I was recently in the Los Angeles area for work, and I had made plans to meet a woman who I know only through our e-relationship. We’d never met in person but are FB “friends” and have shared stories and photos. As we were waiting in the bar for our table, a woman asked, “Are you two sisters?” We looked at each other and laughed, replying, “It’s complicated.”
My mystery date, as it turns out, is not my sister but my cousin. She is a cousin I didn’t know I have as she was adopted at birth. Let me start at this beginning – early last year, I submitted my DNA (via spit) to 23&me for genetic testing. I wrote a blog about it last April. After digesting my medical information and other fun factoids, I began exploring my “relatives” who are also anonymously included in the 23&me data bank.
23&me provides a list of people with whom you share some portion of your genetic material – most are less than 1%. You can anonymously send a message to these “relatives” and start a conversation if you both agree, exploring possible connections. Most of these relatives are so tangential to me, that I instead imagine a genetic version of the “Johnny Appleseed” story – seeds being sown all over early America.
Concurrent with my DNA genealogy, I have been working on my ancestry.com family tree, mainly to honor my aunt who devoted years to tracking down people all over the world – this was before the internet. I know the identity of everyone on my official family tree (you’d be surprised what’s in public documents), and my tree is public as I am working together with many other relatives.
Last August after returning from vacation, I checked out my 23&me page to see if there were any new developments. When I hit the “relatives” page, bingo, there was a woman with whom I share nearly 3% of my DNA, a 2nd or 3rd cousin. Admittedly, I panicked as it could mean that my mom’s brother had a child no one knew about, or at least talked about. So, of course, I sent her an email.
Her response was immediate and provided some details of her birth mother such as DOB, name, and birthplace. She said she isn’t looking for more family as she is close to her real family, those who raised her. She is just curious. I told her I would see if I could find any relevant information.
As fate/karma/coincidence/luck would be, that evening I randomly pulled a file from my aunt’s genealogy files and began entering new people into my “tree.” My heart stopped when I saw the name of her birth mother. After consulting with a few friends about what to do, I referred her to my ancestry.com family tree, noting that she could find her birth relatives, if she is interested.
So far, my cousin hasn’t looked for or contacted her birth relatives who live near her – two half-siblings, her birth mother, and 10 first cousins. She enjoys hearing stories about that side of our family – such as the mutual love of horses and that her own daughter has the eye and hair color of her biological family (not of her or her husband). So, somewhere buried in that genetic material, we share enough in common in appearance, manner, smile, laugh, or something intangible to prompt a stranger to ask if we are sisters.