I have always loved to read. Over the past few years, I have been reading genealogy reference books, the history of Arkansas and the counties I am researching, and biographies. I recently came across a book review of Inheritance – A Memoir of Genealogy Paternity and Love by Dani Shapiro. This isn’t the type of genealogy book I usually read. But when I discovered this was a memoir I became intrigued since I too want to write my genealogy memoir someday.
****Book synopsis from Dani Shapiro’s website****
What makes us who we are? What combination of memory, history, biology, experience, and that ineffable thing called the soul defines us?
In the spring of 2016, through a genealogy website to which she had whimsically submitted her DNA for analysis, Dani Shapiro received the stunning news that her father was not her biological father. She woke up one morning and her entire history–the life she had lived–crumbled beneath her.
Inheritance is a book about secrets–secrets within families, kept out of shame or self-protectiveness; secrets we keep from one another in the name of love. It is the story of a woman’s urgent quest to unlock the story of her own identity, a story that has been scrupulously hidden from her for more than fifty years, years she had spent writing brilliantly, and compulsively, on themes of identity and family history. It is a book about the extraordinary moment we live in–a moment in which science and technology have outpaced not only medical ethics but also the capacities of the human heart to contend with the consequences of what we discover.
I received an Ancestry DNA test as a Christmas present in 2014. At that time my main goal was finding out what part of Africa I descended from. But as I continued my research, I learned more about DNA genetic testing and how it could assist with my genealogy research. The more I learned, the more I encouraged others to be tested as well. Not once did I ever consider that there could be some unwanted discoveries (or family secrets is how Dani Shapiro describes it) associated with it.
It’s hard to believe in this day and age, in a world of social media, Google, and DNA genetic testing kits available to anyone who wants them, that secrets are still being kept. Not only are secrets being kept, but the secret keepers honestly think that no one will ever find out the truth. Secrets of adoptions, secrets of sperm donations, secrets of paternity, and secrets of ethnicity are all coming to the forefront because of genetic DNA availability. Ancestry states that in 2018 9% of all of their genetic testing (7 million tests) result in NPE or Not Parent Expected. A NPE is when a genetic DNA test result shows that the expected father or mother of a person is not the actual biological parent.
This is a part of genetic testing that isn’t talked about often. I always hear the genetic DNA stories of an adoptee finding siblings or siblings that have been separated by foster care looking for each other. Those are stories that end up on the morning news TV shows. Stories like Dani Shapiro’s are often not talked about because of shame, embarrassment, humiliation, sadness, and hurt feelings.
My question is, how do we as family historians handle this part of genetic testing? Do we continue to encourage people to take genetic DNA tests? Do we give them a disclaimer about the emotional side of DNA testing first and all the possibilities that could be discovered? What do we do when we uncover a family secret? Do we then become secret keepers by proxy? How do we go forward with the genealogy work that has been started? I don’t have the answers to these questions, but I know I will be more cautious when encouraging others to participate in genetic DNA testing in the future. And hopefully, this book and this blog post will help someone not feel ashamed, embarrassed, sad, or humiliated just because their DNA story doesn’t look like the stories on TV.
Leave a comment and let me know your thoughts on DNA testing and the secrets it may uncover.
I enjoyed reading this book. If you’d like to read it, the Hardcover is currently on sale on Amazon. Purchase by using this link and I’ll get a commission at no additional cost to you. This will help me continue writing this blog and creating new content for Journey Through the Generations. Thanks!