Identity, Adoption and DNA Testing

DNA testing and charting your ancestry has recently become quite popular. You may have seen commercials for sites such as ancestry.com or 23andMe. Many people are curious about their heritage, background and what famous person they may be distantly related to. But for many adoptees, this is more than just curiosity. They are hoping for answers and, at times, connections, a sense of belonging and pieces to their identity puzzle.

For the past several years, a group of teenagers and young adults have met once a month at the Holt-Sunny Ridge office to connect with one another and work through difficult situations or relationship dynamics in their lives. For many of these adoptees, a running theme has emerged surrounding identity and accessing information that they never had before. For those of us who know our ancestors and history, it’s something that we most likely take for granted. For instance, I’ve always known that my relatives come from Germany and that at some point in our history an “n” was eliminated from the end of my maiden name. I can look at pictures of my family and see the physical resemblance. I can look into my daughter’s eyes and see the same color as mine looking back at me. I can look at my son and see my husband’s eyes and my side of the family’s bone structure.

Many adoptees don’t have any information at all about their biological relatives, genetic makeup, culture or background. Some adoptees don’t even know if their birth date is actually the day they were born. It was assigned to them based on their approximate age when they came into care. They may have been born in a specific country or area, but that doesn’t mean that both of their biological parents were natives to that country. DNA tests can give adoptees so much in regards to their identity and who they are. Will it answer every question they have? Of course not. Is there a chance that some of the results may be inaccurate or not complete? Probably. In fact, information has recently become available about what to be aware of and consider regarding these tests. But overall — for an adoptee who has limited or no information on who they are or where they come from — these genetics tests can give a general, and potentially meaningful, overview.

One 18-year-old who attends the HSR group said that she decided to do the DNA test out of a general curiosity, but also because she didn’t want go through life just “assuming” that she is full Chinese. She reported that the test results gave her a sense of self and a piece of home. Another 18-year-old group member said he completed the test because his mother wanted him to have some medical knowledge based on his genetic makeup. Concerned he might have sickle cell anemia, she was relieved to learn that he did not carry that gene. Other adoptees reported that they were interested in connecting with possible biological family members, while others were just trying to gather more information about themselves and did not necessarily want to connect with anyone.

Before moving forward with DNA testing, it’s important to have a conversation about possible outcomes and what you and/or your child’s motivation may be for wanting to do it. It’s also important to do research on which company to use or which test to do based on what results you are hoping to acquire. Another factor to consider is how much and with whom you want to share the results once you get them.

Most importantly, remember who this is for! As an adoptive parent, you may feel some hesitation because of your own fears or anxieties. Or while encouraging your adoptive child to do the DNA testing, you may overlook your child’s anxieties; they may not be emotionally ready to take part.

Resources about DNA testing:

Learn more about 23andMe.

Learn about Ancestry.com.

Learn about Helix.

This resource ranks the top best DNA testing sites.

This Gizmodo article discusses things to consider about DNA testing.

One adoptee shares her story about completing a DNA test as part of her birth search.

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