Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Guest Post: DNA Testing-Unexpected Results

PREFACE: In my last post I wrote about how knowing one's family medical background and one's ethnicities/heritage are information one shouldn't take for granted.  Unlike my children, who are adopted, I have much easier access to my family medical background and information about my ancestry.  I have learned not to take such information for granted. 

Some adoptive parents may feel threatened or even invalidated when their children want to explore their biological roots.   Although I understand where that concern is coming from and recognize it as valid, I believe that adoptive families must respect the wants and needs of their adopted family members- even going so far as to advocate for them.  I personally believe that EVERYONE should have access to who they are and where they came from- yet for many that knowledge is almost impossible to come by- "almost" is the key word here.  DNA testing is one possible solution to tracing unknown roots.

 I am more than aware that adoption is created from loss and that reunification with biological family does not always have a happy ending.  I can't speak for birthparents for the obvious reason that I've never been in their situation but I can speak from my experiences as an adoptive mother and as mentioned, I can advocate for my children's rights to know where they came from. 

I am delighted to hear from the perspective of someone who has been adopted as they share their unique experience with DNA Testing.  Wayne Fagg is a former neighbor of mine and an adoptee who  will be guest posting about his incredible journey of discovering his birth family and unraveling his heritage through DNA testing.

Unexpected Results by Wayne Fagg

Our family consisted of my Mom and Dad and seven children. On its face it was not that unusual a situation. However, I was the first of six children adopted by my parents, following the birth of their daughter 4 years earlier. I was born May 30, 1961 in Santa Monica Hospital. What follows is the brief story of how I uncovered my birth parents, all from spitting into a vial.

While I was in Utah visiting around the 4th of July 2015, we were fortunate to be invited to my brother John’s house in Heber City. As John and I were talking, he mentioned to me that he had taken the DNA test a few weeks earlier. Apparently he had received it as a gift for Father’s Day. He told me it would reveal ethnicity—the idea had a certain appeal to it, although it has been fun over the years to claim everything from Greek to Italian to Spanish….

So, sometime in August I received the vial from Ancestry, spit some of my precious saliva in it and sent it off to be tested. Around 4 weeks later I received an email telling me my results were in. I logged into my account and it pulled up my DNA makeup:

            Location                                             Percentage

            Great Britain                                      36%
            Scandinavia                                        33%
            Europe West                                      10%
            Ireland                                                6%
            Finland/NW Russia                          6%
            Czech Republic                                  3%
            Italy/Greece                                       2%
            European Jew                                                2%
            Iberian Peninsula                              1%
            Pakistan/India                                   1%

So, there it was. I thought that that was it. However, things changed about 2 months later when someone asked me about the breakdown of my percentage of European ancestry and I went back to the site. There, for the first time, I saw a button marked “View All DNA Matches.” So, I clicked it. And, then I found information for which I was not prepared.

Ancestry gathers the DNA information of people who match and group them together in segments ranging from Close Family to Second Cousins to Third Cousins and so on. Pretty interesting. Most of the information is guarded by usernames and while some users have shared pedigrees, others have not uploaded that information. My eyes were drawn to that first line, where there was one name listed under the “Close Family” segment: olgakarcher.

Who was this olgakarcher?

I decided to do what anyone would do when given a name these days and wanted to have some information: I Googled it—then I searched Facebook. I ran the name Olga Karcher and came up with two hits. One was an older lady in San Diego and the other, a friendly face in Reno, Nevada. I sent a message via Facebook to them both explaining that they were my closest DNA match on Ancestry and I’d love to compare notes. Olga Karcher from San Diego was silent. Olga Karcher from Reno responded. She got back to me and said that she had her DNA results and didn’t see my name anywhere.

So, that was that. This was Thursday night. Somehow the results had been skewed.
Until I woke up Friday morning and she sent me a message entitled “OH MY GOSH!” And, this was her message:

Hi. This is Olga Karcher---THE previous Olga Karcher that you contacted on Facebook! I've been thinking and thinking about your situation, and the Ancestry DNA that just didn't match mine. AND THEN I SUDDENLY REMEMBERED---thank GOD!!---I had my husband Stephen Karcher do a DNA test last year and printed out the results and never looked back at his profile/neither did he. Honestly, totally forgot about it. YOU ARE HIS COUSIN!!!

So, he was born in Santa Monica in 1964. His Mom was Carol Anna Clayton Karcher and his dad, Robert Karcher. As she exchanged information with me, it became apparent that dates and places were lining up, but something was missing.  And, it was missing until Olga wrote me and said, “I think we are wrong. I think you are his half-brother.” His Mom had died in 2003 but his Dad was alive, so they wrote him an email on Friday night, November 6. He didn’t respond until late Sunday night.

Here is the text of that email:

Dear Steve and Olga.  
Carol and I first met in Santa Monica around May-June 1962 to the best of my recollection.  Around Thanksgiving 1962 we became engaged and began to talk seriously about getting married. 
Carol told me at that time that she had given birth to an infant son previously whom she had given up for adoption.  As I recall the adoptive parents were Mormon and were either living in Utah or planning to move to Utah.  
I think Carol always harbored feelings of guilt for giving up her infant son and wished  to have some contact with him.  The adoption agencies have provisions in place to make it extremely difficult for biological parents to locate/contact their child once it has been given up for adoption. 
The basic facts seem to fit:  Born in Santa Monica in 1961 at SM Hospital.  Resident of Utah.  And I assume he has a birth certificate or some other documentation that identifies his birth mother by name.  Based on the available information, I think Wayne’s credentials as a family sibling are certifiable and you guys have an older half brother Steve. Congratulations….Gramps  

Stunned. That’s what I was.  The only information I had been given by my Mom, Ellen Fagg, was that her cousin who had volunteered at the Santa Monica Hospital had known I was up for adoption placement and that the birth mother wanted a Mormon family.

Carol Anna Clayton was 22 when she gave birth to me.  Single and unwed, she had been raised by a single mother and wanted a different life for me. Her life after was a mixed bag. She gave birth to four sons, two whom are Greek Orthodox priests. They all converted to Greek Orthodoxy after their oldest son, Stephen and his wife, Olga did so in the early 1990’s.

She was tall, 5’10 and thin, with dark hair, some moles and a habit of puckering her lips together when she concentrated or read. She was born in 1938 in Santa Monica and graduated in 1955 from Santa Monica High School. She suffered from depression and was a functional alcoholic and also smoked a pack of Marlboros everyday. She died of breast cancer in 2003.

Her family, including her daughter in law, Olga, has been very nice and given me information and photos. They understand that I have awesome parents, great siblings and my own wonderful family and I am not looking for replacement parts. This is putting pieces of a puzzle together.

So, now the remaining question was, who is my birth father? The DNA results showed two names that could be my 2nd cousins and so I reached out to them and they offered vague responses without naming names of certain uncles and such, all of whom are older and have families. There was someone who might be able to give me a clue: Carol’s only sibling, a sister, Ruth, who was 5 years younger than Carol and who graduated from high school the year I was born. The problem was that Ruth was estranged from her family and had been removed since the early 1980’s. Emails and phone calls were placed and on Tuesday I was given a phone number, and on Tuesday night I called Ruth.

Ruth lives in a small town in Indiana. She explained how shocked she was to hear my voice. She told me some things about Carol. Apparently, because this was the early 60’s and unwed pregnancies were better not seen, Carol was sequestered in an old motel in Malibu that a friend of the family owned and there she waited out the term of her pregnancy. She shared some other information and then I asked if she at least knew the last name of my birth father. She said she knew his whole name that he had been a neighbor those for most of their childhood and was the same age as Carol. His name was George Duvardo.

So, armed with that I went back to my contacts on Ancestry and one of them responded that George was his uncle. Last night I spoke with his younger sister and leaned about him. Born George Carlson, his dad died before George was born in an accident and George was subsequently adopted by his Mom’s husband, Frank Duvardo. He was Catholic and she was Mormon. George had been ordained a priest, but that was the extent of his participation in the LDS Church. He had two children from his second marriage, a boy and a girl. An athlete in high school playing varsity basketball and football since his freshman year, he went on to play football as a wide receiver/tight end at University of California Santa Barbara. He was 6’4. George died in 1998 at the age of 60 from a heart attack.

Interesting note. George’s mom is Jeannie Sellers. She was born in Charleston, Utah, (Wasatch County up near John and Amy), the daughter of Archie Sellers and Eliza Murdock Sellers. Eliza Murdock Sellers was the granddaughter of Joseph Stacy Murdock. See

So, there you go: Pieces to a puzzle. Information about health history. Ethnicity confirmed. But, at the end of the day, my name is Wayne Fagg, son of Floyd and Ellen and brother to Diane, Pam, Kathy, Robert, John and Mark. Like I told Olga, “I have great parents and siblings. I’m not looking for a replacement family.” What I do have is a greater extension to my family. For that I am grateful.

I encourage you to have your DNA tested. Be prepared for the results, both unexpected and unusual.

Wayne Fagg
6060 Camden Court, Cumming, GA 30040

George Deloy Carlson Duvardo at 55.
Wayne Fagg at 54.

WOW- Right?

  "They understand that I have awesome parents, great siblings and my own wonderful family and I am not looking for replacement parts. This is putting pieces of a puzzle together."

Those lines are my favorite part of Wayne's story.  Rather than negating or distorting his identity (or marginalizing his family) the discovery of his birth family has been a great gift which has enhanced his identity, given him valuable medical information, and expanded his sphere of family.

Don't Take Knowledge of Your DNA for Granted!

From the time she was very little, many people have told me that my oldest daughter shares many of my mannerisms and facial expressions.  Although we do share certain traits or even looks- as parents and children  often do- she doesn't have my hair color or eye color.  She definitely gets those from her birthmother. 

My youngest children happen to both be blonde, blue eyed, and fair-skinned- like me- yet they don't get that from me either.  My little boy not only shares my sensitive skin, but a sometimes overly sensitive and cautious spirit, and a propensity to allergies and autoimmune issues with me.  His little sister, on the other hand, has always been much more carefree and impulsive by nature.  And when I use the term "by nature" I mean it quite literally as I can see much of her birthmother's personality in her: wanting to do whatever is the most fun or adventurous at the moment despite the consequences that follow. 

I was able to get to know the birthmother of my two youngest children over the course of a year and a half when they were in our care as our foster children.  I knew our youngest daughter's medical history from the beginning since we brought her home from the hospital as a newborn.

However, there were some questions about my son's first year of life and medical background to which I didn't have answers.  There have been more than one assessment and a few medical questionnaires/exams for my son where I honestly couldn't answer all the questions on a form or from a health professional, such as "Does this child have a family history of deafness?"  "Was this child full-term gestation at birth?"  "Was the birth vaginal or Casearean?" 

I would have to leave a big question mark for the answer or hesitantly answer, "I . . . don't know." because I honestly didn't know.

In fact, I don't think it was until my son had been living with us for almost a year as our foster child that I was able to learn about his birth history from his birthmother.  Unlike his preemie sister, it turns out that he was born full-term (overdue, technically) and yes, it was a vaginal delivery.  I felt a little intrusive for asking such personal questions but it was a necessity.  You see, when Jack was just a toddler he ended up in the hospital after a couple of visits to the E.R. to be treated for a somewhat rare and potentially serious (but fortunately very treatable) autoimmune disease.  Although Jack's birthmom was always invited, she rarely showed up for his other doctor's appointments and medical check-ups.  However, the gravity of the situation really scared her and she did all in her power to be by her baby's side during his time in the hospital.

The first couple of days that Jack was in the hospital a team of doctors were trying to assess his symptoms and come up with a correct diagnosis.   Something was definitely wrong with him- it was just a matter of finding out what it was so that he could be properly treated and find some relief.

The team of doctors and interns would speculate and debate about a diagnosis: "It could be this, but then again, it could be this."  Nothing could be done but more tests, more observation, and more waiting.  With all the uncertainty it was extremely helpful, and I might add, quite a relief, to have Jack's birth mother and birth grandmother be at the hospital when they could to help fill in the gaps about questions regarding his family medical history since I sure couldn't.  Sure- after working with them for over a year I would have been able to tell the doctors about my foster son's birth parents social histories, mental health histories, heck- even their criminal backgrounds-  but as far as complete family medical histories- which was precisely what was needed at the time- I just. didn't. know.

Knowing your family medical history is not only helpful but can literally be a life-saver in some cases.  Unfortunately, parents with adopted children don't always know their child's family medical history if the adoption is closed and/or if the child's birth parents and relatives are deceased or cannot be contacted. 

One possible solution to such a dilemma is DNA testing.  The technology is WAY above my head and I am baffled about all of the discoveries that can be made about someone simply by analyzing their spit in a little tube!

I loved this clip which I saw just this month:

DNA Testing not only reveals a person's ethnic heritage, but also gives clues to which medical conditions they may have a predisposition towards.  Because I'm not adopted, I have always known my family medical history (or at least been in a position where I can simply ask my mom or dad which diseases or ailments run in our family OR learn that info from another family member).

Consider this example:

"Mary- if you ever find yourself in an emergency room with crippling pain- maybe even so bad you think you might be having a HEART ATTACK- be sure to tell the doctors that you have four sisters and a mom who have all had their gallbladders removed."  

That was my sister's advice to me years ago after undergoing surgery to have her gallbladder removed.   And since my sister is a nurse as well she used the occasion to educate me about the risk factors for gallbladder problems- the Four "F"s: female, forty, fat, and fertile.  I still remain the only one of my mother's daughters who hasn't had to have my gallbladder removed (Knock on Wood).  I joke that it is because, unlike my four sisters, I don't share the risk factor of being fertile.  I guess you could say that is one instance where my infertility has actually worked to my advantage.

Perhaps I will never have gallstones as my mother, sisters, many cousins, and a few nieces have- but it's good to be aware that it runs in my family just in case it does happen.  My mom has always told us that any stomach problems we may have- including gallbladder problems, acid reflux, indigestion, polyps, and, unfortunately, stomach cancer, come from her side of the family.  I have my dad, on the other hand, to blame for my sinus and allergy problems.   Thanks a lot, Dad!  

But it's not just medical conditions or strictly biological traits that I have inherited from my parents. Just as I have blue eyes like my dad I've also inherited his love of books and learning.  Although it's hard to tell if it's a matter of nature or nurture I'd like to think that I get my love of children, the ability to see humor in situations, and the natural ability to make others feel welcome and at ease from my mother.

Aside from knowing one's medical family history discovering one's ETHNICITY and HERITAGE is another miracle of DNA testing.  Both of my parents happen to love family history so I am fortunate to have access to copies of their numerous genealogy charts, family histories, documents and a few pictures which have been passed down through the generations. 

As for my heritage, I have always been particularly proud of my Scottish lineage.  When I hear bagpipes- I kid you not- I feel a physiological change take place inside of me and I'm immediately filled with a sense of both pride and reverence.  I am also proud to be English, Welsh, and Manx.  (And here's a confession in case anyone's not familiar with the term "Manx"- I didn't even know where the Isle of Mann was until my dad taught us about one of our revered forebears and his life's experiences.)

Much of my ancestry is what some might characterize as boringly British (don't get me wrong- I love the British Isles- and am particularly fond of English literature and history, but it just seems like Brits are just so WHITE and un-exotic).  Therefore, I was ECSTATIC to learn through my father's research on his lines, that I have African heritage (albeit South African) and even a very teeny-tiny small percentage of Bengal Indian in me!

I know these parts of my identity and can celebrate them because they've been passed down to me.  But not everyone- whether adopted or not- does know their heritage or ethnicity.  Once again, a solution to this is DNA testing.

Although I've never taken any DNA tests before, I know that offers DNA testing kits for $99 which is less expensive but perhaps less extensive than DNA testing from 23andme.  I have also heard that offers half-price specials around the Christmas holidays and have known of more than one adoptive parent who has bought a kit for their child for the sole purpose of discovering their ancestry.

DNA Testing or tracing your family history through research are definitely something to look into for anyone who wants to discover their roots!