Monday, November 17, 2014

My apple did not fall far from the parental tree

It all started when as a young gullible child I was informed by my sister that I was adopted. She quickly added that I could not let anyone know or I would get sent back to my birth parents. WHAT? I should make it clear that my sister is a lovely person and was undoubtedly driven to make this statement by something I had done to set her off. None the less this was shocking news to me and could not easily be dismissed by my young mind, especially given my blue eyes to my parents brown. I fretted and eventually spilled the beans to my mother. She quickly repeated the tale of birthing me at ten pounds including how I came out blue with the cord around my neck. Charming! My mother wrapped up the story by pointing to my grandfather’s blue eyes.  

My short lived “adoption” story was not nearly as dramatic as other lineage stories I heard later in life. When I lived back in England I had my hair cut by a woman who appeared Indian in origin. One day a Caucasian couple came into her salon and she introduced them as her parents. I assumed she was adopted but as it turned out she was not. When she was born, literally born, her father took one look at her, denied paternity and left. He only came back after a DNA test was performed and it was confirmed that my hairdresser, then a baby, was his biological child. Somewhere way back in their family tree were the genes for her appearance obviously. Of course she could have made up the entire story but regardless it is a good one because the scenario is actually entirely plausible.    

Using genetic testing to establish belonging is becoming more and more common and not just in the sense of paternal belonging but ancestral belonging. A Jewish acquaintance of mine recently told me that she out of curiosity had sent of her saliva and had established that she was 87% European Jew. She appeared highly satisfied with the results but I wonder how she would have felt if it had turned she not have much European Jew in her at all. Could such results change how we feel about who we are? My guess is that it depends on how strong our ancestral affinity is and how much of our sense of self is tied to it. 

“When you start about family, about lineage and 
ancestry, you are talking about every person on earth.” 
– Alex Haley

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