Thursday, October 11, 2018

An NPE in the Tree

It has been one long, crazy summer. Life has been filled with all sorts of adventure; so much so that I just have not had the time to write. My days have been filled with countless revisions of my tenure portfolio, massive amounts of travel packing and unpacking, 3 or 4 jobs (I can't keep track), and lots of genealogical digging.

Shortly after I returned home from my trip to my ancestral homeland in Newfoundland with Uncle Thomas in July, I was contacted through by a man who stated he had a DNA match with me. Well, he actually has a match with a relative of mine for whom I manage their DNA test. Three or 4 emails into our exchange, (again, I can't keep track), I called him. It was obvious this man had done a lot of research before taking a DNA test and didn't quite understand the results he was seeing. 

It was not long into our conversation, maybe 3 or 4 minutes, I asked him, "Jack (I'll call him Jack), do you think you're adopted." To which he responded, "I didn't think so until this morning."

It was at that instant that I was fully invested. (By the way, he isn't adopted but...)

What Jack is experiencing is what many are referring to as an NPE; a Non-Paternity Experience. And I have seen it before with others I have worked with one-on-one doing genealogy research. His life is going along just fine, he takes a DNA test with no real serious expectations, just wants to see a pie chart of his ethnicity, further his research, and maybe meet a cousin or two (or 3 or 4 - hee hee), and BAM!  He discovers that the man he knows to be his father is not his biological parent. His mother is his biological mother; we found people who he matches on that side of his family tree. Sadly though, his mother has passed away and so he has no one in his own immediate family to ask about these results. 

This initialism, NPE, is a term not just used for people who discover their father is not their biological parent but for those who discover they are adoptees as well. It is also sometimes called a false paternal event or misattributed paternity. These are all terms I just don't like but I haven't come up with anything better yet. In any case, I read somewhere that in one specific yDNA study the rate of NPE was about 10%. In other words, 1 in every 10 men who contributed to that specific yDNA study experienced an NPE; 1 in 10. That's a lot. NPEs are not at all uncommon but each one is unique and each deserves sensitivity and intense research. 

Back to Jack. Since our initial contact we have communicated nearly every day. We've dug through records, translated foreign records, contacted lots of other people he matches, combed through family photos, talked about centimorgans, sketched out diagrams of potential connections, shot down a handful of theories, found biological connections to his mother, and have arrived at a short list of potential biological fathers. We don't have the answer yet, but we will. 

Jack has a tenacity that I respect and admire. It's not ferocious, it's a patient, respectful, relentlessness that is going to bring to light exactly where he comes from. Where for some people this might completely unhinge their entire sense of self, for Jack it doesn't seem that way. He seems confident, accepting, and again, completely respectful of the other lives this discovery might impact. For others though, these revelations often stir up family secrets that are scandalous and perhaps even dark and painful; like infidelity and rape. Painful discoveries occur so often because of these simple DNA test that there are actually support groups for people who experience these discoveries.

It's my hope that people would go into these DNA tests with their eyes wide open to the fact they may learn things they were not expecting and may not want to know. Jack wants the people who take these tests to participate in their DNA findings; provide information to the people you match to. "Don't just take the test and leave," he says. It's my prayer that everyone is like Jack and has the courage to approach their matches for insight; ask them all to share what they know! Do so with respect, sensitivity, and persistent patience. Those matches, those are your cousins; they are your family. So when someone comes to you in the midst of an NPE, remember, if they match you, you are their family. Be kind.

Yeah. It's been an incredibly wonderful, enlightening, long, crazy summer.

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