During the past year, I have been slightly obsessed with reading any helpful adoption material. Every time I go to Barnes and Noble I’ll come home with another book that doctors or adult adoptees have written specifically for adoptive parents.
The consensus is always the same. Even if you love your adoptive family more than words can express, every human wants to know from where they came.
One of my best friends in college was an adoptee. He had no information on his birth family. When he did look it up, he was met with circumstances that led to him finding nothing.
My friend was upset, but to my surprise it was more because of the lack of information he had on his own history rather than knowing more about his birth family. He would make jokes about what ethnicity he could potentially be. He would tell me how it would always upset him when people would explain their heritage (50% German 50% italian) and he would never be able to answer when they asked him. He said it felt like a gaping hole.
I’ve always remembered that. At the time I thought that it would be irritating not to know that information, but it was something that wouldn’t disrupt my every day life.
Then I got involved in the adoption community, and realized how important it is to have an answer to those simple questions.
In the process of trying to think of a solution for my friend I stumbled across DNA testing. Testing back then was much more limited, but I always wondered about its potential in the future.
DNA testing has three main types of tests.
- Y-DNA – follows the virtually unchanging paternal line (obviously a test only available to males)
- mtDNA– matrilineal line using the mitochondria of the person being tested (both males and females can take this test)
- autosomal– biogeographical DNA that in a sense will give you a general ideal of what your ancestry is. This technology has improved greatly in the past couple of years. The sample regions have increased and with a 27 marker test you can get sometimes a VERY specific result from the test. Here is a better explanation:
Autosomal DNA testing purports either to determine the “genetic percentages” of a person’s ancestry from particular continents/regions or to identify the countries and “tribes” of origin on an overall basis. Admixture tests arrive at these percentages by examining SNPs, which are locations on the DNA where one nucleotide has “mutated” or “switched” to a different nucleotide. Tests’ listing geographical places of origin use alleles—individual and family variations on various chromosomes across the genome analyzed with the aid of population databases. As further detailed below, this latter type of test concentrates on standard identity markers, such as the CODIS profile, combined with databases such as OmniPop, ENFSI and proprietary adaptations of published studies. – Wikipedia
All three tests (assuming you’re male) can be very helpful information for adoptees.
How does DNA testing work?
The key is making sure people understand how the testing works. Let’s say your ancestors are from a rural area of South America that has never been sampled. If you take the test you will not get those results, but whatever your closest match is based on your alleles (I’m speaking strictly about the autosomal testing)- Sometimes the results can also be shocking to people who take the tests with already a good idea of their genetic makeup. Someone thinking they are 100% Irish with relatives dating back 100 years could take the test and pull up Scandinavian or Romanian. This doesn’t mean that the test didn’t work, but that your genetic code is frequent in that area of the world. This test is a great reminder that the human race migrated, and while humans do put up borders, biology and genetics are blind to it.