I was adopted as a 10-day-old infant, and so genetic relatedness has never been a part of my concept of family. I have never taken any real interest in my birth story, although my parents have always been open about my adoption and supportive of any interest I might develop in learning more about my birth parents. I think it’s because I do not consider myself as having been “abandoned” or unwanted in any way and so there has not been any sense of loss or having missed out on something. I always assumed that my birth mother had good reasons for not wanting to raise a child, and the family who adopted me gave me a wonderful life. I also don’t like complicated relationships: I’m one of those people who take time to develop friendships and bring people into my inner circle – mostly because I’m extremely uncomfortable with getting rid of those same people if things don’t work out! There are bound to be complications in terms of what sort of relationship I would have with such people if I ever met them, and I’m not sure I want to bring that into my life. Finally, I had lots of aunts, uncles, and cousins growing up and both my parents remarried after their divorce so I had numerous step-siblings as well. I guess I felt I had enough family already.
However, I’m turning 50 soon, and perhaps that explains why now I have developed some interest in learning more about my “back story”. It started when my husband did one of those DNA testing kits that claim to provide answers about your ancestry. I already knew enough about genetics to understand that what they tell you is extremely broad and non-specific, so I really had no interest. But I got bugged to do one so I finally caved and did it. I joked that being a white-skinned, blue-eyed person living in North America, the results would not be very surprising…”Congrats, you come from northwestern Europe!”…what a surprise (not!). But I was curious if there was anything else thrown in there. I was also secretly hoping for lots of British heritage since my Dad and his side of the family are all English (my mum’s side has a bit as well), and I grew up with a good dose of British culture. The results came quite quickly and the results were pleasing but not surprising. I’m 99.1% northwestern european, with the other 0.9% being more generalized european (those genes that can’t be traced to anything more specific). Of that 99.1%, I’m 65% British/Irish and about 20% French/German with the rest being non-specific. Again, that doesn’t really mean anything since those populations mixed a lot over the last millennium or so. But although it’s silly I did give a silent cheer that I was “mostly British”. I’m guessing my genetic family has lived in Britain for a long time before someone emigrated to the New World.
These sites also have the ability to identify genetic relatives, although they are generally limited to those who have been customers of the same service you choose. I was especially nervous when I clicked on that link, worried that a cousin or closer might show up and wondering how I would handle that information. But it turns out that the nearest genetic relative shares about 1% of my DNA, and may be a third or fourth cousin (I also used a sharing site that allows you to test against people from other DNA kit providers, but nobody closer than that appeared there either). I share great-great-grandparents with my third cousins, and given how many kids people had in those days, this person could be one of dozens and dozens of them.
So all in all, it was not a surprise, but it is cool to know. And since British historical records go back centuries it has started me getting interested in learning more about my ancestors. I’m thinking about doing a family tree, but that is a bit more complicated when you are adopted…my next post will tackle that subject.