This is a Facebook post from 9th Feb 2016 and is about an interest I have in family history.
I’ve always been interested in exploring notions of identity and to what extent experiences or genes shape us. When at Dead Earnest I wrote a number of plays that were essentially about this kind of inheritance (probably influenced by also doing Ibsen’s ‘Ghosts’ for the Company, early on). This interest has also drawn me to exploring my family tree and recently to having my DNA tested to tell me more about where my genes originated from.
This test told me something about the origins of my genes, going back thousands of years, but also indicated if I was related to others who’d also taken the test. Amazingly there were quite a lot of people I was related to. Admittedly most of these were my 5th-8th cousins, but some were 4th cousins. A 4th cousin means we share a great-great-great-grandparent and so hardly a close relative, but nonetheless interesting. However, at the end of January there was a surge of new names appearing on the site fuelled, no doubt, by tests being given as Christmas presents and this time there was someone who appeared that was closer; a second cousin.
So second cousins share great grandparents. I never knew my great grandparents, but I have pictures of them and know a fair amount about their lives. This seemed much closer and it was intriguing that we were related and yet knew nothing about each other. However, what really peaked my interest was when she sent me a message. She said she was delighted to have found a relative and this was because, as she put it, “my twin brother and I were adopted at birth and so I do not know my birth parents.” She went on to say that she came from Detroit and wondered if I had any links to that part of the States.
Wow. I knew a lot about my family tree and so was it possible that I could help her discover who her real parents were? Did I know anyone in Detroit? I don’t think so. But then I did know that my Dad had two uncles that went to Canada. If only I could remember their names. How could I find out? I had a look at my records. There was some information there, but I didn’t know much about what happened to them after they emigrated. How might I find out? I know, I’ll ask Mum
Mum was as intrigued as I. She thought that my Dad’s uncles were unlikely to lead to the answer and that I might be better looking into her cousin’s story. He emigrated to Canada just after the war, when we was 15, and had a bit of a reputation as a ‘charmer’. A bit of searching and I found that, sure enough, he had been in Detroit in the 1950s. That was encouraging. However, it also appeared that at the time he was married with a family and none of the children were twins. I must have got it wrong, unless…. what if the twins had been born without the ‘legitimate’ family knowing and perhaps without their father knowing either. Was it appropriate for me to tell her this theory? It was very likely to be the answer, but what if I was wrong?
Amazingly, it was true and that my new second cousin had been given the same information from another source. It turned out she had also been in touch with someone else that had shown up as a relative through her DNA test. I hadnt really noticed this person because they were one of the more distant relatives on my list, but to her’s he showed up as being very close.
A series of emails followed between the three of us and we soon all came to the conclusion that the story was true. The new third person in the story said that his Mum was one of the the legitimate children born in Detroit in the 1950s and that he was now quite sure that she was the the half sister of this lady. It was a big shock for both sides. The truth had been hidden for 60 years, but they were determined to meet and welcome each other into their families.
So, the lady that contacted me (my 2nd cousin) had found who her father was. Previously she had drawn a blank in her 35 yr search because the birth certificate didn’t indicate a father. Suddenly, thanks to a DNA test, she found a family she didnt know she had and, as an added twist, a half sister who had been brought up in the same city but in a different faith than her adopted Jewish parents.
I couldnt help thinking that it sounded like one of those plays I had written. If I had written it, though, I also suspect that no one would have believed it.