Knowing Where You Come From: 3 Reasons Why People Oppose DNA Testing

I don’t know the exact number of the world’s population (it’s estimated to be somewhere around 7 billion people on the planet, with more than a billion living in India), but I do know that all those living on earth want to know where they came from. Ancestry is an important part in a person’s development, knowledge of themselves, and where they and their family fit within history. And it’s something that has peaked the interest of so many people over at least the past decade. It explains why so many pick up DNA testing kits over the summer or holiday, particularly Christmas. If you can guess one thing that you might end up with for Christmas, 9 out of every 10 people will tell you that it’s likely an Ancestry.com or 23andme DNA kit.

But there are some who, even in the 21st century, reject the idea of DNA testing. I had an interesting talk with a family member yesterday who, from the moment I got out a few words about a cousin of ours in the community, went ballistic. I was talking to his wife about how she and I are related and the cousins in our family. I discovered at 23andme a few days ago that we had a cousin. Now the thing about this cousin is that she grew up in my community. In fact, we were so close back then that our parents (her mother, my mother) worked together in the same company department. On the weekends, her mother and father would invite mom and us (me and my twin sister) to their place for lunch and games in the back yard. So our moms were friends and we were friends because of their friendship. But we never would’ve guessed we were cousins, related by blood.

So as I proceed to tell this family member’s wife (who happens to be my cousin) about a cousin she and I share that we’ve known all our lives, he proceeds to tell me that he didn’t believe all the DNA results, that he knew of a situation where the DNA said two people were cousins that “could in no way be related.” Of course he didn’t elaborate on what that means exactly because it’s highly likely that the claim isn’t true. In fact, since I know DNA doesn’t lie, and that’s a pretty common understanding, then his claim has no merit. It’s likely he’s shocked at some result from someone’s DNA because there’s an affair of some kind that he discovered he knew nothing about.

I could detail all day the objections to DNA testing, but there’s one relevant reason why you should do at least one DNA test: to know where you come from.

Everyone wants to know where they come from

It goes without saying, but it still needs to be said: everyone wants to know where they come from. We just have an innate desire to know our origins. We know that we don’t belong in every family. We know that we have a mom, dad, grandparents, aunts and uncles (possibly), and perhaps other siblings. We know that we come from something of a basic or universal family structure. And when it comes to our particular case, we know that we have particular people that make us who we are. We look like them, talk like them, maybe even walk like them, say certain things they used to say, and so on. And in many cases, if we don’t know our beginnings, we mimic those we’ve never seen before.

In the Disney movie Hercules, we see the hero of the movie (Hercules) being told by his adopted parents who raised him about his interesting arrival to earth. If you remember, he didn’t just get dropped from where Zeus and Hera live; rather, he was stolen out of his crib in Heaven by minions of Hades, the lord of the underworld (what many know as Hades; back then, Hades was the underworld of the dead. Everyone went there, whether religious or not. Today, we think of this as the grave). So he arrives on earth as a baby left abandoned. And the couple finds him and raises him as their own son.

But they know that they must tell Hercules about his upbringing. And when they do, he responds with excitement about finding out where he came from. He figures he’ll go to Zeus’s temple and discover the answer. And he does: he goes and talks to Zeus to find out that Zeus is his father. “That makes you a god,” Zeus tells Hercules, which completely knocks him off his feet in disbelief. After this point, he discovers that he was stolen from Heaven and made mortal despite retaining his godlike strength. In order to get back to Heaven, Hercules has to become immortal again. And he can only do that by making the ultimate sacrifice: his life for another. Of course, the movie’s producers, as much as they stick to the legend of Hercules, show Hercules as anything but a god: he’s too distracted, doesn’t know where he comes from (and has to discover his origins; Jesus didn’t have to because He knew His origins), and ends up giving up his place in Heaven to be with a mortal.

While the idea of Hercules or any one on earth being a god (other than Jesus, that is) is fictional, what resonates with viewers is Hercules’s desire to know where he comes from and to return to Heaven. Why? Because everyone wants to know where they come from. Even the Jews kept genealogical records because they had the same desire.

It’s a normal desire. But there are those who choose to knock it and thus, distance themselves from DNA. What are some reasons for this opposition to DNA testing?

Opposition #1: DNA testing produces events and circumstances that are “better left in the past”

I remember two years ago when I received a text from someone who said, “Is so-and-so your father?” I knew nothing about this person. His name didn’t ring a bell. And usually, I’m good with names. I rarely forget those with whom I went to school or grew up. But this young man’s name I didn’t know. I told my twin who talked to him, and we discovered that our father was supposedly his father. He and my sister agreed to a DNA test. After 7 days, the results were in: he was our half-brother.

A new 23andme DNA test has yielded the same result.

And I remember that my twin was so happy to have a brother that she went to social media and posted about the experience: “we have a half-brother,” she said, showing her excitement. Well, this didn’t sit well with our stepmother, who wrote my sister privately and said, “Let sleeping dogs lie.”

In all honesty, however, my dad is the one that created the sleeping dogs in the first place. Had he not had his indiscretions and been unfaithful, there’d be no out-of-wedlock children to speak of.

People change, to be sure, and people can change, but when they commit sexual indiscretions, you can bet there’s a child somewhere. And some people don’t want the truth revealed because usually, the truth affects them. There’s something or someone they’re trying to protect (perhaps themselves or someone close to them), and they want things to stay “under the rug” to maintain their reputation and way of life. People don’t lie for lying’s sake; they lie for self-preservation. Never forget that.

But why should the child suffer not knowing who their real father is, for example, because of a sexual indiscretion someone wants left in the past? If those saying “leave it in the past, let sleeping dogs lie” were the ones in the same position and didn’t know their parents, they’d likely not be as adamant to live without answers as they’re demanding of their children or relatives. Remember, forgetting is a luxury for some of us — especially when we know our family members and grew up learning our history. Forgetting is a luxury for my European kinsmen because we grew up white and can trace our ancestry back to European countries today. African ancestry can only be traced to 400 years ago, when the first slaves came to Jamestown, Virginia. And even then, tracing ancestry back that far for Africans, who were stripped of their identity and way of life in slavery, is extremely difficult.

Traumatic Event

Sure, there are all kinds of sexual indiscretions, but the most horrible of them all would have to be the violation of a person, what we’d call rape. I want to be clear here: rape is unacceptable. It is horrible. God designed humans to be respected and treated with dignity, and sexual assault/rape is nothing normal, nor should it be accepted as such. Even though rape was a common sexual indiscretion in slavery times, it isn’t acceptable in God’s eyes and is a crime against humanity. And let’s face it: those that took the virginity of young female slaves are rapists that must give an account to God for what they’ve done.

But with that said, history is full of good and bad. For African-Americans, their European ancestry in many ways is a direct result of the rape of slave women. Such is the case in my mother’s African-American family, where two of my mother’s great-grandfathers, one on both sides of her mom’s family, are slaveowners who raped slave maids and slaves. Now, in one particular case, a slave maid was raped and given a nice apartment in the slaveowner’s will, but, since the slave maid was still enslaved and couldn’t really consent, it is still rape no matter how you slice it.

The trauma of slave rapes is why so many African-American families are opposed to confessing any stories regarding European ancestry. Growing up in my mother’s family, I was told that no one could know beyond my grandmother’s grandfather. And I thought it strange. “Doesn’t grandpa so-and-so have a father and mother? What about them?” I came to discover on my own why grandpa was considered to not have parents: he didn’t know much about his father, though he lists his name on his marriage certificate. But his father was half-white, mulatto, biracial (as I am). And so, of course no one mentions it: no one wants to admit that he was the product of a rape between a white slaveowner and a mulatto (mixed, African and European descent) slave.

Children who were products of rape are common in African-American families because of the extensive period of slavery. Slaves were freed in the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, but by then, they’d been here in America as captives for at least 200 years. African-Americans have only been free for 157 years, not a lot of time when you consider how long African-Americans have been in the US.

And with such traumatic experiences, African-Americans prefer to leave those things in the past. Those are the painful parts they don’t want to acknowledge. Sitting one week pouring over census records for my maternal great-grandfathers, it hit me that, without my grandmothers carrying the children of those traumatic experiences, neither side of my maternal grandma’s family would exist — and my mother wouldn’t exist. And without her, there’d be no me.

We often don’t understand why these terrible things happen, but part of the African-American experience is being proud of all the hardships and obstacles we survived. We’re not happy about how our people were brought over on slave ships with some having died before they made it to Jamaica or the US, but we’re thankful our ancestors survived so we could be here today. Without them surviving, we wouldn’t exist. And so, while we don’t celebrate our history because we revel in tragedy, we celebrate it because we thank God our ancestors survived. We celebrate our history to honor the memory of those who were slaves in the US so that we could be here and live in freedom.

Without them, there’d be no us.

Adoption

Last but never least, another typical reason as to why some oppose DNA testing pertains to adoption. Some family members are adopted for various reasons and some want these secrets to remain. In some cases, grandmothers and grandfathers have raised children as their sons and daughters — only for the secret to come out in a DNA test that their real parent is their presumed “aunt or “uncle” (a child of their grandparents). In some cases, siblings have raised children on behalf of other siblings who either died or just didn’t want the child(ren).

I have seen adoption cases throughout my family tree. In talking with cousins over the last few months, it’s apparent that so many looking for their biological families are adopted children who don’t know their parents. In one case, a cousin of mine didn’t know either parent. And her case is typical of many. DNA testing is the only way these adopted children, now adults, can track down long-lost family from which they come. Considering that so many adoptions are closed, there’s very little to glean from paperwork (if there’s much to find).

Sometimes, it is the adopted parents themselves that don’t want their adopted children to go digging in their biological family. I know of such a case. And every time someone mentions DNA, the individual dismisses it and basically talks about how all he cares about are immediate family members he meets at family reunions. It’s easy for him to turn a blind eye to it because he grew up knowing his parents. His child didn’t. And even if his son has to face the truth that his bioloigcal parents didn’t raise him and possibly didn’t want him, maybe he has aunts, uncles, and cousins today who do want him. Maybe in a few years, he’ll have nieces and nephews that want to know him and his daughter. It’s a journey his child needs to make and it’s a selfish attitude to discourage DNA testing for fear that an adult child would want to pursue a bond with his biological family. Considering that adopted parents are to be selfless and giving, it just seems downright selfish and cold.

As with the earlier discussion, many want this left in the past, even if it means children never know the truth. But the child has a right to know his or her parents. However painful the story, it isn’t fair to that child to live the rest of their lives in limbo because of questions that someone refuses to answer. Why should that child or those children live without answers, all to cover up a sexual indiscretion of a familt member? Again, when you come from a place of familial privilege (you know who your family is), it’s easy to say, “let bygone be bygones.” But doesn’t the child deserve to know where they come from? If you were in their shoes, would you be content to not know? If the shoe were on the other foot, proverbially speaking, I doubt we’d be so willing to let the past go.

Imagine how few murders would get solved if investigators just “let the past stay in the past.”

Conclusion

We’ve tackled three major reasons why people oppose DNA testing. The majority of them pertain to indiscretions that could surface and place certain respectable people in a negative light. The truth is that DNA, unlike things people say, doesn’t lie. And DNA doesn’t care who loses their reputation; it will tell the truth, regardless. And some individuals have made it a habit of covering up the truth.

But Scripture is right when it says that “Some men’s sins are clearly evident, preceding them to judgment, but those of some men follow later” (1 Timothy 5:24, NKJV).

Instead of having so much regret after the fact, and trying to cover up the truth years later, perhaps we should start admitting the truth and teach our families to think before they act. They could have secrets of their own down the line some day if they’re not careful.