My dad’s 23andme test results came in while I was riding an employee shuttle bus on the way into work. I had been checking my email for a completion notice about fifty times a day since I put it in his test in the mail. I had checked it again, three or four times at home before I left for work. Sitting on bus, surround by strangers and with a busy workday ahead of me, I got the notification. His results were in.
I logged into 23andme. And I toggled over to Facebook to send CeCe a message, “My dad’s DNA results are in. What do I do?”
She immediately (thank God) replied, “Go to the “DNA Relatives Tool.’ Did you set it up to share results?”
“Good. You have access to both results. You want to compare his results to yours, okay? Tell me what you see,” she said.
Ugh. Why did I have to do this on my cellphone? My fingers were clumsy and I was nervous, hurrying, clicking on the wrong buttons numerous times. I finally navigated to the correct page, clicked the links, and made the comparison. His test against mine.
No shared segments. No color. Nothing. Blank space. On every single chromosome.
“It’s blank. It says, ‘No shared DNA segments,'” I messaged.
“I’m so sorry, Laurie.”
I sat there, stunned. I knew it was true. I knew it had been true all along. I had just been hoping it wasn’t but of course, it was true. Fred wasn’t my dad. Seeing all that nothing of a biological connection between my father and me, illustrated with 23 utterly blank chromosomes was heartbreaking. I felt tears in my eyes.
“Thank you, CeCe. At least I have my answer, right? I know the truth.”
“Yes, you know the truth. Are you okay?” she asked.
“I’ll be fine. Thank you for walking me through it.”
I hurriedly stuffed my phone into my purse and got off the bus. I greeted my co-workers, mustering up the same cheerful greetings I give them everyday. I then conducted a meeting with some of my co-workers and did a little Q and A afterward. People talked to me and I and talked to them and I managed to behave in some way that passed as “normal.” I have little recollection of that meeting or any of the conversations I had with anyone. I have no idea how I got through it or the rest of my day at work. All I wanted to do is go home and cry. But I knew Teresa was coming into work and it was time to tell Teresa.
If there’s one thing every genealogist needs it’s a genealogist friend. You can excitedly share your latest discoveries in your family history with your actual family, but it’s likely to met with polite but obvious disinterest. A few years ago, I had sussed out the maiden name of one of my great-great grandmothers by researching every female born in the state of New Hampshire between 1855 though 1857 with any variation of the first name, “Rose.” A first name is all I had for her on a census record, so I traced all the women named Rose forward in time until I had eliminated all of the wrong Roses. There was only one Rose that remained unaccounted for: Rose Towle. It had to be her. I later verified it with a copy of her mother’s will. Success! Do you have any idea how much time and effort that took? Neither does my family who reacted to this truly amazing, painstaking discovery with all the enthusiasm I’d expect had I announced the finding of a lost sock: “Wow. Good for you! Hey, did you remember to pick up a loaf of bread today?”
Telling Teresa that I didn’t DNA match my father was hard. Telling her made it real on a whole other level and in some way, a public acknowledgement. I knew that she was the one person that would fully understand the gravity of all of it, from both a daughter’s and a genealogist’s point of view. Not only did I lose my dad and my identity, I lost my work. Half of the family tree that I’d spent decades of my life researching had just evaporated. Except…well, if Fred isn’t my biological father, then I had an entirely new branch of family to discover. Yes, it’s a completely dysfunctional thought, maybe even of questionable mental health, but the thought that I have another family, one that I unknowingly belong to…an entire branch of a tree that’s mine and that I know absolutely nothing about? Well, to the genealogist in me, that idea is kind of exciting, too.
Teresa was shocked at the news, I could see it in her eyes, but she kept calm. She told me that we’d figure it out. It might take a while but we could do this. Learn about DNA and genetic genealogy? Sure. No worries. It might be hard but we’re smart people. At the end of the day, it’s genealogy, right? We’re good at genealogy.
Had I known what it was going to take to figure it out, I might have cried even harder than I did when Teresa hugged me tight and said, “I’m so sorry this is happening to you.”
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.