Would You Like To Compare Our Genomes?

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Adoptee Laureen Pittman shares her notes and advice on corresponding with DNA relatives. 

I know I got lucky.

I hit the adoptee jackpot when I submitted my saliva sample to 23andMe and found my birth father a few weeks later. It was a total surprise. A little bit of a miracle, really. He wasn’t looking for me. He didn’t even know I existed. He got the surprise of his life when I wrote to him and told him he had a daughter.

Imagine writing that letter. What do you write to a man you’ve never met, but whose chromosomes you share? (The long story answer, including letters, is included in Genetic Testing: Miracles and Science). The short story is, it took some convincing that our match was not a mistake. My biological father, Jackson, never imagined he had a 50-year old daughter. When we initially exchanged information, he explained that he joined 23andMe hoping to learn more about his own biological father’s family. He’d been told that his father died when he was young, and so his mother raised him alone. As Jackson got older and asked more questions about his origins, she never gave him any meaningful details. So there he was, like me, trying to fill in holes in his family tree. So I helped him, and hope to help you too by sharing some advice on what I learned in the process.

Once your sample is processed with 23andMe, you’ll be notified that your results are available. First, you’ll want to check out your Ancestry Composition, which estimates what percentage of your DNA comes from populations around the world, broken down by geographic regions to show the origins of your ancestors going back many generations.

Then, if you’re interested in making connections with potential relatives, you’ll want to opt in to 23andMe’s DNA Relatives feature. This is where the correspondence begins.

Once you opt in, you will most likely receive requests from cousins and other distant relatives building their family trees (although, in some cases, like mine, you might find a father or mother immediately). Often times, cousins may have no idea there was an adoption in the family. They might ask you for surnames so that they can determine where you fit in their family tree. Your adoptive surname, however, will have no relevance to their tree, so you’ll need to be prepared to tell your story.

For example, I received this request from a 2nd to 3rd cousin match. He asked the typical questions, using a template provided by 23andMe:

Hi—Through our shared DNA, 23andMe has identified us as relatives. Our predicted relationship is a 2nd cousin. Would you like to compare our genomes? By sharing genomes we can compare our DNA using ancestry features and discover clues about how we are related. Surnames in my family: Mann, Bailey, Schmidt. I live in Northern California now, and I’m in my late 50’s. This is my first experience with 23andMe—interesting!  —Andy M.

As expected, none of those names meant anything to me. The only way to find out how we were related—and perhaps help my biological father solve his own mystery—was to share my story with this virtual stranger, so I wrote:

Hi Andy—23andMe is most definitely “interesting!” Here is the information I have about my biological family–maybe you can help me put some of the puzzle pieces together and see how we may be related.

Unfortunately, the surnames you provided don’t mean anything to me, but there is a reason for that. Perhaps they will mean something to me after we exchange information (I am hopeful!).

I was adopted as an infant. Hubachek is my adopted name, so it won’t help you with your relative search. But I do have some information that may be able to help you.

I was able to locate my biological mother 25 years ago. Her name is Margaret Michaels, born in Chicago in 1945. Her mother’s name is Eve (maiden name Beryl). I do not know her father’s first name, but I assume his last name was Michaels (I was born “Baby Girl Michaels”). Margaret never told me whom my biological father was (she has refused contact with me–it’s a complicated story), but I was able to find him through 23andMe. His name is Jackson Summer and he currently lives in Washington State. He was born in 1943–I’m not sure where, but he grew up in Santa Barbara, CA (as did Margaret).

Perhaps you are a match with Jackson?  If there is any other information I can give to you, I’d be happy to. Perhaps the surnames I’ve listed here mean something to you. Looking forward to hearing from you again. –Laureen

My advice to anyone pursuing a search for relatives through DNA testing is to respond to all types of contact requests. Someone out there knows your truth. They may not know they know, and you may not think that these distant relatives can provide useful information, but you never know when a scrap of information will help make random clues come together.

I didn’t hear from Andy for about six months. Then this:

Hi Laureen—Have you been in touch with Jackson Summer? My 88-year-old mom recently wrote to me. Can you forward this to him? Hope you’re doing well. – Andy M.

* * * * * *

From my mom to me [Andy]:

Jackson is the son of my Uncle Richard, your grandfather’s older brother who had come to this country before your grandfather.

Richard Schmidt was married to Katherine and had 2 children: Franz and Marybeth. Living in those days many miles apart, I believe I only saw him once when the family drove to Southern California when I was very young.

After WWII, I lost track of what Uncle Richard was doing. It wasn’t until I was married that I learned that Uncle Richard had had an affair while married to his first wife, Katherine. Of course, everything was very hush-hush. He and Katherine were divorced and the “other woman,” whose name was Mollie Summer, had a child. – Heide

Wow, Andy shared my information with his mother, who recognized the name “Summer.” Mystery solved! I had not only found my biological father, but I was able to help him find his biological father (my grandfather) and complete my family tree.

Sometimes adoptees searching for relatives through DNA testing spend months or even years waiting for a life-changing match, and sometimes it happens quickly, so send out those contact requests. Respond to requests sent to you. Share your story. Share it over and over again if you have to.

Soon I’ll be meeting Jackson for the first time, and his 88 year old cousin, Heide, too. The woman who shared her knowledge of the past and opened up the future for Jackson and me.

Thank you for visiting Secret Sons & Daughters. In addition to stories, you can find valuable resourcesdiscover your rights to your original birth certificate, meet other adoptees, and join the discussion by commenting (below) or on our Facebook page. Comments are always welcome. And we’d love to hear your story. Please subscribe and join our growing community.

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About the author

Laureen Pittman

Website

Laureen is a happily married wife and mother of two great boys. Her adoption truth was once a secret, considered a shameful thing that happened some 50 years ago. As she has said on her blog, "some people still believe that the past (my past) and history (my history) should be hidden and denied for all eternity in the name of “privacy” or to protect others from embarrassment." After almost 50 years, Laureen decided that she is the one who owns the choice about how to fill in the blanks about her identity. She writes about those choices on her blog "Adoption: My Truth" (website link above).

4 Responses

  1. Lynne

    Good suggestions, Laureen. I love your story. It blows my mind to think you found your father directly through a DNA match. I’ve reached out to many second to third cousin matches and while most of them have been pleasant, no one has been able to provide any clues to my father’s identity. I am a little weary but not ready to give up. In addition to FTDNA, I tested with Ancestry so maybe I’ll find some new matches who will know something.

    Reply
    • Laureen Pittman

      Thanks, Lynn! I know I certainly got lucky with the DNA match. What are the chances that a 70 year old guy who didn’t even know he had a biological daughter who had been given up for adoption would submit his DNA to the same company that I did? Persistence is the key, though, share the details with whomever wants to hear! That’s how we found my grandfather!

      Reply
  2. Darlene

    Thanks for sharing your amazing story. I belong to two DNA sites and have had multiple 2-3 cousin matches, but only been contacted twice. I do respond and have even allow people access so they can work on a tree if they like. With NO names to give, I find the experience frustrating.

    Reply
    • Laureen Pittman

      Hi Darlene! Keep trying! It’s not always about the names! I helped my bio dad find his bio dad (my grandfather) without a name. Not only was my adoptive name no help our journey, but his birth certificate was also falsified–he was the product of an extramarital affair back in the early 1940’s–it was all very hush hush. It was only by telling our stories over and over to the DNA relatives that the “affair” rang a bell with someone. Be persistent and as open as you can be when making contact. Good luck to you!

      Reply

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