Friday, February 8, 2013

Using DNA to Find Family: You Can't Have Too Much Family

Richard Hill
As Richard Hill solves the mystery of his birth family in his heart-warming memoir  Finding Family, he opens the window on using DNA data bases to find family.

 Hill was born in 1946 and raised in small town Ionia, Michigan. He first learned of his adoption at age 18 when a family doctor whom he had consulted on a small matter asked him "how do you feel about being adopted?" He tucked away this startling information and did not tell his adoptive parents what he learned.

Fourteen years later, Hill's adoptive father, on his death bed, told Hill about his adoption. He said Hill's birth mother's name was Jackie, and she had lived with the Hills the last few months of her pregnancy.

He told Hill she was divorced and had a young son, Hill's half brother. After Hill's birth, she went to Detroit and Hill's adoptive parents had no further contact with her. A year later, she died in an automobile accident.

By this time, Hill had married his college sweetheart, Pat, had three children, and a demanding job. He put aside the information about his adoption until, four years later, he learned later that his wife's cousin, Pam, was searching for a son she had given up for adoption. Hill's wife told hercousin about her husband's brother. Pam "practically screamed at me. 'You've got to find him!"

Jane
SEARCHING
Hill delved into his search, joining a search group, contacting his parents' friends who had put them in touch with Jackie, obtaining vital statistics records, reading old newspaper clippings, accessing court records, following leads passed along by family and friends. Each lead led to another, some valuable, others into blind-alleys. He was appalled to learn learned that his birth certificate and court records contained inaccuracies and downright falsehoods.

Within a few months, he was able to find his half-brother, Michael. They hit it off immediately, becoming "real brothers"; the only contention between them was that Michael rooted for the University of Michigan. "As a [graduate and] fan of Michigan State, I found Mike's preference for my school's archrival disheartening. But since he was my brother, I chose to overlook that single flaw in his character."

The search to find his father took another 30 years. Again, he plowed through official records, questioned his mother's friends and co-workers, only to end up short. Hill turned to DNA technology, first to rule out one man, and eventually to identify his father.

DNA TESTING
Hill has retired and devotes himself to educating "genealogists, adoptees, and anyone uncertain about his biological roots" about DNA testing to help them "avoid mistakes and find the most efficient paths to the answers [they] seek." His uses layman's language on his free website, DNA-Testing-Advisor.com, as he explains how DNA testing works and evaluates for-profit DNA testing services.

In time DNA testing may well become common for adoptees searching for birth families. I think it may have even greater value for persons created through "new fertility technologies" to find their egg or sperm donors. While adoptees may be able to access birth certificates, court records, and memories of friends and relatives, those who begin life with the pairing of gametes in petri dishes, have no such search aids.

FOUR FAMILIES
Hill's memoir is well-written, easy to read, a can't-put-down tale. It's more than that, though, as Hill reveals himself in the process of discovering his roots. When he obtains a picture of his birth mother, he writes of the "delayed grief over my birth mother's death and our lost relationship."

It's a warm story of a man who finds family as well as roots. "Looking back, I do not regret a minute of it. While frustrating at times, my search proved to be a rich and rewarding experience. I uncovered the truth about my birth parents, acquired wonderful new siblings and cousins, and built a family tree for my descendants."

I was pleased that Hill resisted compartmentalizing his families."'I'm a lucky man,'" he told his wife. "'Most people are only blessed with two parents. I had four. Two of them created me from the DNA of my biological ancestors. And the other two molded me into the person I am today.'

"'And now you have four families in your life instead of two,' Pat added.

"'Yes,' I said. 'Best of all, I don't have to give up anybody in my adopted family. It's not an either-or thing. I'm just adding on.'

Pat's next comment summarized my feelings exactly. 'You can't have too much family.'"--jane
_______________________________
The DNA Testing Advisor

From FMF
Natural and Adoptive Families: Let's Gather Together

THE BOOK
Finding Family: My Search for Roots and the Secrets in My DNA  An engrossing account of an adoptee trying to reclaim the biological family denied him by sealed birth records. This fascinating quest, including the author's landmark use of DNA testing, takes readers on an exhilarating roller-coaster ride and concludes with a twist that rivals anything Hollywood has to offer.--Amazon

4 comments :

  1. You can't have too much family or too many people who love you. I am a First Mom reunited with my son for 6 years.

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  2. Loved this story. Thank you Jane and Lorraine for this, and all of your wonderful posts.

    I'm struggling with whether or not to reach out to someone who might not even exist: http://write-o-holic.blogspot.com/2013/02/searching-again.html

    DNA may come into play if indeed I have a half-sibling out there. Not needed when I reunited with my son. Our info was a perfect match, and when I first saw him, I knew he was mine (and his father's). Different for siblings I imagine.

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  3. I have this on my kindle library. I look forward to reading it.

    As an adoptee, I chose to be an egg donor for personal reasons that I won't go into on a public forum. Yes, donor created children may not have many legal documents or public records to search, and donors are 'guaranteed' anonymity if they choose that type of situation-I have filed a waiver of confidentiality at the agency- wouldn't accept an agency unless they let the parents know that my information and a letter to them was waiting if they needed or wanted to contact me. I also required to be paired with a couple who intended to tell their child(ren) how they were concieved. I am also registered at the sibling registry for donors. I also would not sign a contract if it allowed for embryo adoption. I have updated each resource with any move that I have made in the 10yrs since I was donor. One main reason I chose to be a donor is that in my own way, I thought I was helping a family create their own family without adoption. As misguided as I now feel this may be, I did donate with a full heart. I have always felt that should a child of my genetic makeup want to search- that they would have the same tenacity as I had during my adoption search. I will just make sure that I am doing everything in my power to make that a simple process when they are adults. I have not signed up for genetic testing or forums online but will keep that in mind in the next 8yrs before they become adults (I know that twins were concieved.)
    While I know that these are not true guarantees (as proven by lackluster enforcement on most open adoption contracts) I did what I felt was right at the time. I do hope that state registries open to donors and adults concieved via donations in the near future.

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  4. "You can never have too much family!" I love that you said that. There's always room for more to join your family. Thanks for sharing this. I sometimes forget about the DNA aspect of it.

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