The Gift of Family

At this time of year when many of us are spending more time with family than we otherwise might, we often reflect on the empty seats at our table. We think of those who weren't able to travel to the family gathering, and back to those who have passed on. For some however, a long empty seat has been filled this year, thanks to the assistance of a DNA test.

Earlier this year we related the story of Mary McPherson and her cousin Dolores Washington-Fleming who discovered a common connection through Peter Edward Williams. Mary is a descendant of his wife, and Dolores through his slave.

Mary and Dolores welcomed this new connection and shared information about their common ancestor.  As they reunited for the first time, perhaps they talked about what life might have been like in the 1850’s in the south, and how their ancestors would’ve never guessed that the two of them would be gathered around the same table.

As word spreads of the power of DNA testing to reveal the secrets of the past, many adoptees are flocking to genetic genealogy testing companies with the intention of filling the empty seats at their holiday tables.  The New York Times reported a touching story of Khrys Vaughan who felt her identity crumble when she found out she was adopted. Turning to DNA testing she was able to connect with cousins and feel a biological connection she didn’t know she had been missing. Even though she still has many open seats at her table, she felt that filling even one meant that she was no longer biologically adrift, but could now look at someone and say, “This is my family.”

A similar story broke recently out of California. Just days old, Jen Chervin was found outside a hospital in Yuba City, CA. That was 40 years ago. But this year, Jen used the power of the genetic genealogy database in combination with some serious genealogy work to find her parents. While neither is in a position to openly embrace her as a daughter at this time in their lives, Jen now has a name card to place at seats of honor around her holiday table, all thanks to a simple saliva test.

This has been a landmark year in my own family. In one seeming miracle after another, I have added the names of maternal grandparents and great grandparents to my family tree as DNA testing has helped my mom fill in some of the missing pieces in her life. We have had a true Texas welcome from some of her paternal second cousins, and an outpouring of kindness from a maternal second cousin. While our place cards for mother and father are only tentatively penciled in, I know as I look around our genetic holiday table, I am excited about the new faces I see and I can’t wait to learn more.

If you want to get started filling seats at your table, there is no time like the present to give yourself, or someone else, the present of DNA testing! The first rule in DNA testing is to test the oldest generation. So parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles should be first on your list. If you are that oldest generation, then pat yourself on the back and get swabbing! The saavy shopper begins with the AncestryDNA test for all interested parties, and the YDNA 37 marker test from Family Tree DNA for all males. Then sit back and wait for the results to roll in. As they do, check back here at Genealogy Gems for tips on how to use that data to fill seats at your holiday table next year.

If you have a specific seat at the table you are hoping to fill, you may want to check out my Getting Started Quick Sheet in the store. It has a handy chart on the back to help you decide which DNA test might be best suited to helping you add one more face to your holiday celebrations.

 

Mary and Dolores: From a previous post

New York Times story: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/24/us/with-dna-testing-adoptees-find-a-way-to-connect-with-family.html?_r=0

Jen from CA: http://sacramento.cbslocal.com/2015/11/11/more-than-40-years-later-baby-jane-learns-who-abandoned-her-as-a-newborn/

Originally Published at www.genealogygems.com