DNA tests because they are interested in what the results can tell them about their health. Some DNA tests can look for markers which will tell you whether you have a tendency towards certain illnesses or conditions. I have not done DNA for health because I was preoccupied with searching for my biological family, and at the time, the health part of the test was not available to me where I am currently living. It is something that I would like to pursue in the near future however.
Ethnicity. This is perhaps the most controversial and widely viewed image of DNA testing. It is also the one that the DNA testing companies tend to emphasize in their marketing.

There are two sides to this coin though. The negative side of this is that people need to recognise that ethnicity is based on estimates. And those estimates are frequently adjusted as the algorithms are tweaked and updated. Trading in a kilt for a toga based on these estimates is, I think most people would agree, taking it a bit too literally.

The flip side however, is something amazing and transformative on a global level. The idea of extended family is really being extended- and again, there is no arguing with DNA. This video show exactly how global each person’s family really is:

So, as with most things, there is good and not so good. DNA ethnicity is not immune. I’m going to say that the ability to connect people and show them the bigger picture of their ethnicity far outweighs the question of pinpoint accuracy. We are a global family, we are all connected at some point in the past, DNA makes these connections very real and very hard to argue with.

DNA Relatives. This is the golden ticket for adoptees and birthparents looking for each other. As an adoptee, I find it very difficult to convey how it felt to open my DNA results for the first time and see almost 1000 people who are biologically connected to me. It was, (and still is) truly seismic.

I was lucky to have a half sister in my list of relatives and that lead me directly to my my bio-mother’s family. Some people are lucky to find their bio-parents in their list! Others may find an aunt, uncle, or a close cousin.

Cousins are great! For search purposes the closer they are to you the easier it is to search, but even a third cousin can help build a tree and connect to the family you are searching for. I was recently contacted by a fourth cousin who asked if I was interested in working with her to find how exactly we are connected. This project with her opened up a huge branch of my biological family tree consisting of more than 150 people. We discovered that we are connected through our 4th great grandfather born in England in 1795. That is extraordinary!

DNA is the gift that keeps on giving. I began building a family tree as I started discovering biological family and needing a way to keep track of who everyone is and my connection to them. In a little over 18 months, I have grown my tree to almost 1300 people, and in doing so have begun to reclaim my heritage.

If you are searching, and you have not yet done a DNA test, what are you waiting for?

Here are the big four companies to get you started. If you are searching, I would suggest doing as many as you can afford, or use the testing plan in this article, Getting Started with DNA Testing:

23andMe

AncestryDNA

MyHeritage

FamilyTreeDNA

 

If you need some help sifting through all of the different testing options,

DNA Weekly

DNA Weekly is a website which provides in-depth and impartial reviews of leading DNA test kits, user-generated reviews of every DNA test kit they’ve tested and detailed kit comparisons.  It’s a great resource.

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Written by Derek Grimm

Derek was adopted at birth in Calgary, Canada. He began his 35 year journey in his late teens little realising how long it would take before finally piercing the veil and making contact with both sides of his birth family. The experience he has gained through the years of his search, the successes, and the lessons he learned from the mistakes he made form the backbone of the Search Find Become course.

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