I had the pleasure of being invited to present The Answers are Inside You: DNA Testing for Adoptees at Pact Camp East last week. In my regular life, people find genetic genealogy pretty boring. Not so at a camp full of adoptees and adoptive parents! I have never felt so much love and interest for the work I do! I was talking about birth searching and genetic genealogy morning, noon and night.
Pact Camp East was such a wonderful opportunity to help educate adoptees and adoptive parents about new opportunities available to them through DNA testing. I presented with my dear friend Susan Ito, who shared the story of how we used DNA to break through a 37-year brick wall to identify her birth parent (watch for her story here in the future!).
I feel so fortunate I had the opportunity to attend Pact Camp an transracial adoptive parent. I am always looking to learn from adoptees, first parents and experts to further my adoption education, because I want to be a better parent to my daughter. I attended sessions by some amazing adoption experts including April Dinwoodie, Amanda Baden and Holly van Gulden. I also got to meet Beth Hall, Pact co-founder and author of Inside Transracial Adoption, a book which I wore out in my early years as an adoptive parent. The programming included amazing performances and keynote speakers too.
Between sessions, I had the chance to talk with several adult adoptees who have taken DNA tests. I found they had tried to look at their results, but found them confusing. They shared the common problem of not knowing if their DNA relative matches were “good” matches or not. In the future, I will write more about how searchers use matches to identify biological family lines, but generally speaking I can say I get pretty excited when I see an estimated second cousin match. While every search is different, a second cousin match tends to have a good chance of being traceable.
I have personally had several adoptees say “I don’t have any good matches, only a bunch of second cousins,” so they didn’t bother to investigate DNA relationships. Of course, most adoptees would all hope to find a parent or sibling match, but third (and even fourth!) cousins can lead to a search success in the right circumstances. Even in international adoptions, not-so-close matches can provide clues or connection to biological relatives for adoptees who have very little information about their background to work with. Every clue matters!
Both of my parents are deceased, but I grew up knowing that my dad was adopted, it was never a secret in the family. However, he knew little of his birth family, with the exception of the town his birth mother was from. We are from Missouri, where original birth certificates are not available without court order.
I got engaged to be married a year ago and my husband’s family origins are also fuzzy with his mom being adopted and father unknown. I had DNA testing done on both of us to make sure we were not closely related. We passed that test. However, in the process I found that I had an unknown cousin who had also tested on Ancestry. I had my mom’s only surviving sibling tested as well so that I could eliminate matches from my mother’s side. This cousin was definitely a cousin through my father. With the help of some amazing friends I met along the way, we found contact information for this cousin. Amber Decker (from GenePeace), Holle Mason Wood, and Cindy McBreen Wellman are women who I could never repay for the gift they have given me in helping me with this search.
On Labor Day of last year she and I Skyped for the first time. She confirmed that there was a baby boy given up for adoption at the time my dad was born in her family. She is actually my dad’s first cousin (and incidentally has the same career as myself). There were many tears when we started sharing photos as the resemblances were uncanny. She began notifying the rest of the family who were informing those who did not know of my dad’s existence. It is a very large family! I gained over 20 first cousins (I previously only had 5 total with both sides of my family). In October of last year I made the journey to where most of the family still lives and met aunts, cousins, and the man who married my dad’s mother long after he was given up for adoption (not his father). I also spent Thanksgiving with them to meet more people!
This June, I got married. My dad’s birth family showed up en force! They spent the entire week prior helping us prepare to make my dream of a country wedding in my barn come true! My step-grandfather, at 82 yrs of age, hand made a quilt for us as a wedding gift that included meaningful images stitched into the fabric. My first cousin who is the son of my dad’s only brother officiated the wedding for me. When i began this journey and investigation I truly only wanted medical history. What I got was beyond my wildest dreams, I got the large family I had always wanted. Girl cousins! Aunts who share similar interests and talents as myself. Most importantly, I got a family who is loving and supportive and accepted me with open arms. The pictures are of the family who were able to make it to my wedding, the quilt I mentioned, and my cousin officiating our wedding.