How DNA Testing Can Improve Communication Within Your Family
By Marisa Gooch
A few months after her 49th birthday, Judey sent in a DNA test to Ancestry.com to prove to her cousin that she was Italian. Rather than confirm her heritage, though, the website sent her back a surprise: the results showed that her DNA matched a woman by the name of V.Q. and that V.Q. was her mother.
The news shocked Judey. She’d known she was adopted since her 21st birthday and had spent years trying to track down her birth parents, at one point even hiring a private investigator, but none of her efforts turned out to be successful.
After messaging back and forth, calling each other on the phone, and buying a plane ticket, Judey and her biological mother, Ginna, were reunited. Since their reunion, Ginna has moved across the country to be closer to Judey. After years of being separated, the two don’t see a reason they should be apart.
Hundreds of other individuals and family members have similar stories all thanks to DNA testing. Companies like Ancestry.com and MyHeritage.com help clear confusion, fill empty holes, and mend broken hearts. For those of you who don’t have a long lost relative to find, DNA testing can still be useful to you and your family. It sparks communication with your children by cultivating a sense of belonging, developing a connection with their ancestors’ culture, and getting them excited about genealogy work.
Cultivate a sense of belonging
If your family struggles to identify with a group, yearns for a community to belong to, or has little knowledge of your family’s past, DNA testing can help you change that. And you have your choice of companies: MyHeritage has 91 million users and covers 42 ethnicities, and MyAncestry has over 20 billion records and 100 million family trees, to name two. Companies like these help families all over the world connect so that they feel tied to a community and people.
Take Judith Fein, for example. After receiving her DNA test results, Judith found that some of her earliest ancestors left Africa and immigrated to Europe. In addition, she found that there were three genetic matches in her hometown. Judith connected with these individuals, and they all started to call each other “cuz.” This helped Judith create a special bond with them that continues to this day.
Not only can you develop a close bond to relatives nearby through DNA testing, but so can your children. If your test results show nearby matches, consider reaching out to them. Plan a time you and your children can meet them. They could also have children of their own that are close to the ages of yours, or they could have interesting stories to tell about the relatives you share. Connecting with these individuals can teach your children the importance of family. In addition, it can help them form a bond with their relatives that are outside their immediate family relationships.
Connect with your ancestor’s culture
DNA testing is also a great way to teach your children about their heritage. For example, my friend grew up thinking that she was Danish, Swedish, and Korean. It wasn’t until her oldest turned 13 that she decided to get her family’s DNA tested. After sending in their DNA, she and her children discovered that they had a small percentage of Japanese in them.
Her children started asking questions immediately. Which ancestors were from Japan? When did they emigrate from there? My friend began researching her ancestors and their Japanese culture. She taught her children about the country’s history, customs, and clothes. They learned how to say basic words in Japanese and experimented with Japanese food. All these activities help them feel connected to the culture and the people.
Use your DNA experience as a way to teach your children about their family’s culture. For example, if you find that you have a small percentage of French, talk to your children about France. If you discover that you are part Native American, plan a trip to the closest reservation with your kids. If your results read that you have some Brazilian you, designate a night to make Brazilian cuisine. No matter what results you get, activities like these will spark conversation and help your children feel connected to their family’s culture at a young age.
Get excited about genealogy work
When some kids hear the word “genealogy,” they moan and groan. Others don’t even know what “genealogy” means. It is important that children grow up with an appreciation for their family history and a desire to continue the research as they grow older. If they refuse to do so, then who will when their generation is the oldest one alive?
The great thing about DNA testing is that the process is fun from the very beginning, which can ultimately help your child develop a passion for it. In order to get results, your children have to spit in a tube, get a cheek swab sample, and mail their sample to a lab. Then, they have to wait in earnest anticipation to receive feedback.
As you involve them in this process, you can help them become invested in learning about their ancestors. Their desire to gain new insights and information will hopefully increase as they grow older to the point that they will be the ones sampling their children’s cheeks and showing them how to spit in tubes so that they too can see which heritages they belong to.
While DNA testing is a wonderful way to fill gaps, form ties, and reunite families, it can provide parents with the opportunity to talk to their children about their ancestors’ way of life. As you involve your children in the DNA testing process, you can help them feel connected to a community, learn about their ancestors’ culture, and develop a passion for genealogy work that can stay with them for the rest of their lives.
Marisa is a writer and editor who lives in sunny Southern California. Her favorite hobbies include listening to podcasts, hiking in the hills behind her house, and attempting to surf alongside her husband who has years of experience.