I was just as stunned at the departure of McB2’s test result as I was at its arrival.
Didn’t just we have a nice conversation? Didn’t he agree to meet with me? Why would he tell me things about my grandparents and siblings and say that of course my daughters were beautiful, “because they were McBriartys,” and then suddenly jettison his DNA test and me?
What did I do wrong?
I must have asked myself that question a million times. Because it’s impossible not to take the wordless rejection of your biological father personally. Grasping at straws, I thought that maybe there was a chance that he misunderstood my intentions so I attempted contact a second time. The following is a letter I sent a couple of months later:
Hello Mr. McBriarty,
I hope this greeting finds you in both good spirits and health. I haven’t heard back from you and your DNA test was deleted from Ancestry. It’s occurred to me that perhaps you didn’t even see our DNA match made at Ancestry. In case you hadn’t, I’ve enclosed a screenshot I took from my computer. I don’t want you to think I’m some nutty lady that sends letters to random gentlemen making baseless claims of paternity. I also thought it might be a good idea to go over my interest in meeting you.
I have no desire to push myself into your family. When someone asks you how many daughters you have, I would expect that you would to continue to reply, “one.” If you have managed to amass a fortune, good for you! I hope you spend every cent of it enjoying your life to its fullest. I have no interest in making a claim on it now or in the future. I’d be more than happy to sign something legal in regards to this if you’d like.
What I am interested in is family stories about the McBriarty and Dignam families. In piecing together my DNA with genetic cousins over the years, I have collected a lot of documents pertaining to our shared ancestry (census, marriage and death records, etc.,). I’d like to hear what you know about these ancestors and, truth be told, I’d like to get an idea about who you are as well; what interests you have, the sort of books you like to read…that sort of thing. Medical history would be nice too, though I don’t want to pry into your personal business. Really, anything that you’d like to share would be welcome.
I’d like to plan to meet you this summer/fall if possible. Just lunch. A couple of hours. My treat. If you would bring old family photographs, I would be thrilled beyond words. If you’d like to meet in some other town, away from where you live so as not to cause you any issues, that would be perfectly fine. I’m flexible. If you’d like to meet elsewhere, I can arrange that at no cost to you. If your wife or anyone else would like to join us, that would be a lovely bonus.
I’ve enclosed a few documents I’ve found that I think would be of interest to you. I hope that you enjoy them.
Lastly, I’d like to mention that I certainly hope you harbor no feelings of guilt or remorse. Everything turned out in both our lives exactly as God planned. I’d like to just enjoy that fact, keep the past in the past, and be family history friends.
I look forward to your reply. My email address is: firstname.lastname@example.org or feel free to call me at (949) *** ****.
With warm regards, (signed) Laurie
I didn’t get a reply.
I don’t expect to get a reply anymore.
When it became apparent exactly who my father is, Mr DNA-Second-Cousin went on Ancestry and attached his Dignam maternal side branch to the paternal side of his online tree. I guess he thought he was going to baffle me and throw me off the trail or something.
I already know who I am, thanks.
What’s that old saw, “You can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your family?”
Despite seeing an endless stream of successful reunions between people and their birth parents on the Facebook page, “DNA Detectives,” I, unfortunately, can’t count myself among them. Rejection from a birth parent stings, and it brings a lot of soul searching; about my worth as a person, my own ethics, my expectations of others, and my definition of the word, “family.” I spent a long time trying to come up with a reasonable explanation why my father would delete his test and pretend that I don’t exist. I still don’t understand it. At all. And when I see other people get rejected out-of-hand by their birth families, I don’t understand when it happens to them either. Rejection doesn’t happen in the majority of misattributed paternity cases, but from time to time, it does happen.
So, why not to me, too?
When I first began my search, I was terrified about anyone finding out about my misattributed paternity. It took a couple of months to even gather the courage to post about it among people who also were using DNA to find their biological family on, “DNA Detectives.” Eventually, I would talk about it openly, but only with trusted friends. Looking back, I carried a lot of unnecessary shame. I worried about what people would think of my mom. I worried what people would think of me. It’s very stressful to carry shame, even if the shame is irrational and you didn’t do anything to cause it. I felt like I was leading a double life with friends and family neatly divided into the categories of, “those that know the truth,” and “those that don’t.” And I hoped to God those that did know the truth, wouldn’t casually mention something about it on my Facebook page, or in front of those that didn’t.
Last year, after my story had played out, I was invited by CeCe Moore to be interviewed by a journalist doing a story on people that had received unexpected results from taking a genealogy DNA test. After four years, I was exhausted trying to keep my secret contained. I didn’t see any purpose in doing so any longer. And hey, if you’re going to come out of the misattributed paternity closet, why not do so with a mention in an article in the Washington Post? I owe a huge debt of gratitude to journalist Libby Copeland who listened to my story and encouraged me to write about it. Writing about it has set me free.
From the beginning, my aim was to find my father and to restore my true biological identity. Mission accomplished. It was never a given that my biological father would be alive when I found him; for years, I operated under the assumption that he likely wasn’t. Finding him alive and getting an opportunity to speak to him was a wonderful added bonus. I’m still grateful that I got a chance to thank him for my life; I have no regrets about that at all. I wish he would have accepted my offer of friendship, but I can’t control what other people choose to do. Today, I choose to move forward in my genealogy work as if he’s passed. I now have copies of vital records and obituaries for my grandparents. I chat up librarians, town clerks, and cousins. I visit cemeteries. I take photographs. My work as a genealogist is to put “flesh on the bones,” of my ancestors through documents, stories, and photographs. I do all these things, just as I’ve always done them. Validation and a friendly relationship with my father would have been amazing, but I don’t need permission to work on my genealogy. Openly. Because it’s mine. It’s my hope that in telling my story, those people that find that they too don’t get that, “photo worthy reunion,” with their birth parents, acknowledge their biological identity and discover their family history as I do:
Along the way, I’ve met numerous paternal cousins that have welcomed me into the family; even when they didn’t know where I belonged in the family either. They’re the unsung heroes in this story. Some even purchased their own DNA kits before I could even offer them one. I’m still humbled by their generosity and kindness.
And, I remain deeply grateful for the journey. All of it.
When I didn’t know who my father was, his ancestors lead me to him. Through DNA, they pointed to the way; my paternal grandmother ancestors, Sarah Gallagher and Margaret McCurdy; my great-great grandfather, William McBriarty, and the Dignam and MacInnis ancestors…they live on in me and they still speak.
They told me who he was.
They told me who I am.
I just had to learn how to listen to them.
Perpetually curious. I love history, genealogy, old movies, good books, all sorts of music, and adventures involving travel. In my spare time, I help admin a genetic genealogy Facebook page for CeCe Moore ("DNA Detectives") and coach people how to connect with their biological family using DNA.