Finding Your Biological Roots Stories from a genealogy detective:
uncovering family secrets, reclaiming the truth and uniting families

Monday, November 16, 2020

Unlocking Hidden Family Secrets

person doing genetic genealogy research
For adoptees, acknowledging the part of their personal story that is a mystery and knowing truth lies hidden in the background is what keeps many of them going. It's having hope there will someday be an answer.

You may question the wisdom of rattling bones long buried. But I have always been a believer that truth, no matter how difficult the circumstances, should be brought into the light, examined and accepted. From personal experience, I have found those who hide the truth, usually have something to hide themselves.

Working with adoptees and other NPEs requires a good amount of digging into uncomfortable family secrets and the persistence necessary to peel back decades of inaccuracies. There can be unforeseen and sometimes unhappy consequences when contacting possible birth families. And there may also be joyful and accepting connections made between an NPE and her/his DNA match. You just never know who will be receptive to an inquiry or how they will react to an unknown sibling, cousin or close family member. Researching an NPE can take a few days, months or in some cases, over a year to reach a conclusion.

I created this blog to tell the true stories of NPEs I have investigated as a search angel. All names and some locations noted in future posts have been changed to protect the privacy of those involved. Sometimes the past that unraveled through genetic research was stranger than fiction, the stuff movies are based on! How hard many of these ancestors must have worked to keep the truth buried, not realizing it only takes a simple spit test by a descendant to unlock hidden family secrets.

The NPE stories I share are all accurate and as close to truth as can be established using genetic techniques and genealogical standards. I retell their narrative and the details involved in researching each case from the perspective of a genealogist.

I hope my experiences as a family historian turned genetic sleuth will educate and inform others about the challenges faced by adoptees. It is also my goal to inspire genealogists to pursue similar paths in helping NPEs find closure. And if you are an adoptee in search of information, don't give up hope. Keep sending messages to your DNA matches and one day you'll bump into someone like me who can't say no to a good genealogy mystery.

Unlocking Hidden Family Secrets

Sunday, November 15, 2020

Unique Life Stories of NPEs


young family walking down path
Many of the NPEs who have contacted me are well into their senior years. They have lived decades with a question mark hovering over their existence, wondering about their true identity. Each NPE accepted the hand dealt them, knowing it was part of their personal life story. Their adoptive family, the place they called home, their faith – all were part of the puzzle and just as important as finding their birth lineage. Most of my NPEs simply wanted to know their ancestry – who were the maternal and paternal families they descended from, and nothing more. They had very little desire to connect with half-siblings or to interrupt someone else’s life by expecting a relationship.

I realized the life stories of my NPEs were not isolated incidences that could be “swept under the rug” as so many previous generations had done. As a genealogist with the goal of preserving past history with accurate names and dates, I understood the truth of NPEs was a significant part of every family genealogy. Their parentage should be recognized and included in ancestral trees just like any other descendant.  And their personal story should be told, enabling them to claim a heritage stolen by adoption or family secrets.

Since many of my NPEs were past the age of sixty-five, it was unlikely their birth parents were still alive. If I was able to identify their parentage and narrow down possible candidates, I often left the final descendant contact up to my adoptees, feeling that it was a personal choice if and how they would proceed.

As I said before, each NPE story is unique, and each conclusion to a case has its own ending. Some never make contact with their potential siblings; feeling satisfied just knowing who they are and identifying their true paternal and maternal surnames. Other endings never reach a definitive answer, being cloaked in decades of secrecy, hiding behind insurmountable brick walls. If luck and patience is on our side, some birth families will connect when DNA offers positive proof of a half-sibling or other close family member. And still others are ongoing, awaiting the next clue that may appear in a DNA data base or social network search group.

Young family walking together

Saturday, November 14, 2020

How I Became a Genetic Genealogist

collage of family photos

Years ago, I embraced the mission of family genealogist, delving into my ancestral past and sharing research with cousins living in many different countries. Over time, I compiled trees for family members and friends, as well as kept my own extensive tree. Happy to help others construct their ancestral history and share my passion, I never charged for time or services. With years of research experience tucked under my belt, I felt confident in my skills as a genealogist. Finding obscure references and connecting the dots found in public records came easily to me. I could build a story from a variety of sources and distill it down into a family history summary.

By 2012 Autosomal DNA had come along and I dived right in, dabbling in genetic testing. Enthusiastically I shared my results and what I had learned at family reunions with the hope that others would also be tested. Within a few years, many of my immediate family and a multitude of cousins had stepped up to the plate, testing at AncestryDNA, 23andMe and FamilyTreeDNA. I also tested with every major company to ensure my results were entered into all DNA data bases, offering the opportunity to connect with more cousin matches.

I devoured every book I could find on the developing field of genetic genealogy, in an attempt to self-educate myself about DNA testing and its application to ancestral research. I was fascinated by the opportunities this new tool presented. Beginning with my own DNA results, I honed my skills by comparing shared quantities of centimorgans (cMs), evaluating segment lengths, triangulating matches and identifying cousin relationships. I learned how to use various online tools and apps to help simplify the laborious task of clustering similar family lines. It was all so fascinating and exciting! DNA results added an extra dimension to the story, a hidden layer attached to our standard genealogical research practices. I was eager to incorporate genetic testing into my genealogy toolbox!

That opportunity arrived in 2016. Knowing my background with ancestral research, email inquiries began arriving from mystery DNA cousin matches. There were questions from cousins unsure of their parentage, as well as others not related to me, asking for help in unraveling their family secrets. Some unknown parentages lay several generations in the past. I knew that only DNA could unlock the closet door hiding long forgotten skeletons.

collage of family photos

Who Are NPEs?

child's hand in parent's hand
Mystery matches found in DNA results are more common than you think. Known as NPEs (non-paternity event or non-parental event), many people with unknown or questionable parentage have been testing during the past few years with the hope of finding their true birth families. The unknown names showing up in your cousin match list are attached to stories and histories woven into your own ancestral past.

How does someone get labeled as an "NPE"? Some were born out of wedlock and given up for adoption. Others may have been taken in or adopted by a close family member other than their original birth parents. An NPE can also be the consequence of an extra-marital affair, resulting in a different (and often unknown) father than the man who raised the child. And more recently, NPEs can be individuals born as a result of a sperm or egg donation, now searching for their donor parents.

Whatever the reason, persons born as a result of a non-parental event are making themselves known with increasing frequency due to today's popularity and easy-access to DNA testing. Not just a name in a long list of cousins residing on your AncestryDNA page, you can be certain that every NPE sharing your DNA is part of your family's history. And each mystery cousin seeking the truth has a unique personal story that has often been obscured beneath layers of secrecy.

children of questionable parentage