Nearly a year ago, the genealogy/DNA testing company MyHeritage announced the roll-out of a program they call DNA Quest. They asked me to be part of the volunteer advisory board for this project, a program aimed to take down the barrier of DNA test cost to searching adoptees and the birth family members searching for them. Last week at a genealogy conference called RootsTech, MyHeritage announced an extension of DNA Quest to provide free testing to an additional 5,000 participants. Share the news with family and friends who you think may be interested!
A story was posted a few days ago on Reddit by someone claiming to have discovered he and his girlfriend are half-siblings, the discovery coming after both opted in to the DNA Relatives feature for their 23andMe test.
Both reportedly knew they were donor-conceived and were on the hunt for their paternal biological families, but apparently neither was suspecting the possibility they may have come from the same sperm donor. The discovery was reportedly and understandably traumatic, with the relationship being ended same-day and temporary thoughts of suicide mentioned by the writer of the Reddit post.
I’ve spoken with a few parents of children who were adopted, and DNA testing is clearly on the radar for many of these families. News reports and TV shows that highlight adoption reunions facilitated by DNA and health discoveries from genetic research have piqued the interest of many.
I’ve compiled ten tips for adoptive parents based on common questions and issues. The focus is on parents of children under the age of 18, but these points can apply to other families as well, such as those who included egg, sperm, or embryo donation in building their family.
A few months ago, I wrote about the DNA Quest program for adoption-related DNA searches going on at MyHeritage. They have closed the program to new enrollees at this time but may open again in the future as additional resources become available. Here's a guest post I wrote for their blog with my five top tips for an adoption-related search. You might be surprised that some of them are DNA-related and some are not!
I am so excited and honored to be part of the advisory board for the newly-announced project to help adoptees and birth family access DNA testing. This program will make DNA kits available for free until April 30, 2018 to a set number of adoptees and birth family members worldwide who want to make use of DNA testing and genetic genealogy to identify one another. The program just announced its expansion beyond the US to worldwide within the past few days. You can read more in the press release below (revised to reflect global availability) and follow links to the site where FAQs about the program are answered.
MyHeritage Launches DNA QUEST — A Major Pro Bono Initiative for Adoptees and their Biological Families to Find Each Other via DNA Testing
MyHeritage will distribute 15,000 DNA kits, worth over one million dollars, for free in the first phase of this initiative
TEL AVIV, Israel & LEHI, Utah, March 1, 2018 — MyHeritage, the leading global destination for family history and DNA testing, announced today the launch of a new pro bono initiative, DNA Quest, to help adoptees and their birth families reunite through genetic testing. As part of this initiative, MyHeritage will provide 15,000 MyHeritage DNA kits, worth more than one million dollars, for free, with free shipping, to eligible participants. Participation is open to adoptees seeking to find their biological family members, or anyone looking for a family member who was placed for adoption. Preference will be given to people who are not able to afford genetic testing. Application opens today on the project website, www.dnaquest.org, which includes detailed information about the initiative.
Many of the approximately 7 million adoptees living in the USA today (and even more globally) are searching for their biological parents or siblings. The search is time-sensitive, because every year some of the people who are searching pass away, missing the opportunity to reunite. Currently, the main avenues for adoptees and their biological parents to find each other are adoption agencies, registries created for this purpose, and genetic testing. With formal adoption records being unavailable or difficult to obtain in some states, genetic genealogy opens new doors in the search for relatives, and MyHeritage believes everyone should be able to access this valuable technology.
To maximize the potential of this initiative to successfully reunite families, MyHeritage has set up an advisory board of top experts in the fields of genetic genealogy and adoption to guide and support this initiative on a voluntary basis. This alliance ensures the best possible professional support for participants, with each advisory board member bringing unique expertise. The advisory board includes: CeCe Moore, founder of DNA Detectives; Blaine Bettinger, The Genetic Genealogist; Richard Weiss of DNA Adoption; Richard Hill, DNA testing adviser; Katharine Tanya, founder of Adopted.com; Brianne Kirkpatrick, founder of Watershed DNA; Pamela Slaton, investigative genealogist; Leah Larkin, The DNA Geek; and Amy Winn, President of American Adoption Congress.
DNA Quest is an expansion of another one of MyHeritage’s successful pro bono projects to reunite adoptees from the Israeli Yemenite community with their biological families. In that project, MyHeritage facilitated successful reunions between adoptees and their biological siblings, in challenging cases where the protagonists were searching for each other without success for more than 60 years.
“We have a company culture of using our resources and technology for the greater good. In this spirit we’ve initiated several significant pro bono projects, such as returning looted assets from WWII to their rightful owners and documenting family histories and traditions of tribal peoples who lack access to modern technology. DNA Quest is a natural extension of these efforts,” said MyHeritage Founder and CEO Gilad Japhet, who conceived DNA Quest. “There is a great need for a project like this — to help adoptees find their biological families — and we are the right company to take it on. We’ve already successfully reunited many families and are confident that through this initiative, together with a wonderful alliance of top experts, we’ll be able to utilize the power of genetic genealogy to help many more.”
“Few things are more fulfilling than a life-changing adoptee-family reunion”, said CeCe Moore, founder of DNA Detectives, the largest group on Facebook that brings together volunteers with genetic genealogy and searching experience, and those seeking biological family. “I’m very excited to be a member of the DNA Quest advisory board and look forward to assisting participants find the lost loved ones for whom they are yearning."
There are already more than 1.25 million people in the MyHeritage DNA database — one of the fastest growing among the major DNA companies. Additionally, MyHeritage is unique among the top three DNA companies to offer the option to upload DNA results from other test providers for free. The company is uniquely positioned to reunite families and has indeed facilitated many emotional success stories, with more taking place in every passing day.
Adoptees and family members searching for their biological relatives can apply for a free MyHeritage DNA kit at DNAQuest.org through April 30, 2018. Participants will be selected, and their free DNA kits will be shipped to them by the end of May 2018. Results are expected as early as July 2018.
Those who have already taken a DNA test with another company can upload their DNA data to MyHeritage for free and participate in this initiative as well.
The privacy of all applicants and participants will be strictly enforced. The DNA is owned by the participants and not by MyHeritage. The company has never sold genetic data and has pledged to never do so in the future without users’ explicit consent. DNA Quest is a pro bono project without gotchas or caveats.
MyHeritage is the leading global destination for family history and DNA testing. As technology thought leaders, MyHeritage has transformed family history into an activity that is accessible and instantly rewarding. Its global user community enjoys access to a massive database of historical records, the most internationally diverse collection of family trees and groundbreaking search and matching technologies. Launched in November 2016, MyHeritage DNA is a technologically advanced, affordable DNA test that reveals ethnic origins and previously unknown relatives. Trusted by millions of families, MyHeritage provides an easy way to find new family members, discover ethnic origins, and to treasure family stories, past and present, for generations to come. MyHeritage is available in 42 languages. For more detail, visit www.myheritage.com. DNA Quest is available on www.dnaquest.org.
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Anna Childers is a genetic counselor at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee. Last year, she interviewed adult adoptees on their perspectives on DNA testing as part of her graduate degree from the University of South Carolina. Her study queried adults who had been adopted as children about the importance of DNA testing and their motivations for pursuing DNA testing in the at-home setting.
Anna presented her results at the 2017 National Society of Genetic Counselors annual conference, and the findings were consistent with other past reports of the use and motivations of DNA testing by adoptees.
As an active participant in the world of genetic genealogy and someone who has interacted with adoptees and adoptive parents through my professional work and personal life, this topic holds special importance to me (and many others!).
In this post, Anna shares a summary of her project's outcomes with readers. If you would like more details about the project or to be kept abreast of any updates related to the work Anna has done (when full results are published publicly, for example), you can check back here on my blog over time, or reach out to Anna yourself (email@example.com).
Great work, Anna! These results are an important contribution to the body of knowledge that will help those affected by adoption gain better access to information that may impact their health, their families, and their rights.
P.S. Readers, interested in this topic? I have additional links related to adoption and DNA listed in my newly-updated resources section and also provide private consultations about various DNA topics (including health/medical) for all those affected by adoption as well as their family members.
Anna Childers writes:
The public’s knowledge about the role of genetics in disease is constantly growing. At the same time, the market for direct-to-consumer genetic testing (at-home genetic testing) continues to expand. Companies such as 23andMe and AncestryDNA allow you to order a genetic test without speaking to a healthcare provider. These test results can - depending on the company - offer information on disease susceptibility, carrier status, ancestry, and many other areas of interest.
One group of customers taking advantage of the ever-growing at-home genetic testing market is adoptees. Previous research has shown that adoptees appear to be more motivated than non-adoptees to learn about their genetic disease risk but have similar responses to health-related information. In our study, we interviewed 14 adoptees that received some sort of health information as a result of their journey with at-home testing. We asked these adoptees about their motivations for pursuing testing, their satisfaction with their results, their emotions throughout the process, and their interest in meeting with a genetic counselor.
Adoptees described three main motivations for pursuing at-home genetic testing:
2) a desire for health information
3) general curiosity
This idea of seeking some form of an identity, for some adoptees, corresponded with the search for biological family. For others, it meant learning more about their ethnicity. Both provided adoptees with the opportunity to connect with something bigger than themselves. One adoptee described this search, saying “people are proud of their heritage, and all your whole life, you don’t have one…a nice diverse [ancestry] to me was being able to go ‘oh gee I can associate with that, associate with that, find out about all those different cultures.’”
Adoptees also shared a variety of emotional reactions to the newfound information, but the strongest emotional responses were reported in reaction to ancestral information, or information regarding both ethnicity and biological family. For example, silence from one adoptee’s biological family led to the feeling of being a “dirty little secret.” Another, after learning that her heritage was different than what she had been told her entire life, described the time spent looking for her biological family as “30 years of absolutely wasted time.”
Since health-related genetic testing was a theme of the study, familiarity of the concept of genetic counseling was assessed. When we asked adoptees about their interest in speaking with a genetic counselor, the majority of the adoptees found some sort of value in talking to a genetic counselor. The adoptees said that this kind of information would be useful if they were found to carry certain genetic traits, if a new health concern arose, or would be beneficial for their family members.
Genetic counselors are professionals trained in dealing with both the emotional responses and the educational questions that come along with genetic testing. The insights from this study were shared with genetic counselors during the 2017 conference of the National Society of Genetic Counselors in Columbus, Ohio. The research is also being prepared for publication and upon publication, full study results will be available for a larger audience to read and to learn.
In the words of one of the adoptees interviewed, “[adoption] affects all the generations going forward because [adoptees] missed out on that giant piece [of information].” It is up to genetic counselors to help adoptees sort through what these results might mean for them, both in the emotional and informational sense.
Bio: Anna Childers is a pediatric genetic counselor at the Monroe Carell, Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee. The work summarized in this blog post was completed in 2017 as a part of her graduate work while a student of the University of South Carolina’s genetic counseling program.