DNA Testing, Slavery and Adoption

Diahan Southard

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DNA testing is causing many to discover new answers to the question, “Who is family?” Here, DNA testing brings together white and black descendants of the same enslaver—and opens a door to my mother’s biological relatives.

In our modern society, families are defined in a myriad of different ways. The acceleration of DNA testing is certainly contributing to this new focus, as families find themselves irrefutably linked across social and cultural boundaries to kin they never expected.

Such has been the case for countless adoptees as they have actively searched out and connected with their genetic cousins. And it isn’t just adoptees, but there are many who are finding entire trees that they didn’t ever suspect existed. As you can imagine, integrating these DNA cousins into our family tree can require a bit of readjusting and rethinking of our understanding and interpretation of family history.

DNA testing reveals one legacy of slavery

Such is the case for a Bartow, Florida resident who innocently submitted a DNA test out of curiosity and found more than she bargained for. Through a combination of DNA testing and social media Mary McPherson, who is Caucasian, found out that one of her cousins, Dolores Washington-Fleming is African American.

According to an article on The Ledger, the two women share a great-great-grandfather, Peter Edward Williams, who was born in South Carolina two centuries ago. Peter was a slaveholder. The 1850 census slave schedule shows that he held an enslaved woman who was a few years younger than he was. Dolores believes that’s her grandmother’s grandmother. 

The two finally met this past May for the first time and enjoyed this new definition of family. I think what I like most is what Dolores’ son said about the situation:

“My mom and I are fascinated by history, and this is history. We represent what the times were like back then.”

It still boggles my mind just a little that we are able to use the DNA of living people today to resurrect the past, and bring depth and meaning to the present, and possibly even prepare us for the future.

My adopted mother finds her biological family

Dolores’ and Mary’s situation makes me think of my own family’s DNA journey. My mom was adopted, and even though we have had DNA testing completed for several years, we didn’t have any close matches. Honestly, we weren’t looking. Though she did have a passing interest in her health history, my mom did not feel the need to seek out her biological family. But then over the last few months various pieces of her puzzle have started to fall into place. This is much because of a key DNA match that popped up in March.

With that one match and subsequent correspondence, our interest in my mom’s biological family has skyrocketed. Why? I think it is because our DNA match, sisters from Texas, have shown us genuine kindness and interest. They have truly shown us what it means to be family. Even though we are unexpected, even though we aren’t sure yet how exactly we are connected, they have embraced us without reservation without hesitation. To me, this is what family is. They accept you in whatever condition you come in and do their best to make you feel like you belong. Now, that kind of welcome isn’t felt by everyone who meets their genetic cousins, and people should carefully consider whether they’re ready for unforeseen results or unanticipated reactions from DNA matches (or their own possible reactions TO their DNA matches) before they get started.

You might want to read this article next: on how to handle unexpected DNA connections.

Originally posted at www.genealogygems.com.

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<a href="https://www.yourdnaguide.com/author/guideyourdnaguide-com" target="_self">Diahan Southard</a>

Diahan Southard

As founder and CEO of Your DNA Guide, Diahan Southard has been teaching people how to find family history answers in their DNA for several years, and she's been in the genetic genealogy field since its infancy. Diahan teaches internationally, writes for popular magazines, consults with leading testing companies, is author of Your DNA Guide–The Book, and producer of Your DNA Guide–the Academy, an online learning experience.


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