Being adopted herself, Liana Shaw knows all too well the desire to know where you come from.
Many of you will have seen the program ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’ Celebrities trace their family trees and discover stories about their family’s past, often with some incredible tales and many emotions.
But they are not alone. Many people I know have also started to delve deeper into their ancestor’s histories. DNA/ genealogy sites such as 23andMe and Ancestry offer a chance to not just look at temps passé and find long lost family, but to look at your genetic make-up. And, like I said, I know more and more people who have decided to see ‘who they are’ and where they ‘come from’. I use those terms carefully because those things are often very relative. People have moved around, got dual citizenships, more complex family systems. So, where you feel like your home is maybe different to your nationality and your ethnicity. Believe me, I should know.
And as for who you are – well, your DNA can only tell you so much. The age-old argument of nature vs. nurture takes care of that. Yes, parts of our lives and personalities may be shaped by family traits and DNA sequences, but how you are raised, your environment, your experiences, those are all reasons why you become you. And for many people, these things are ever developing. But why this fascination with tracing our roots? Why this curiosity over our DNA? I think a large part of it has to do with identity.
In order to feel secure, as humans, we tend to like to know who we are and where we stand. We may feel like if we have certain answers, answers that science can now give us, it can help unravel this wonderful but occasionally unusual mystery of our place here in this big wide world.
We are merely a speck in time and space. Our very existence as a human race is but a minuscule blip on the continuum of time, let alone our individual life. So yes, with that in mind, I think it’d be quite nice to know where my ancestors hailed from, how they lived, where they moved to, what journeys they took. A slightly bigger blip on the time scale.
I’m not alone. At the time this will have gone to print, my DNA testing kit should be here. And I’m very excited that maybe I can start to move closer to finding out what sort of magical humanity created me. I’ve lived in Jersey most of my life, but I am adopted. I have no issues telling people my story or them asking questions, I’ve had it my entire life. With two white parents, a darker skinned child wasn’t the norm in 80s/90s Jersey. I’ve had the stares and curiosity. But there’s also a side of me that feels ready to explore more of my native heritage. To understand my story, I want to start at the beginning, at least as far back as I can go. To look at my DNA results and see the possible ways my biological parents, grandparents, great-grandparents mixed and matched. Like a little mutt, I know I am a mix of different things. I just don’t know what.
I’m ready for any surprises in store. I have no biological family history, no stories from my flesh and blood. And whilst nothing will ever detract from the fact that the family I was adopted into is my family, it is very intriguing to look at another new side of who I am. Maybe I’m not as mixed as I thought? Maybe there are things I don’t really want to know?
I love the videos on YouTube where groups of people get DNA tested. Some are so incredibly sure of who they are and where their families originated from. “I’m pure this, I’m 100% that”. And then they get their results? “What – 10% Swedish? 5% Irish?”. Do we ever really know the truth until we know through science?
There’s another side to these DNA kits too. Some allow you to look at life expectancy, what illnesses you might be susceptible to, amongst other things. And I’ve known a few people who have gone in for that extra option, rather than just the genetics of where they’re ‘from’. I don’t think, for me personally, I’ll be looking into that part. Ignorance is bliss in many respects and while I can see the benefits of such information, with me, I feel like it would play on my mind too much. And how safe are these DNA kits? Our information is now with the companies – now I’m not some conspiracy theorist who thinks these companies are going to use my DNA for cloning or such like, but obviously, this is private information that is now owned and accessible to complete strangers. So that is also something to consider.
However, I’m ready and happy to take the plunge. And from the fact that these companies are getting more and more requests and are growing bigger and bigger databases, it looks like I’m not alone in the curiosity over my genes. That’s why this year, it’s time to find out what makes up this mutt.