I recently had the opportunity to read The DNA Guide for Adoptees, by Brianne Kirkpatrick and Shannon Combs-Bennett. Shannon is a DNA Consultant at Legacy Tree Genealogists, and both authors are very well-versed in genetic genealogy and have much experience in helping adoptees identify their biological families.
While the book is called The DNA Guide for Adoptees, it is actually a comprehensive guide to all avenues an adoptee can take or should consider in researching their biological ancestry. The first portion of the book covers preparations an adoptee can make before starting their journey, including emotionally preparing themselves and their adoptive families for the search. It also covers the basics of traditional or document-based genealogical research, adoptees’ rights to their own records, and why DNA testing has been such a game-changer in helping adoptees discover their birth families. The next portion explains the basics of DNA inheritance, what DNA tests are available and how they are used to identify family, and what to make of the ethnicity predictions included in autosomal DNA test results. The third section explains what to do with the test results when they come in – how to read them, organize them, and use them to reach out to biological relatives. The last section covers the health aspects of DNA testing. This includes at-home DNA tests that offer health information (such as 23andMe and AncestryDNA) and third-party websites like Promethease that can use those results, as well as medical-grade tests that can be ordered by a doctor. It also covers some of the unique challenges faced by adoptees (including children) and their families in addressing medical concerns through DNA testing.
The book does a fantastic job of comprehensively covering the many different aspects of an adoptee’s search for their biological family. It openly addresses the anxiety, fear, and possible difficulties with adoptive family that such a search can generate. It also addresses the fact that televised reunions create a somewhat unrealistic picture of the process most adoptees go through in finding their biological relatives. The authors explain that for most adoptees, the process is an effort that spans years, and doesn’t always end in happy reunions. The chapters covering medical DNA testing and records access were particularly enlightening. This was especially true where the authors discussed the medical information not provided by at-home DNA tests that claim to offer health information, what adoptees and their families can do to address those gaps.
Another area where the book excels is its organization. The chapters are relatively short, but rich in detail, explanation, and use many real-life examples from adoptees the authors have worked with. This allows the reader to go directly to the section that interests them at that moment, find the information they need, and put it to use. Complex concepts like heteroplasmy, microchimerism, and visual phasing are addressed briefly, but mostly to let the interested reader know there is much more to discover if they are so interested.
One aspect of the book that made reading it a little difficult was the use of black-and-white images. Some of the graphs were difficult to read in a black-and-white format, and color images would greatly enhance their usefulness. Also, the section on Y-DNA and mitochondrial DNA was very brief, likely due to the limited use of those tests in helping adoptees identify their birth family.
Overall, the book is very comprehensive and leaves the reader feeling informed and empowered to make educated decisions. A thorough list of resources is provided at the end, giving the interested reader specific options for seeking additional information. If you or someone you know was adopted and is interested in searching for their biological family, I highly recommend reading and using this book before and during the search.
To learn more or to purchase your own copy, visit: https://dnaguideforadoptees.com