Adoptees, Family Trees and Ethnic Origins

family_tree

I remember sitting in my elementary school class on the day we were to do a genealogy assignment. This assignment asked us to study our personal ancestry and learn more about our family history. The undeniably valuable assignment is continually met with frustration for many adoptees (and other people groups as well) as we may not have historical family access for one reason or another.

Having had anticipated this assignment, my parents had already helped me decide that I would use information from their ancestry, in essence, pretending that I was of European descent. This decision certainly helped me temporarily avoid embarrassment, mental strife, or worst still, having to oust myself in front of the class by exclaiming that I did not/could not know where I came from.  I still have a visual in my memory of the writing on the assignment that read “Remember to emphasize that genealogy is about biological relationships only.”  What a frustrating admonishment for someone who did not know a single biological family member at the time.

A few months ago, in the most fitting of birthday gifts, I was given an ancestry.com DNA kit from my parents! Without hesitation I conducted the quick and harmless buccal cell swab exam and mailed it off to Ancestry.com, where I would wait just two weeks before receiving this email:

Ancestry

I clicked to find my results and immediately learned that a large percentage of my DNA traced back to the countries of Côte d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast) & Ghana, as well as trace amounts linking me to Great Britain – fascinating!  I would’ve loved to have explored this information during my elementary years, possibly learning at an early age of the historical immigration to Great Britain by Africans. All of the time spent imagining that my family immigrated from the Caribbean islands before being enslaved in the South could’ve been thwarted with this truth!

This truly is a gift that keeps on giving as ancestry.com’s database continues to grow. I have been able to link together with other relatives for whom I’m able to then share this information with my birth families to help fill in the holes in our familial tree.

I urge all adoptees, or parents of young adoptees to invest in these scientific breakthroughs and allow adoptees ethnicity to be estimated through their genetics. Not simply for the sake of avoiding classroom embarrassment (admittedly a DNA test won’t solve all assignment woes), but for the purpose of being able to better understand the history of people’s movements leading us to where we are today.

This wasn’t the first time I’d taken a DNA test – the picture below was taken the day my birthfather and I met – this test determined that we indeed were father & daughter.

Sandy and Ang

10 thoughts on “Adoptees, Family Trees and Ethnic Origins

  1. 😦 But so cool about the DNA testing.

    Interestingly, it’s also SO obvious that you and your biological father are related! I nearly fell over when I watched the doc. Very powerful. I think we’re going to get going on a blended family tree for Theo at least to start and then if he needs to do a biological one at school (although I think they’re kind of changed that whole process of late), well he’s pretty lucky, he can actually do one – but I think the mapping will be very intense and possibly confusing for him (if he’s still little – if he’s older, I think he’ll really love it) so I want to get started soon.

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  2. You may find the book “the Juggler’s Children” very interesting especially with regard to the UK connection (rather unpleasant realization of white British land / slave owners impregnating their female slaves). The book itself is a great read with regard to DNA and geneology discovered via DNA.

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  3. Excellent article! I did DNA testing about 10 years ago for my daughter and self –although we both knew our ethnic backgrounds. The results were somewhat general.

    It sounds from your experience that now things are more specific. Yea!

    I agree— knowing sooner– much sooner–just saves so much wasted emotional energy and refiguring. I thought I was Irish for most of my life until meeting my bio mother in my 30’s. Last name is o’malley…..

    thanks again. so you would recommend ancestry.com? what a gift.
    like yourself— I got emails from people with the same genotype etc. I made contact with 1 german woman who had some good stories but then lost interest because it’s just a millionth degree of gene connection.

    My take away was that we are all related.
    Yup I am polish and french candadian. no irish. But then again I was emotionally Irish from my upbringing.

    This would be an awesome holiday gift for an adoptee or child living in foster care.

    take care beth o’malley
    adoptee, adoptive mom & writer

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  4. Great idea. I had thought about doing it as a gift for my adopted black son when he was 18. But you’re right, the sooner the better so he has that info during his school years and can use it in any way that interests him. How exciting to be able to trace your ethnicity back to a specific country.

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  5. So wonderful to read your story. As an adoptive father I look for ways to help my kids navigate their journey of self-discovery. They look different than me and mama, come from a different part of the world, and their biology is from a distant stream. These facts challenge us all to play open with the bonds of love, to let the truth, with all its facets lead us.

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  6. My 9 year old has been asking about getting one of these tests done. I think it would be really fun for him. I’m torn on which test to get though. I haven’t been able to find a good analysis of the differences. But I’ve heard different tests are better for different ethnicities. How did you settle on using ancestry?

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  7. Hi Angela. I recently did a DNA test on 23andme.com and amazingly and unexpectedly enough, it turned out that a biological relative of mine had taken the same test around the same time i did. The website matched us as relatives, which in turn led to me getting in contact with my birth mom just days later. I have 925 2nd-8th cousins matched with me on the website. Im not sure how the ancestry DNA website works, but if you have interest in any other DNA websites, I would highly recommend this one!

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