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DNA Testing For Missing Family

Many people view DNA testing as a self-centered pursuit and hobby. While this may be true to a certain extent, there is important work being done around the world to improve the lives of orphaned children, or to bring closure to separated families. But who has the right to use your DNA? That's a big question.

There were nearly 153 million orphans globally in 2022 according to UNICEF. Many of these are known as "children born of war" who might be categorized in four main types: children of enemy soldiers, children of soldiers from occupational forces, children of child soldiers, and children of peacekeeping forces. Many other orphans are victims of violence, disease, and civil conflicts (such as in Central & South America, and in Africa).

torn paper drawing of a separated family

I made a new acquaintance last month whose family escaped from Viet Nam at the end of the US's involvement there in the 1970's. When she learned I was a genealogist she revealed to me the pain of many of her Vietnamese friends who were trying to find their American fathers and missing family members. They have recently started to improve their odds of success with DNA testing. Logo
GITrace Image

If you are trying to track down a US service member who may have fathered a child while in service world wide, there is a website (and Facebook page) called GITrace that "has been created to assist people who are trying to trace their American GI fathers, grandfathers or wider family members." This appears to be free of charge, and includes instructions on DNA testing and forms for requesting information.

You may have seen recent success stories of family members finding fellow Holocaust survivors through DNA testing, such as this one found in a MyHeritage blog post

The Center for Jewish History, an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institute, has recently launched an effort to get free DNA tests out to victims of the Holocaust who still survive or to their first generation children. Ancestry is one of many companies who have donated kits. If you have already taken a test with Ancestry, they ask that you not request another one, but sign up for their upcoming workshops to help interpret your results at their website.

DNA testing to determine biological parents is not without controversy. In 2009 the Argentine government authorized forced DNA "extraction" of those suspected of being "Children of the Disappeared" whether or not they wanted to know who their real parents were.

photo by Luis Hernán Schwaner
Madres de la Plaza Mayo

In the "Dirty War" from 1976 - 1983 the regime in charge caused the disappearance of an estimated 30,000 people. The children of some of the political prisoners were given to top police or military personnel as "adopted." The 45 year long project of the Mothers (and Grandmothers) of the Plaza de Mayo was to learn the fates of their children, and their possible grandchildren.

This was, of course, seen as an invasion of privacy and it has been feared as a dangerous legal precedent. Should (grand)parents of kidnapped children be able to use your DNA to find out if you are "theirs?" Privacy and DNA ownership concerns are very central to current work undertaken by ISOGG, the International Society of Genetic Genealogists, especially in view of the recent interest in solving cold cases with DNA test results.

Work is ongoing to identify children in graveyards in the indigenous (Indian) schools in Canada; and in Ireland at the mass grave sites of unmarried mothers and their children. In Japan efforts are underway to identify war dead or children of Japanese, Korean, and Chinese combatants and victims. There is talk of using DNA testing to identify the parents of the children confiscated at the Texas border in the last few years, but if no one tests the parents (since they don't know who they are), how do they think this will work?

USS Oklahoma memorial photo by Chris Osburn

DNA testing recently determined the identities of 429 crewmen of the USS Oklahoma who were buried in unmarked mass graves after it was destroyed in the Pearl Harbor attack of 1941 as part of the ongoing work of the US Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency. Over the course of six years, all but 33 men have been identified. They hope that with further advancements in DNA testing the identities of the remaining 33 will be made.

abstract  man with moustache getting bad suprise

If you are interested in learning more about DNA testing for adoptees and orphans, the ISOGG has a great page of links and information here. From their website, "ISOGG highly recommends that adoptees, orphans, donor

conceived individuals and others with sensitive matters work with experienced search organizations prior to making contact with biological families." This is highly sensitive territory. Contact with potential family members must be handled with a very gentle hand! This news may not be happy for everyone involved.

photo of fishing rods in log cabin

I cannot recommend uploading your Ancestry DNA results to other family tree sites enough if you are looking for adoptees. When you are looking for a missing link you need to fish in as many ponds with as many rods as you can, as Diahan Southard of YourDNAGuide recently said. I love that analogy!

When I uploaded my Ancestry DNA to MyHeritage, I doubled the number of matching distant cousins and have managed to narrow down my 1870's brick wall possibilities to 4 families. And their new Theory of Relativity tool is fun!

As with any powerful scientific discovery, the ongoing development of DNA testing will continue to walk a fine line between good and evil. Gene splicing can cure diseases, but you can see eugenics from here! However, I look forward to the future with optimism, it's just how I roll.

Happy June! How's that Father's Day Family Tree gift coming? Need some last minute help? Email me at !

Best wishes for a happy and fruitful summer,

Leslie Ryan

Always a Free Evaluation and Quote

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