The Moment That Changed Everything: The Original DNA+LOVE Story
"It says on the Ancestry.com website that this person is my first cousin! Can that be real!!?!?? What could this mean?"
That series of exclamation marks and question marks came from my wife, Gayle, after receiving her DNA test results.
After a lifetime of questions inquiring about Gayle's ethnic background due to her very dark curly hair, gorgeous glowing skin tone, and captivating green eyes, she had decided to take one of the recently advertised DNA kits. The questions she received living in the Southern US usually came in the form of someone saying with curiosity and more than a hint of nosiness, "Are you mixed?" ...As in mixed race. "Is your daddy Black?" "Is your mama of Spanish descent?" "Where are you from!?"
Gayle would often reply upbeat but firmly, "I don't know! I was adopted and never given that information." For some reason, that answer was unsatisfactory to nosy ladies in the grocery store check out line. "Don't you want to find out?" A prompt and firm, "No" from Gayle would be followed by her explanation, "I have my parents and my family and I'm good with that."
Time went on. Day to day life turned from single-hood, to marriage, to motherhood.
Something shifted in Gayle. Then came a mild interest. Lunch with a friend led them to decide to see what these newly-becoming-popular ethnicity tests were all about. It seemed easy enough. Register the kit and agree to some fine print, as per usual. Collect a saliva sample by spitting into a tube and mail it off. After waiting several weeks for results, finally the message came through her email, "Your DNA results are available!"
A blend of ethnicities and region/country areas combined into a profile that answered the question nosy grocery store ladies had been asking her for years and satisfied a recent personal curiosity. Also of exciting interest was that not only had my wife been raised Cajun in a French-speakin', fun-lovin', gumbo-eatin' home in Louisiana, she also had biological Acadian ancestors who had migrated to Nova Scotia, Canada and then South to the fertile green swamp-land Gayle had always loved. She'd always known she belonged in Cajun culture, but now she knew it wasn't only an experienced appreciation, it was also "in her blood."
Ethnicity learned. Checked that box. Now we knew. We could move on with life, right?
But then came the realization that the DNA test was so much more than just an ethnicity test! Little did we know that it also connects you with living relatives who'd submitted saliva samples, as well! That is, it connects you if you choose not to opt out of that option.
Gayle has always been a "big picture" person. Details and fine print are never on her radar. In fact, when I pause to read the fine print or start asking questions related to details, I usually ignore my wife's prolonged gazes upward, eyes rolled to the heavens while she silently wishes for patience in tolerating my need for allllllll the details in any given situation. So, when she stumbled upon the list of "DNA Matches" she'd been linked to without knowing this was a possibility, it was with a hefty dose of doubt. Then followed a message with the first cousin "match."
"Can this be real?" she asked me.
I was skeptical initially of the validity of these DNA match links. As the self-proclaimed family-researcher-of-all-things, I answered her question with my own question.
"I don't know if this is real. Do you want me to look into this more?"
We made eye contact and a thousand thoughts were shared silently between us about what that journey could mean for someone with a closed adoption after being born in the Deep South in the 1970s and what it could mean for someone who had a wonderful childhood with parents her loved her deeply and proudly.
A particular look crossed her face and then came a resounding "No." She didn't want me to look into it more.
I respectfully turned away in agreement. My instinct was to immediately research every question that this test brought up for us. But, this was not my journey to take. It belonged to Gayle.
One day a moment would come that would change our lives and change the lives of 12 immediate family members who would become known to us over the period of a few months. Gayle had decided she wanted to know. Did she have biological family out there in the world, maybe even looking for her?
Gayle mostly wanted to find out if she had siblings. We would learn that this is sometimes common for adoptees who had thought they never wanted to seek biological family members. They sometimes become most curious wondering if they have any biological siblings out in the world. "Is there a sister who will have my eyes and my penchant for being a professional weekend napper?" "Do I have a brother who has the freckles across the bridge of my nose and also hated History class in school?" Perhaps those questions are easier on the adoptee's heart to wonder than to ponder why an adoptee was placed for adoption and to doubt if those biological parents would even want contact from their child they decided would be better off in an adoptive parent's care.
When Gayle again thought of the one-time contact she'd had with her first cousin by way of Ancestry DNA messages, she realized 2 years had gone by since she'd received her DNA test results and 2 years since she'd even really thought about what those results meant. Those same 2 years contained so many life experiences for her, as she both grieved the loss of her beloved father who had loved her since the moment he adopted her when she was a baby and as she opened her heart to welcoming our 2nd child, with all the joy and exhaustion a newborn brings.
That fateful January day, Gayle uttered the words that took me by surprise. She decided at that time that she would like to look into her DNA matches to see if she could connect with any biological family. I offered my help as Official Family Researcher and she turned her search over to me. Little did either of us know that those words would act as a match to light a bonfire of a new passion in my life - DNA "detective" work. I was relentless in my research on just HOW to use her DNA test results to find living relatives.
That search for biological relatives took over our daily conversations, our dining room table, and my brain for months. Truthfully, every single day ever since. I jumped in head-first and I wasn't going to eat or sleep until we knew something, anything about her biological family. Probably the only thing grounding me through the search process is that I still had a job to maintain, 2 beautiful children to raise, and my family still needed to eat. Did you know that kids expect to be fed 3 times a day and laundry mountains refuse to put themselves away, even when you're obsessed with finding long-lost relatives for your adopted spouse!? It's crazy - but true.
Eventually, that dedication to the search process paid off. We were, at last, going to know both of Gayle's biological parents and all 10 of her biological siblings.
And that experience led me to create this community, DNA+LOVE. It was designed for you and me and all of us. In the months since my obsession began with all things DNA tests, long-lost family searches, ancestry and genealogy, I have heard some of the most powerful, interesting, and goosebump-eliciting stories people have experienced due to the ever-growing popularity of DNA tests.
This is going to be a space for sharing stories related to all of the ways families are found and created, sometimes through DNA, sometimes through LOVE, and sometimes through DNA+LOVE.
You may be wondering how I helped my wife actually find her biological family members and how to even make sense of your DNA test results - we are going to dive into that, too, here on DNA+LOVE. Gayle is also going to share many stories about the wild family rollercoaster ride we've been on the last 7 months, full of ups and downs and transformation and meeting new family members and DNA+LOVE. Do you have an interesting family or DNA story to tell? I'd absolutely love to hear it. Click here today to Share Your Story with DNA+LOVE.
Stay tuned - we're only just getting warmed up! Don't miss an update that will surely take you on the full range of emotions that only a topic like FAMILY can! Subscribe to our newsletter (and get your free gift by doing so!) and join us on Facebook and Instagram.