02 May 2009

Adoption: DNA solves a mystery

It only took 26 years, but Richard Hill now knows both his biological parents. Solving the family history puzzle took DNA testing, sibling testing, adoption file unsealing, lots of detective work and help from some specialized sources, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Richard Hill's father, on his deathbed, revealed a secret to his 32-year-old son: Richard was an adopted child.

The younger Mr. Hill was quickly able to learn who his biological mother was. But cracking the identity of his birth father -- shrouded in cover ups, lies and false trails -- took 26 years. In the end, Mr. Hill solved the mystery with the help of sophisticated DNA-based genealogy tests.

For most people who practice it, genetic genealogy is a hobby. But as the tests grow more powerful, people are starting to unearth family secrets. Many offspring of sperm-donor fathers are using Internet-based DNA searches to locate their so-called biodads. Others hope to identify unknown family members by connecting DNA profiles with last names.

In men, the Y chromosome is passed on from generation to generation, from father to son. So, usually, are last names. Accordingly, men with a close Y-chromosome match are more likely to have the same last name. A handful of Web-based businesses now offer DNA searches for male adoptees. Genetic searches along female lines are possible, but less effective, in part because many women take their husbands' names when they marry.
Hill tested with FamilyTreeDNA.com and found a genetic match, but his search started back in 1978, before anyone had thought of genetic genealogy.

Over the years, Hill investigated Detroit (where his mother was from), determined his mother's name, found people who had known her, found a half-brother and that his mother had died at 21 back in 1947. The search for his biological father was more complicated as his mother left many misleading clues.

Hill now has a website, DNA Testing Adviser, where he provides advice on family trees and adoption searches. He was helped by Jeanette Abronowitz, founder of Adoptees Search for Knowledge in Michigan, which claims it has helped some 2,000 adoptees find one or both birth parents.

After numerous wrong turns, he learned about FamilyTreeDNA and sent off a cheek swab resulting in one perfect match, whose surname figured in his mother's background.

He also received help from a Michigan genealogical society, discovering that the possible biological father had four brothers. He went to Genetrack Biolabs in Vancouver BC for DNA sibling tests and asked a son of each brother to be tested at his cost.

Read the complete article here.

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