Sometimes, participating in DNA testing leads to the overwhelming sense of being lost in a strange world of numbers, big terms, and incomprehensible concepts. Muddling through the middle of it all can seem mind-numbing.
On the other hand, there’s nothing like success to shake one loose of that DNA malaise.
I mentioned to you, back in November, that I was contacted by a person whose mitochondrial DNA test results came back as an exact match to mine. For me, this is an unusual result. Out of the three tests I administer for my family—both my husband’s and my brother’s Y-DNA test and my own mtDNA test—this was the only instance of finding anyone who came as close as that.
The drawback was: the person claiming this exact match is an adoptee.
Put in a tailspin, trying to figure out just who among my mother’s maternal line ancestors—unbeknownst to anyone else in the family—could have put up a child for adoption, I did what I could to help my new mystery cousin with this quest.
The only help I could offer, it turns out, was a feeble attempt at comparing data. You see, if I trace my mother’s maternal line back through the generations, I don’t get very far. As you’ve already realized, if you follow A Family Tapestry with any regularity, is that I am stuck at the level of my second great grandmother.
That's the puzzle I've been trying to unravel, following that email from my mystery cousin back in November. I did write about the search, tangentially, in a couple more posts on DNA in December and earlier this month. Behind the scenes, the two of us were emailing back and forth, comparing notes, discussing possibilities—in my family (despite its limiting, brief documentation) and in his own research.
To his credit, my mystery cousin has been very focused on the pursuit. For someone with a background in genealogical research, this quest might have seemed easier, but there were multiple steep learning curves to mount in his case: the aspects of finding birth parents, overcoming legal obstacles of various states’ “sealed” adoption policies, learning about the world of DNA testing and the skills of genealogical research.
It was the aspect of DNA testing that helped lead this cousin to possible matches. While the mtDNA test provided a bit of direction, the main test that proved useful was the autosomal DNA test. This test identifies matches of a much closer familial range than the mtDNA or Y-DNA test can provide, making it the practical choice for such a pursuit. Not that it makes things easier. The test, in itself, is not a turnkey operation; the researcher does need to know what he is doing—and be prepared to put in lots of work following through with the search. DNA tests are a tool, not “The Answer.”
What I’m so excited to share, today, is that almost exactly two weeks ago, my mystery cousin emailed me the simple announcement:
I have found my birth mother.
Overjoyed on his behalf, of course I wanted to know the details. This was, after all, somehow a person related to me. While we are still plotting out the nexus between his birth mother’s line and my mother’s line—hint: this may go back a long way beyond my brick wall second great grandmother—I am enjoying the latest reunion news from my cousin. He and his mom have spent hours chatting online, then by telephone and in a face to face meeting.
The conversation didn’t stop with their reunion. Both of them are intensely keen on sharing their story—the pain of the separation, the years of the search, the methods of the search and how they reconnected. Besides, after mounting that steep learning curve, now this cousin has a lot to share, as a resource in helping others with their search for their birth parents as well.
Their story is not over, of course. There is much to catch up on, after a lifetime of separation. Once they move beyond the exhilaration of this reunion, though, I, for one, hope they put their story in a form that can be passed on to others in the same dilemma. Telling their story at conferences would be nice. A book would be great. No matter how they share the saga, though, just the fact that they can share it is the most important part.
Sometimes, it is easy to see how DNA testing can work for others—but hard to actually put it to work for ourselves. In my cousin’s case, as an adoptee totally new to the field of genealogy, he had the motivation to learn—and then, to do what he had learned.