I learned the identity of my biological father two years ago as the result of an autosomal DNA test. Without knowing his name, or anything about him, the test results connected me with cousins in my paternal family, and led to the knowledge of who my father had been.
After decades of fruitless searching, finding my father was an incredible achievement. But success stories like mine are far from unusual these days.
The number of people using DNA testing services has grown steadily during the last few years, increasing the chances of finding a biological relative among them. The tests are fairly inexpensive, easy to take, and provide estimates of ancestral ethnicity along with a list of cousins.
But the most remarkable thing about DNA testing is the way it has put an end to secrecy in adoption, donor conceptions, and other cases of unknown parentage.
People who search for biological family members no longer have to put up with sealed records, sealed lips, misunderstanding, a lack of empathy, dead ends, and disappointment. Genetic genealogy has changed all that.
Missing relatives can now be found with just a little bit of luck and logic. All it takes is a few good matches from a DNA database, the ability to build and understand family trees, and some dogged determination.
Like millions of adoptees, I suffered from a hole in my identity for most of my life. My unmarried mother died in a car accident when I was an infant, and no one knew my father’s name. He is listed on my birth certificate as “unknown.”
Twenty years ago, armed with only a few erroneous clues, I set off on a quest to find my father. But I never would have been successful if it were not for the development of DNA testing services.
It took only six months from the time I submitted my first sample of saliva to AncesrtyDNA, to the time I had the answers I had been seeking for so long.
Knowing my father’s name, seeing photos of him, meeting my paternal relatives, and learning my paternal family history changed my life. It made me whole in a way that is hard to explain to those who don’t know what it’s like to be un-whole. It brought me a feeling of balance and quiet contentment, where before I had noise and unease.
When I found my paternal relatives it seemed as remarkable to me as if I had suddenly learned to play the cello. With my feet. Yet it was so ordinary a thing: to know one’s own family. And stories like mine are now happening every day.
I eventually tested with all three of the major personal genomic testing companies: Ancestry.com, Family Tree DNA, and 23andMe. Using all three greatly increases the pool of possible matches, which currently includes more than three million people and is growing daily. There are also services, like The DNA Detectives, for those who are searching.
I would recommend DNA testing to anyone with an interest in it, with the caution to be prepared for what might be revealed. Many people will be surprised to learn their national origins are not what they expected, and some will discover even bigger surprises.
I know of an amateur genealogist who devoted many years to his extensive family tree, and then a DNA test revealed he is not related to anyone on it. He had never been told of his adoption.
DNA tests can unlock secrets. But I believe it is always best to know the truth, and now the truth can always be known.