Genealogy is more than just names and dates. Genealogy is more than just a diagram of a family, whether biological or adoptive. Genealogy is about understanding one’s own self and building connections. With this knowledge, DNA has become an important element of genealogy in my family. I was adopted six weeks post-birth. I was adopted to a single, Italian American woman. Growing up, I always knew I was adopted. My adoptive mom, who I call mom, was very open with me about my adoption, though it was closed.
Growing up, I was indirectly taught about genealogy. Family tree projects were common and in science class, we did projects using Punnett squares. I never thought that the knowledge I learned from my early days of education, would then be used to help enhance my understanding of genealogy and further my career in the field of genealogy. I was truly blessed to have gone through such an educational experience that promoted learning about the generations. While during my education, I learned about my adoptive family, I was fortunate enough to reconcile with my biological family during my senior year of high school.
Finding my biological family had to do with genealogy, but indirectly. I wanted to find my biological family because I wanted to know where I came from and who I came from. After a trip abroad with my mom, I went looking in the safe for my wallet, but instead found information that named my biological parents. I took this information and applied it to Google. Unfortunately for me, nothing appeared for my biological father. However, luckily, my birth mother had started a public family tree. I knew I had an older full-brother who fit the age of the son she had listed. He also had the same last name as my biological father. Knowing this, I tried to friend request him on both Facebook and Twitter. This all took place toward the end of August. In early September, I felt brave enough to reach out. I “tweeted” my biological brother and he responded. We began private messaging going back and forth. I did use somewhat of an alias in case he was not aware of an adopted sister or if I may have found the wrong family. Fortunately, we were able to confirm our relation. For a month, we kept it between the two of us. After that month, I began talking to my birth mother and various members of my biological family. I was also put in touch with my biological father.
My birth mother was very open and honest. She answered my questions, but also shared with me stories of my biological ancestors. She shared with me stories of an ancestor, Adelaide Jackson, who attended Tuskegee Institute, while Booker T. Washington was president, and was taught by George Washington Carver. She also shared with me that we had formerly enslaved ancestors who bought their own freedom. These stories made me want to know more. She helped build my own personal family tree, and I fell in love with the research in the process.
After watching Roots and the genealogy-related shows produced by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. I decided to reach out to him. He responded and suggested DNA. By that time, I had already tested with AncestryDNA. His suggestion was with 23andMe. I decided to have my brother take the DNA test because of his Y-chromosome. DNA has evolved into an important element to help build connections with my family. Confirming my relationship to my biological family, while also finding new relatives. DNA has also revolutionized the way in which I see myself. I discovered new ways in how I connect to the world. I knew I was of African descent, but now I know approximate locations in Africa that my ancestors originated. I knew about slavery and I knew that slaves were powerless to the advances of the slave owners/masters. Seeing my DNA and the high percentage of European, forced me to confront the reality of the situation. The reality being that in my own biological ancestry, I have the blood of a slave owner.
This type of information will be good to teach my children. This is their history too. DNA is a great way to bond with family and learn more about one’s own self. I have personally taken three ancestral DNA tests with the three major DNA testing companies and recently had my DNA uploaded to GPS Origins, which has truly helped bring my families together. GPS Origins has put our ancestral origins in a whole new perspective. I can say that my ancestors came from Nigeria and Cameroon. The significance of this information is that I know where my enslaved ancestors came from. I know my ancestral home. I am African, but Africa is a continent. I know countries in Africa, which is beyond words of importance.
My mom has taken a test. As for my biological family, my full brother and my birth mother have also taken a test. This has helped me build our trees and learn more about who we all are. In the past year, I discovered I have another brother, half, who was adopted. Ironically, he was adopted to a family in the same state as me, and only lives about an hour away. I have been writing about my journey to self-discovery by using genealogy and had published it through Lulu. An excerpt of various pages existed online through Google books. He and his adoptive mother saw this while trying to research his birth mother. They then contacted me and I tried to connect him to our birth mother who instantly denied ever giving birth to him. I then told him to take the ancestral DNA test, the same one that my birth mother and brother and I took. When the results came back, I was shocked. He was in fact my half -brother and the son our birth mother. I informed her of the data, and she, to this day, continues to deny ever giving birth to him. It’s sad and has put a strain on all of our relationships, but I continue to keep in contact with my biological family and my new-found brother.
In addition to my biological family and my adoptive family partaking in the ancestral DNA testing, recently, I had my spouse and son, who is not even two yet, take an ancestral DNA test. I am doing this to get the conversations flowing. I plan on buying a map and charting the different ancestral locations that our ancestors took, based on where both the DNA and paper trail claim our ancestors may have came from. Maybe we will travel to these locations. Either way, I am opening up a dialogue between family members and people who may come to my house and see this map. I can then encourage them to do the same. At the same time, I can advise them to make a family tree so that when matches see them, they are not stumbling over the “who are you connected to?” or “how are we connected?” questions.
My goal is to unite the generations. In this day and age, genealogy is advancing. Ancestral DNA is the newest innovation and craze within the genealogy world. We see commercials and through our matches that people care about ancestral DNA for the purpose of wanting to know their ancestral origins, rather than to connect with relatives and figure out who their ancestors. I am engaging various generations of my own family in the DNA testing and creating a space for open dialogue to encourage others to ask questions about my own genealogy, while also questioning their own.