Sunday, March 26, 2017

I Found My Secret Half-Great-Aunt with DNA Testing

I mentioned in a post two years ago that my maternal grandfather was conceived out of wedlock.  His mother was between husbands, and his father got around.  I also mentioned that a much younger half-sibling had contacted my grandfather in the late '90s, but I never learned her name.  She lived far away, and my grandmother had said she would send her a copy of the only photo they had of my great-grandfather and the few she had of his other children, the legitimate offspring.  My half-great-aunt didn't know her father because she had been conceived during an extramarital affair.  Her mother and social father (stepfather doesn't seem accurate if they passed her off as his own) already had two other children.  My half-great-aunt would be about 70 now, barely older than my mother.  Well, I found her.  Or, more accurately, DNA testing found us both.

My half-great-aunt popped up on AncestryDNA the other day with just three people on her family tree -- herself and her biological parents -- and I immediately knew who she was.  Even without the family tree, the 450+ cM of shared DNA and the many DNA relatives in common made it clear that my great-grandfather was our closest common ancestor.  I messaged her explaining how we're related (cushioned with "I think") and that my grandfather was one of the children born after their father's wife died.  I was trying to put delicately that he was one of the outsiders like her, that almost everything I knew had come much later from my own research.  I wanted her to feel comfortable talking to me.  I wanted her to know I was an outsider too, albeit one with lots of collected data and photographs.

I asked if she'd been the half-sister whose named I'd never learned who had written to my grandfather in the '90s.  She wrote back right away, and she was welcoming.  She said she was probably the same sister.  The few details my grandmother had mentioned, like birth year and state of residence, matched up, and she said she had tried to reach out to her "father's people" back then.  She hadn't known her father, she said.  She'd only seen him once when she was little, and her mother was still married to someone else, so she hadn't been allowed to talk about him at all.  How strangely similar to being donor conceived.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Meeting My Sister for the First Time

I'm hesitant to write about this because, as largely unread as this blog is, it's not private.  My nearest and dearest are well aware of it, though they aren't interested enough to come here (they hear enough of this stuff in person), and I should assume any up-and-coming nearest and dearest will be clued into it too, which is why I don't talk much about my paternal half-siblings.  I want them to like me, even if they someday read my blog.

To recap, I was conceived with anonymous donor sperm.  The only half-siblings I've found so far are the two adult children my biological father raised with his wife.  I'm the only DC one I know of, though there are probably more.

When I found Joseph, my biological father, he seemed very concerned that I would out him publicly, tag his children in Facebook posts, or somehow stalk or inconvenience his family.  I forgive him for this because he doesn't know that's not my style (except for the stalking -- I'm an exceptionally quiet cyberstalker).  He didn't want to know me, but my half-siblings did.  I have spoken to my half-sister Simone once on the phone.  We text sometimes on holidays.  We're Facebook friends, as I am with my half-brother Hans.  It's a strange relationship.  I've always been afraid of being perceived as too forward or forcing myself on them.  Both have been welcoming and kind to me.  Neither have seemed particularly interested in me though, so I've tried to take their lead.  Our relationships cooled, which I think was actually a good thing because they feel more solid now.  I feel more vested.  I feel like I would have to make a misstep for them to strike me from their lives now, whereas I previously checked Facebook every day to see if they had spontaneously unfriended me yet.

Here's the point of this post.  Simone wants to visit me and stay in my house.  Right away.  I do not want this to happen.  I would like to meet her.  I would like to share a meal and talk for hours, maybe even spend the day together.  She is my sister, and she will be forever, no matter how this relationship plays out.  But we have never met in person, we've only spoken once, and I don't want to host her in my home.  I am self-conscious of my home, and I have a husband and child and dog to take care of in my home.  I want to be able to give Simone my undivided attention somewhere else.  I want to be able to decompress after we meet and be alone to process everything.  I declined her request.  I said maybe in a few months.  Want to set a date in a few months?  Maybe then I'd have time to get to know her enough I could handle it, though I didn't say that part.  She asked again.  It needed to be now.  To avoid saying no again -- but also avoid saying yes -- I asked what was going on and expressed concern.  I knew she had had a fight with her boyfriend.  I knew to a certain extent what this was all about because she posts a lot of information on Facebook, which I appreciate as a quiet cyberstalker.  We messaged back a forth and few times over the next couple of weeks.  Then she asked again if she could stay in my house.  I've gotten good at drawing boundaries over the years, but I never learned how to maintain a relationship with someone who might not want those boundaries in place.  At the advice of my best friend Jerry, who is good at complex interpersonal relationships, I did what Simone frequently does and didn't respond at all.  The next time we talk, I will -- like Simone frequently does -- pretend it never happened.  This might sound cold, but I think it's the kindest way I could handle this particular situation.  It's strange.  I feel like I'm relearning how to play a game I was never particularly good at.

In case you're reading this ever, Simone, I do want to know you.  You are interesting, and we have so much in common in spite of all the ways we're different.  I think we'd both enjoy taking absurd numbers of selfies together and posting them on social media for attention with various #sister tags.  I like you and want to know you better.  But I want to take things slow.  I know it's been over two years, but we've barely spoken in that time, let alone bonded.  I am afraid of being the rebound from your current relationship.  I am afraid the novelty of meeting a new sister and posting selfies together on Facebook will not be enough to make you feel better again and that you might end up upset or mad at me.  I can be a good friend, but we barely know each other, and I'm not the best person for this job.  We could talk over the phone, and I could listen and sympathize, but I'm not good at hosting guests.  I don't like doing it, and that's not about you.  I want to get to know you, but if I let you light a fire under this sister relationship, I am afraid it will explode.  You mentioned starting DBT once on Facebook.  I clicked "like."  It made me happy that you were getting the kind of therapy I had always thought would work best for you.  I wanted to express support in that small Facebook way.  You don't know that borderline personality disorder is one of my areas of expertise.  You don't know anything about the family that raised me (well, you might now, if you're reading this here).  I want to have a functional relationship with you, so I'm not letting this go too fast.  Maybe I could come visit you and stay in a hotel.  We could go out to eat and you could show me around.  This is the best I can do.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Bad Ideas for College Packing

When I was packing to leave for college, my mother told me she was ordering me an escape ladder she'd seen on TV to hang from my dorm room window in case of a fire.  It could extend up to four stories tall, she said.  I reminded her that my dorm room was on the 17th floor.  She would buy several, she amended, and I could tie them all together.  I was concerned about falling to my death, so I told her I'd rather take my chances in the stairwell.


When I was packing to leave for college, my mother told me I should take one of her inflatable twin mattresses with me so that I wouldn't need extra long sheets for the dorm mattress.  Instead I could just inflate the air mattress every single night and use old sheets from home.  I declined and bought myself the extra long sheets on sale at Bed Bath & Beyond.


Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Coming Out as Donor Conceived

I've been considering something for awhile.  I've been considering coming out on Facebook as donor conceived.  It isn't a secret among my nearest and dearest, and I don't keep it a secret at all anymore really, but it's something most people don't know about me.  Almost none of my family or my high school friends know I'm donor conceived, and those two groups make up a significant portion of my social media "friends."

The reason I'm considering coming out is that I want to push people from my hometown to take DNA tests and I was hoping this might be attention grabbing enough to... get their attention.  I was conceived locally with fresh sperm from a local donor.  I already accidentally found a paternal second cousin who is a friend of a friend.  Any DC half-siblings I might have were (I am 95% certain) conceived at the same hospital as me, and I'm not from a big city.  They were also (again, I'm 95% certain) conceived around the same time as me.  We might have even gone to school together.

I will never know if I've found all my DC half-siblings.  There is no way for me to know for sure.  But I feel pretty certain that there is at least one out there somewhere, and odds are good that s/he and I know some of the same people.

I was thinking of doing one of those videos where the person holds up poster boards of text like the bad friend does to Keira Knightley on Love Actually.  Those seem popular for getting people's attention.  Here is what I'm thinking of writing on them:

"Hi, I'm Christina.  

You might know me from Smalltown High School.  

What you might NOT know is

We might be related.

I was conceived with sperm from an anonymous donor.

The doctor said not to tell anyone, including me.  

An estimated 90% of people don't know they are donor conceived.

DNA testing through AncestryDNA or 23andMe can tell you if you're one of them.

It will also tell you if you're my sibling.

I don't know how many half-siblings I might have.

But I hope to meet them someday."

I'd like to hear your thoughts, both on this whole idea and on what words to use if I were to do it.  Has anyone else done something along these lines or with this goal in mind?

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Looking Up My Family Online (Again)

Have you ever remembered something one way all your life and then seen it again later and it was completely different?

I was looking up Eugene, my lone surviving maternal uncle, online today, as I sometimes do.  He's hard to find.  I'm Facebook friends with his wife of nearly three decades, but she never mentions him, her photos don't include him, and based on some posts from her family, they didn't spend Thanksgiving together.  I wonder if they got divorced or maybe he died.  Surely one of my cousins would have known and said something.  Surely my regular Google searches for his name and the word "obituary" would have turned something up.

My uncle Eugene has lived in the same house for about three decades.  My other uncle used to live there too until he died in 2009 just shy of age 60.  They didn't live apart in my lifetime.  Uncle Boyd would pay the mortgage and Uncle Gene would pay the utilities.  Uncle Gene had always worked odd jobs that earned below the poverty line, selling used cars, playing in a band at a local nightclub, and working in collections at one point.  Pooling their resources was the only way they could afford their beautiful and spacious house, my mother said, and there was plenty of room for everyone.  I remember Uncle Boyd lived in a ground floor bedroom off the kitchen.  Uncle Gene and his wife lived in one of the upstairs bedrooms.  There was a stained glass window in the corner of the stairway, a gazebo off the front porch, and the sprawling backyard had fruit trees.  It was the nicest house anyone in our family owned.

I looked up the only address I could find online for Uncle Gene, but the picture was of a tiny shack of a house.  He must've moved.

But there was a gazebo in the same place.  And the front stairs looked the same.  And I realized my uncles had lived a tiny shack of a house all along.  How is this possible?  The lines of the roof and walls aren't even straight, and they're at odd angles.  According to the internet, the bank foreclosed on the house in 2013.  I guess they couldn't pay the mortgage without Uncle Boyd's contribution.  He lost his job at the steel mill to a machine back in 2000 and he never found another one -- it was the only job he'd had since he was 16 years old -- but I guess he received something in unemployment or maybe disability since he was diagnosed bipolar around the same time.  He should have had a pension too, though I don't know when that would have started paying out.  Grandpa started collecting his pension from the same steel mill when he retired at 55.  Anyway, Boyd died, the bank took the house, and my uncle Gene doesn't live there anymore.  One of my cousins said she had wanted to reach out to him after Boyd died but she'd held back because he's mentally unstable.  He was the most stable of all of them, I thought.

The bank auctioned off the house for $18,000 to something called BLT Homes Inc., which appears to fix up homes just enough to rent them out.  Uncle Gene and his wife started renting the place two houses down after that, according to the internet.  But I can't find anything about where Gene works, if anywhere, or what he does or how he is.  Why does no one in my family blog?

Then I started looking for my mother.  That way madness lies.  I haven't found an updated address for her since the group home the hospital released her to after her last suicide attempt by self-poisoning (don't try it, folks -- Harvard School of Public Health did a study, and ODing by pills has a less than 2% success rate).  And my dad said she left that place years ago when they told her she'd have to pay something to keep living there.  I keep searching by her name and her past addresses and diagnoses and the churches she's attended, but I find nothing new.  I don't want to reach out to her; I just want to watch her quietly while she is unaware.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Mean Jokes in Rhyming Verse

I've mentioned before how writing mean poetry has been one of my coping mechanisms since childhood, especially for processing impotent rage.  I wrote this poem the morning after the US presidential election.  It's based on a real experience I had that day.  If you're a Trump supporter, avert your eyes now -- I can promise you won't like it.

Today an old man at the school I did spy.
He edged around trying to catch someone's eye.
When no one heeded, he blasted aloud, 
"Nice weather today."  A nod from the crowd.

Then next he said what he'd come there to do:
"Nice weather, and a nice ELECTION end too!"

This actually happened; it isn't a joke.
No one under fifty acknowledged he spoke.

"Clinton's a crook and an insider too!
Trump wants a wall -- he'll know what to do!
Bengazi and Email!  The Vietnam War!
I know what is what here!  I'm 74!

"I too ran a business; we're mostly the same.
I know he's successful 'cause I know his name.
He could have retired -- he's 70 too!
He's fighting for us though, a patriot true.

"It wasn't for me that I voted this way.
My kids and grandchildren -- they'll thank me one day.
He had a TV show.  He'll know what we need.
I like that he's rich and he can't really read."

The old man then nudged me.  A push to reply.
But still I said nothing.  You're low.  I go high.
I stepped to avoid him, not wanting a fight, 
But also I'm nervous -- he's old, male, and white.

They say to be kind to both sides of the aisle,
That we can have friends whose beliefs are quite vile.
Dear reader, I just don't see how that can be.
My friends respect women and Muslims and me.

If you don't respect me, or people of color,
If you're a racist or a lady-mauler,
Then you are scary, and you are wronger
And hopefully you will not be here much longer.

You're probably stupid and probably white.
You're probably old, and I'm probably right.
You're probably male and -- if you're a lady --
You're likely self-hating and possibly crazy.

You make bad decisions; don't try to deny it.
But when we're in person, I will be quiet.
I don't want to fight you, your dog, or your gun.
I don't want to hear it; he's already won.

YOU haven't won though, of that I am sure.
Your whiteness comes easy, but you'll still be poor.
He doesn't love you.  He wanted the crown.
Your job's still gone elsewhere; your doctor's still brown.

But you lit the match (and a few matching crosses),
You'll feel "great again" while the sane count our losses.
I'll tell you the truth and I won't spare my ire:
I hope you die in your own dumpster fire.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Features I Want to See on AncestryDNA

I'm still trying to figure out the wonkiness in my family tree that I mentioned a few weeks ago.  I have it narrowed down to the right eighth of my family tree (based on deductive reasoning, since a significant number of DNA matches back up every other great-grandparent in my tree), possibly the right sixteenth (a gg-grandfather about whom I've found almost no information and whose wife has been backed up by more than one reasonably close DNA match).  I've found eight DNA matches so far who are descendants of the same mystery couple from the early 1800s.  They aren't on my family tree, but I think they are my ggg-grandparents.  I think one of their sons was secretly my gg-grandfather.  Ancestry would probably say the same thing if the family trees in question were linked to profiles and not just trees I'd drawn up myself from scratch.  Ancestry starts thinking it's suspicious when I have just three DNA matches whose trees overlap.

Here is some functionality I'd like to see on AncestryDNA that I think would make it a lot easier to solve my little mystery:

1)  In "Shared Matches," show me not just how much DNA I share with my matches but how much DNA those individuals share with each other.  23andMe recently implemented this feature in their "open sharing," and it would be super useful, if only more people participated in open sharing.

2) Allow me to search the DNA database by user name.  23andMe does this.  Or even just let me search my own matches by user name.  You can currently only search your AncestryDNA matches by searching for a surname from their family tree.  If you want to find someone who isn't a relatively close match and didn't link to a family tree, good luck finding them in your (in my case anyway) hundreds of pages of matches.

3) Allow me to search my DNA matches by not only surname from their tree but also by full name.  This would be very helpful when I'm trying to find people who have Joseph White in their tree and not just any random person named White.  Better yet, allow me the option of inserting their birth and death years too and/or locations, which is already what the Ancestry "shared ancestor hint" algorithm seems to function around.

4) Allow me to search my DNA matches by more than one surname.  23andMe does this.  Maybe I don't want to know literally everyone with Williams in their family tree.  Maybe I only want to know the ones whose trees contain both Williams AND Smith, regardless of whether those family lines intersect or not.  This feature would make it dramatically easier to find more DNA matches descended from that 1800s mystery couple of mine because I could search for his surname AND her maiden name.

I love AncestryDNA.  The fact that they allow users to link their family trees to their profiles makes it an easier service on which to find matches than on 23andMe or Family Tree DNA.  I can tell you how I'm related to over 200 of my DNA matches on Ancestry, largely for this reason.  HOWEVER, their search functionality is still the worst of the three of companies.