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Tales of struggle… and strength

Here on December 24th — Christmas Eve — 2015, The Legal Genealogist is in awe.

As much as I whine about aspects of my life — who doesn’t? — the fact is, I have it pretty darned good. I have a loving family, a roof over my head, clothes to wear, food to eat, and no real doubt that I’ll have all of those things not just today but tomorrow and the day after and the day after…

Christmas GiftBut if there was one thing that was driven home, powerfully, when Family Tree DNA stepped up to the plate and went along with my idea to offer free DNA testing to some folks who couldn’t otherwise afford it,1 it’s the fact that there are so many people out there for whom that certainty is lacking.

So many people, struggling every day just to keep putting one foot in front of the other.

So many people, burning to know more about themselves, but without any realistic way to get that information.

So many people, desperate to give to others in their families, and without the means to do so.

The stories people told when explaining what getting a DNA test kit would mean to them are enough to break anyone’s heart. Here are 10 — just 10 — of the dozens and dozens of stories:

• “Our 55 year old brother has stage 4 lung cancer. He is such a lovely person and has truly enjoyed learning about our family from us. It has been a great tool to connect the three of us while he battles this disease. This would be a gift I could give to him that would be with us long after he is gone. As dramatic as this sounds, this will be his last Christmas. … (T)his gift would mean the world to me and my siblings. We have talked about this for years thinking we had plenty of time to get this done. But time is running out.”

• “I am requesting the gift for my uncle. He is 79. He is the last of Mom’s nine brothers. … I think our time is short on getting him tested.”

• “I try to offset the costs of the Holidays by buying gifts all year long. Usually I succeed. This year … I have managed to get everyone but my husband something. Our 35th Wedding Anniversary is Jan 3, 2016. I also have nothing for that. I would love to have his DNA tested…. it would be so delightful to be able to say ‘Surprise’ on Christmas morning and to give him a gift that would benefit our sons as well.”

• “My twin sister and I were … adopted by our foster parent. … For over thirty years my sister and I have been searching for our biological parents, sibling or relatives. … We have asked numerous relatives and friends, joined adoption registries and even posted inquiries on several adoption boards but these gestures have yielded no results… (not even non-identifying information).”

• “For myself, and my half sister, both adopted out … that is where I would really like help. … And we both have children and grandchildren that we would love to provide clues for. We need to test to have the best information.”

• “I’ve longed to take a DNA test for over 20 years however, my financial situation has never allowed me to purchase a testing kit. … I was told … that our ancestors were african slaves … perhaps we have a mixture of native American and European ancestry. … I have a three year old daughter that will certainly stand to benefit from me taking this test so that she can pass down my DNA results to her future family, share the info with her friends, in addition to providing her with a deeply rooted sense of identity and heritage.”

• “Do you know what being adopted with a child is like? The number one thing a doctor asks when you have to be seen is medical history… Now think about having a child that is in pain and tears… you don’t know what is wrong and again you are asked medical history but this time of your child… Your hands are tied!! I not only have no idea what battles I may be facing in my life, but now my kids have this void.”

• “I have been trying for years to find any blood relative, and I’ve hit nothing but dead ends. … This Christmas, I will be fortunate if I will even have food to eat. … there will be nothing under the tree for even … grandkids this year. Please, … a family of my own is all I want.”

• “(My son is) adopted (from China). … A fellow adopted mom contacted me. Our sons look alike. … They have the same birthday. They are almost the same height. Both very short even for kids from China. … They were found 5 miles apart. … (T)hey both say ‘Hi’ the same way. They were both adopted within the same year. … My spine tingles when I think that my son might not only have sibling but a twin in the US…”

• “My grandfather saw his family massacred during the Armenian Genocide. About fifty years after he saw this, he found out that one of his brothers had survived. They were going to meet but my grandfather passed away before they were able to meet. I’d like to know more … maybe (find) some of my grand-uncle’s family…”

The stories are all like that. Dozens upon dozens of them, from all over the world. All heart-wrenching.

And so so many showing their true colors. Showing — in spite of their own hurts, their own desires — such good hearts. Taking the time to say that it was enough to know what getting a DNA test kit would mean to someone: “This is a very special gift … Christmas is not about ‘presents’ but about family ‘presence.’ A DNA test will certainly provide a family that sense of presence of ancestors long gone, yet very much a part of their life. Regardless of who wins, your gift will give to someone the opportunity to know their family better.”

Or asking for their own families but adding: “If not me, I understand, and am overjoyed if you found someone else with a greater need!”

Or just recognizing, simply, that “There will be others with much better reasons than I have.”

And one person said it better than I ever could, when the thought first crossed my mind to try to get this giveaway going. That person wrote, after explaining how the kit could be used for that family’s research:

I started off this email hoping to get a DNA test… I finish it hoping that you only see the deeper far reaching implications of your gift.

There may be other people like me who want to honor and remember their ancestors, there may be people who have never known their parents or siblings, there may be people who are at the end of their days, people who want to leave a lasting legacy to their descendants.

Your kind and generous gift could benefit so many people, from so many walks of life, with so many heart wrenching stories. I don’t envy your task at picking just three.

You were touched enough at the thought of somebody not affording a test, the truth is, you will be giving somebody FAR more than just a little financial boost… you will be giving them hope, strength, love, resolve, power, relief, calm, faith, and you don’t know it yet but you will be giving them LIFE.

I hope so. Oh, I hope so.

And I wasn’t the only one who thought so.

Remember that I asked Family Tree DNA to give me one test kit to give away. Instead, they offered three: one YDNA 37-marker test and two autosomal Family Finder tests. When the giveaway was posted, a donor who wants to remain anonymous stepped up and gave three more autosomal Family Finder test kits. And another anonymous donor kicked in two more autosomal Family Finder tests.

That meant that not three but eight people would get test kits.

And that’s not all.

When I found myself unable to decide between three candidates for that one YDNA 37-marker test — Family Tree DNA added a second YDNA kit and an anonymous donor stepped in and donated the third.

TEN people getting test kits. The 10 people whose stories you read above.

And that’s not all.

The Board of Directors of the nonprofit organization DNAAdoption, stepped in — without being asked — to offer free how-to-use-DNA classes for every single one of the folks getting these kits. They knew that getting the results is the easy part and understanding them not so easy. So thanks to their generosity, those getting the Family Finder kits will be able to take “The Basics of Autosomal DNA,” and those getting the YDNA kits can take the “Beginner Y-DNA” class. These classes, by the way, aren’t just for adoptees — they’re for everyone (in case you’re looking for a class for yourself!).

Ten test kits. Ten free how-to classes.

And proof, beyond any question, beyond all doubt, that even where there are struggles, there is strength, and that in the quiet depths of our hearts, we are all winners.

Happy holidays.


  1. Judy G. Russell, “A happier holiday season…,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 17 Dec 2015 ( : accessed 23 Dec 2015).
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