Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Space Age Genealogy?

My forays into the files of the past to unearth ancestors has been the topic of a post or two in the past. I'm well aware that not everyone has the emotional need to know their progenitor as I. On more than one occasion I have been asked just why I care about people who have been dead for years! I can't say I have words for what drives me to find these humans who's lives lead to mine? There's the thrill of the chase. There's the unique stories of lives lived in times of hardship and plenty. There is the portrait of myself that is evolving. A subtle shading here with the discovery of one ancestors contribution and a splash of color there from others. It fills some longing in my soul to be connected within the circle of life.

This passion of mine comes with it's complications as well. My two daughters so far have watched my endeavors from afar. Those old people that they see in pictures cannot possibly compete with Justin Bieber or Taylor Swift don't you know?!?! But there will probably be that day when a head cocks and a furrow appears on the brow as they realize that there can be no climb through the branches of their family tree! I've fought the fight with those who say that they are now my daughters and therefore my family tree is their family tree. I am resigned to the fact that there will be many people who just are not ready to embrace the uncomfortable fact that my daughters HAVE a first family. Their first family are real flesh and blood human beings who did not melt into the mud of Mother Earth the day a judge signed a paper giving me the legal right to raise them to adulthood! They too have stories that shaped the very beings of my daughters. Someday my daughters may just want to feel the thrill of the chase and watch their portrait evolve...and that very thought reduces me to tears.

Adopted from Guatemala. That means a lot. The obvious is adopted. The difficult is Guatemala. I am doing all I can to open that door to their past that the process of adoption closed. There are many who would criticize my actions. Some think I need to keep Pandora's Box closed. Some think it is not my right but something to be left for the girls to do when they are ready. I know I'm right. Lots of doors get stuck shut with time! More importantly, people die over time...especially in Guatemala. Finding the family who can show you your tree is hard enough when you KNOW the family. I can only imagine, especially given the fact that one of the birth mother's has trouble even remember the ages of her own children, how hard it will be for them to get accurate information! I will keep safe and guard this information for the girls until the time they are ready. It will be their journey to make. I just plan to be there with the supplies they need to get started down the right path. My grandfather left my mother a notebook with notes of his recollections of his relations which has been a treasure trove for me in my endeavors. I see my actions of using a searcher to find the first families and then obtaining family information to be the same gift!

Now, after another monster of an introduction, I come to the post I meant to share!! Not only am I interested in genealogy, but I am a bit of a science geek. The burgeoning field of genetic testing has been singing it's siren's song to me every since I discovered that my girls would have DNA tests to prove that the woman placing them for adoption was indeed their biological parent. I mean really, what more tangible way to 'meet' your ancestors than look at those microscopic strands of protein that they handed off to you at the moment of your conception? The literal brush strokes they made on your portrait?  The problem up to know? Accessibility and cost!

Then one of the adoption forums I read mentioned how one of the bigger laboratories working in the field of genetic testing was having a sale. A significant, just in time for a great stocking stuffer sale!! It still was far from cheap but it was drastically less. So this past Christmas break the girls and I had a 'spit party'. The company mailed out special vials for us to spit into and when we had filled to the mark we closed the lid and mailed it back. Now these many looooooong weeks later we have the beginning of our results!! There are pages upon pages of information about the many different alleles and how they are interpreted. For the first time I feel a bit better about my girls future in genealogy. Just like I can quickly surf from file to file on the internet and in to find documents that previous generations of researchers took months of traveling and paging through old tomes in government buildings,....I'm feeling like my girls will get to fly along chromosomes and look at their ancestors. Maybe not as emotionally satisfying as seeing a name in print or a picture but better than the 'unknown' they would come across routinely in this day and age? Only time will tell how far this field will progress. But for now we have the first brush stroke in their portraits....

Called an "Ancestral Painting" by the laboratories!! 
The segments are designated by the original source of the DNA from 15,000-50,000 years ago. This is Mari's 'painting'. Her Asian portions are traced back to Siberia and 'paint' the picture of population migration across the Bering straits to the Americas. But this child who has always been thought to be be indigenous...clearly has the DNA from
the Spanish conquerors as well!

Julia, the one who's birth certificate from Guatemala reads "non-indigenous"....has 41% Maya in her DNA!! This new scientific field is redefining the 'label'. Redefining the portrait of who my daughters really are! Giving them their first peeks at those people in their past who made them into the human beings they are today. Who knows where this science will go with the information it can draw from those precious strands of protein? It is still in its infancy. There are not yet enough people participating in the studies to make it an exact science...but if they could just get the price down I'm convinced there would be interest! With just a limited number of participants we have already 'met' two of Mari's third cousins [based on % shared DNA] also adopted by Americans. Yes, the service offers you the option to be matched with others who share your DNA!! We will probably never know the names of the family members that connect our children but at least we can see the genes that do and that is better than nothing!! [PS-both of those 3rd cousins were born within 5 miles of where Mari was born!?!?] My fervent wish is that this field will continue to blossom and grow and that I have provided the girls with the first key to their past by the simple act of collecting saliva.
Oh, and guess who's DNA is in this Ancestor Painting??? One hint, Patrick only did his spit fest on Sunday....guess those Irish relatives I keep finding are no lie?!?!



  1. I find it fasinating. I wish I would get a tape recorder and sit down and let my grandpa just talk. He has traced some stuff himself, and its very interesting, i tell you we used to own Wallstreet, or thats what I'm told. You are inspiring me to not be lazy, he was just diagnosed with lymphoma and is turning 87 so proactive I think is the way to go.

  2. very cool! all of it. I had read about that 23andMe testing too. and you must be so so grateful for your grandfather's notebook!