Over 2% of people in the USA are adopted. Many of these people know very little about their parents, let alone their family history. DNA tests have been confirming family ties for decades. Only recently has genetic testing appeared as a viable ‘shot in the dark’ in starting the search for family.
For adoptees, learning about their biological families is about more than just making connections and the potential for reunification. Family history is integral to an effective personal medical history. Your family history is a concept that helps to direct choices by your medical professionals. This information – along with ancestry details – can be an incredible resource for shepherding you through parenthood, aging, and lifestyle decisions.
Learn about your medical risks
For anyone, at-home DNA testing can be a fun and informative way to begin your personalized health and wellness journey. Especially if you have little information about your family, genetic testing may be one of the few methods to learn about your risks and predispositions. Specifically, when it comes to health, 23andMe continues to lead the pack with the best offering – the only service to receive FDA approval for health reporting.
Fiona Tapp is an adoptee that is acutely aware of the discomfort that arises when doctors ask about her family history of disease. “My family health history was a blank page.” Eventually, she connected with her biological parents. Driven by concern for her children, she also collected essential answers to many of her health and history questions. Through discussion with more distant cousins, she was even prompted to investigate a possible hereditary heart condition that plagued her family.
This story is familiar to many and underscores the importance of family history in your health. However, this is often the best-case scenario. In most cases, adoptees have much less information to power their journey of discovery. Further, some individuals may be seeking to shine a light on a much simpler mystery: ethnic roots and ancestry.
Discover your ancestry
Jillian was adopted at birth – with ambiguous caucasian features – and knew nothing about her ancestors or heritage. She undertook a DNA test at home to get some answers. Immediately, she found that most of her family originally hailed from Ukraine; she was also lucky enough to find some genetic matches through Ancestry.com.
Only a few responded to her outreach. However, Jillian eventually connected with a cousin. This cousin shared a touching piece of her family history: the pierogi recipe of her Ukrainian grandmother.
“I will never taste the pierogies my grandmother made, but I can connect with her when I make them myself.”
Jillian’s experience demonstrates the feeling of inclusion that you can receive from DNA testing. Even without a fortuitous connection with a cousin, she can now explore the nature of her Ukrainian roots. This ethnic sense of identity can be especially important in individuals of mixed ancestry or ambiguous features. Further, associations have been made between the wellbeing of certain adoptees and their sense of cultural and ethnic pride.
Connect with your biological relatives
As the stories above show, the most impactful outcome of DNA testing for adoptees is the possibility of finding blood relatives. In the unusual case of Michael – adopted with his twin at birth – he discovered two new, but long-lost, sisters to add to his family. Along with Jillian, these reunifications are almost entirely due to the unique possibility of affordable, accessible, consumer genetic testing.
This is where at-home DNA testing shines; insights on health and ancestry remain somewhat inconsistent and variable depending on the test you ordered. When it comes to finding close relatives, it’s based on direct comparisons between genomes – no interpretation required. For more distant relatives, it becomes more of a guessing game but based on someone’s direct genetic similarity with you.
To maximize your chance of finding family members, you’ll want to keep a few things in mind:
- Services with the largest databases of customers, like 23andMe and Ancestry, have the best chance of finding relatives
- Downloading your raw DNA data allows you to upload it to other services, broadening your search regardless of what service was used initially. LivingDNA’s ‘One Family, One World’ project specifically aims to make as many connections between people as possible, allowing upload and analysis for free.
- Most matching services are opt-in only. This means that even if your relatives have been tested – with their DNA information in the database – they still may wish to remain anonymous or limit communication.
A note for adoptive parents
For those who have been lucky enough to welcome adopted children into their families – you may be tempted to have them genetically tested for a variety of reasons – with, no doubt, good intentions. However, it is best to wait until they reach adulthood, to allow them the opportunity to provide their fully-informed consent. Revealing the possibilities and implications of DNA testing has only just begun; this decision can have lifelong impacts, some that we may not even yet comprehend.
A DNA test can help you find your relatives
For adoptees – even raised in the most idyllic of loving families – still often long to know about their origins and ancestry. These reasons range from health risks to genealogical interest. Adoptees pursue DNA testing for many of the same reasons shared by the general population.
However, the possibility of connections with long-lost relatives, or even biological parents, is the largest and most reliable expectation that anyone can have from DNA testing at home. For adoptees, the chance of finding family – from the comfort of home, with little risk – is the driving reason that these genetic tests are an ideal choice to start your genealogical journey.