Lost and found — the fam­ily ver­sion

The Southern Gazette - - Editorial - Rus­sell Wanger­sky Rus­sell Wanger­sky’s col­umn ap­pears in 39 SaltWire news­pa­pers and web­sites in At­lantic Canada. He can be reached at rus­sell.wanger­[email protected]­gram.com — Twit­ter: @wanger­sky.

What if find­ing out your bi­o­log­i­cal roots ac­tu­ally up­roots you?

No one prob­a­bly ex­pects it: you get your an­ces­try mapped by a pop­u­lar ser­vice like Ances­tryDNA — it’s just spit­ting in a vial and pay­ing the money, and mil­lions of peo­ple have done it — and wait to find out if your back­ground is what you think it is.

Some peo­ple check out their her­itage be­cause they are cu­ri­ous, al­most as a lark. Fam­ily mem­bers some­times even give the tests as presents. (One of my broth­ers has done it — I’m tempted, but I’m a writer by na­ture, and I’m at­tracted more by fam­ily lore than fam­ily fact.)

But there’s a hazard in­volved that you might not be think­ing of (and no, I’m not talk­ing about the much-pub­li­cized cases of racists dis­cov­er­ing that the vaunted “racial pu­rity” they are so proud of isn’t real).

No, I’m talk­ing about what’s called an NPE — a non-pa­ter­nity event.

In other words, you might not be just who you think you are.

It hap­pens when fam­ily mem­bers take DNA tests, com­pare re­sults and dis­cover that they don’t share the same DNA.

A grow­ing num­ber of peo­ple are trip­ping over ex­actly that kind of se­cret by DNA ac­ci­dent— enough peo­ple that there’s a closed Face­book sup­port group called DNA NPE Friends that has more than 1,000 mem­bers. (You can join by go­ing to their gate­way if you’ve had the DNA ex­pe­ri­ence — search “DNA NPE” on Face­book and it will take you to in­struc­tions about join­ing.)

In this prov­ince, I’ve heard of sev­eral cases where, if a teenaged daugh­ter got preg­nant, her par­ents might raise the child as their own, choos­ing not to re­veal the child’s parent­age.

A per­son could dis­cover their sis­ter is ac­tu­ally their mother.

They could also dis­cover that the per­son they thought was their fa­ther wasn’t their fa­ther af­ter all — and that he didn’t even know it.

It’s not that far-fetched: years ago, peo­ple could not have known that ge­netic map­ping might ar­rive to re­veal a se­cret kept tight be­tween just two or three peo­ple.

Some­times, DNA match­ing goes fur­ther, and ac­tu­ally lets you track down rel­a­tives so that you can slowly work out ex­actly who your miss­ing par­ent is, and where they might be now.

Some­times, those se­crets last longer than the par­ents who ac­tu­ally know the truth. Of­ten, by the time you’re think­ing about ge­neal­ogy, you’re old enough that peo­ple in your fam­ily have started the in­evitable march of life’s wink­ing out.

On the one hand, you could say, “What does it mat­ter? I’ll al­ways see the peo­ple who spent their time, ef­fort and love rais­ing me as my par­ents.”

On the other hand, we place a lot of stock in the no­tion of where we fit; whether you do or not, chances are, some­one’s told you that you have your fa­ther’s eyes, you mother’s laugh. Who we are of­ten is an­chored in where we came from.

Find­ing out that where we came from was a lie could be what lights the fuse on a stick of fam­ily dy­na­mite. Ra­tio­nally, not one sin­gle thing has changed about your re­la­tion­ship with your fam­ily — emo­tion­ally, it could be a com­pletely un­ex­pected re­sult trig­gered by in­no­cent cu­rios­ity.

When you go look­ing in your par­ents’ at­tic, you don’t al­ways know what you’re go­ing to find there.

I can only imag­ine go­ing from know­ing where you fit, to won­der­ing just ex­actly how you came to be. And some­times, no one in­volved is will­ing to talk to you about it, or even ex­plain how it hap­pened.

If that’s hap­pened to you and you want to let peo­ple know what it’s like from the in­side, feel free to get in touch.

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