Monthly Archives: July 2015

Adoptee Finds Family Via DNA: An Interview with Stephani Harris

Lynn: 

Good morning, Stephani! It is so great to speak with you today! As one of the contributors to The Adoptee Survival Guide, it’s great to be collaborating again for this interview.  Readers, today Stephani will be sharing about her success story with genetic genealogy.

As Gaye Sherman Tannenbaum reminds us in The Adoptee Survival Guide, with some luck and patience, it is possible to find out who your biological family is using genetic genealogy.  Sometimes testers get lucky and get a quick match, while other testers will need to be very patient, build trees and speak with cousin matches to fit the puzzle pieces together.

Stephani, please share with the readers what prompted you to take an autosomal DNA test and which test(s) you took.

Stephani:  

Hi Lynn and thank you for having me on the blog! It’s been an honor collaborating with you and the other authors of The Adoptee Survival Guide.  I was on Ancestry.com in 2013 researching for my husband. He is also adopted and recently had his adoption records opened up. I noticed the Ancestry ethnicity DNA test and it made me very curious. I am going to admit when I spit in the vial and sent it out, I truly thought it was just a  money making scam that wasn’t accurate. I wasn’t really taking it serious and I just couldn’t comprehend how my spit would reveal my ethnicity of myself and my ancestors.  I was proven wrong. The results were truly accurate.

Lynn:

You and I have something huge in common that really connects us.  We both found out surprises about our ethnicity after we were adults.  As I mention in my essay, I learned I am 30% Native American and that my father is Latino after taking a DNA test, something I did not know for the majority of my life.  Can you share with the readers about what your discovery was and what it meant to you?

Stephani:

Yes, it’s true that we were both surprised about the findings of our ethnicity, but I had met my bio father face to face at least 11-12  yrs prior to the test. So, the test didn’t give me a surprise of “Wow, the other half of me is Black and Jew too.”  The discovery was an accurate confirmation of my Paternal side and identity.

Lynn:

Thanks for sharing that, Stephani.  So what kind of DNA matches did you get and how did you progress in learning the identity of your paternal extended family?

Stephani:

So far as of today, I’ve been matched with eight 2nd cousins and three 3rd cousins on my paternal side.  On my maternal side so far, I’ve been matched with one 1st cousin (which is actually my niece) and several 3rd and 4th cousins. Lynn, I will be honest with you, I didn’t pay much attention at first when I sent off the test as far as being matched with other potential relatives. I was more interested in the ethnicity percentages than finding relatives. I am from an open adoption and knew my bio mother and half siblings and then later I found my bio father and half siblings. So, I wasn’t looking into seeking out other family members. I was just lucky with all the matches and luck found that my paternal cousins took the test as well, so we were matched.

Lynn:

I have talked to many people who have DNA tested and I think you are the first adoptee that I have known with that many close matches!  Wow!  How were your received into your paternal family?

Stephani:

My cousin matches from Ancestry were an overwhelming eight 2nd cousins. The three 3rd cousins are my 2nd cousins children. So, it’s so bizarre and unheard of to be an adoptee with having that high amount of close relative matches that are 99.9 % accurate. I think whether we are from an open or closed adoption, it’s still alot of close relative matches . I am very happy to tell you they have received me with so much acceptance and love. I am in contact with several of my 2nd cousins on a weekly basis from talking on the phone, email, facebook or texting one another. Last year, one of my 2nd cousins came to visit me and stayed at my home for five days. The visit from her was  very surreal and I have felt more than just a ‘lucky’ feeling with it comes to how well I’ve been received with open arms from most of the family.

Lynn:  

That is some great news, Stephani! I am really happy for you and your paternal cousins.  What advice would you give to the readers about taking autosomal DNA tests and how has DNA testing changed your identity, if at all?

Stephani:

I must say it hasn’t changed my identity but has enhanced my life more to accept and love all of who I am.  The Caucasian, Black and Jew in me is part of who I always have been and it’s never changed my identity.  I can tell you what has changed, is having the truth confirmed about my identity through DNA.  Then, I think about something as I write this that I never really thought about before. My adopted family and my identity.  They have always supported me and their love for me has always been real and true. So, I am going to say that they are part of who I am as well.

Oh and as for the advice for others…I think if we focus so much about where we come from to the point of keeping others from loving us then we are making that part of our identity. We are allowing the place of rejection, hurt, pain and the lonely art of isolation to define our identity. If I can say one thing that can help others it would be to go and find a therapist trained in understanding adoption as a loss. Find support groups and surround yourself with people who love you. If we get so wrapped up in “who do you think you are,” then we can never focus on accepting who we are today and allowing that to be a part of our identity.

Lynn:

Some very wise words, indeed.  Thank you, Stephani, for sharing your story today!

For more information on genetic genealogy, you can find links to the major testing companies and Facebook groups here.

Stephani Harris lives in Louisville, Kentucky with her loving husband, who is also an adoptee from a closed adoption and her 150 lb. Big Bear Akita (also adopted). She also has an adopted stepdaughter who currently lives in St. Louis.

She is a business owner of over 20 years, a Salon Master Educator, and serves as a professional mentor in the salon business industry encouraging professional development. She has studied Internal Family Systems Therapy by Richard Schwartz for her personal growth and has been actively involved with IFS group therapy for over five years focusing on healing of grief, loss, and trauma/PTSD.

www.Facebook.com/stephani.harris

www.Selfleadership.org