October 1, 2018


Series: , ,
Passage: Genesis 2:18-24

So, imagine this: you get up one morning, go to your computer and you see that your Ancestry DNA results are in. You start looking at your matches and realize that the man you thought was your father all these years, wasn't really your father.

Imagine that your mother was very proud of being full blooded Cherokee and Choctaw, but your DNA test shows zero Native American ancestry.

Imagine that you’re an adoptee, and when the state of Washington opens original birth certificates, you send for yours and you discover that your birth mother was only 14 when she got pregnant.

These are issues I deal with every day in my work as a professional genealogist. Since I first began researching over 40 years ago, I have sought the truth for my own family and for my clients. People come to me for information about their origins and ancestry, in seeking an unknown birth parent, or verifying long-told family stories of Native American ancestry or famous Mayflower passengers.

In my work, I help people discover the truth of who they really are. Most of us discover who we are within our families, who know us and love us. As Adam clung to his wife, someone he could know and be known by, we are known first within our families, those we grew up with, who truly knows and loves us.

But what happens when there is a disconnect? In today’s Gospel, Jesus recognizes that in answering the Pharisees’ question about divorce. Jesus addresses our brokenness and imperfections, recognizing that Moses allowed for our failures by permitting divorce, but Jesus pointed out that the goal of marriage was to become one flesh: to know and be known.

Our deepest longing is for intimacy: to know and be known. We may have a deep longing to know our origins: where we got the shape of our eyes or the color of our hair, where we got our musical talent or writing abilities, or what our ancestors’ lives were like when they decided to cross the ocean to come to America. This longing drives a lot of genealogical research.

This longing for intimacy also drives our search for God and being known in this community of faith here at St. John’s. Getting to know the newcomers who walk through our doors and loving them for who they are is always on my mind as a vestry member and head of our Welcome and Inclusion Team.

Jesus said, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote this commandment for you.”  He could just as well have said,

“Because of your hardness of heart you married three times without divorcing, committing bigamy.”

“Because of your hardness of heart you kept your child’s birth father a secret from her….”

“Because of your hardness of heart, you shunned the woman who was pregnant with an illegitimate child, while letting the father escape without penalty…”

Now DNA testing is telling the truth: shedding a bright beam of light into dark corners and locked closets. DNA results are revealing children born out of wedlock, as the result of an affair, and the parents of babies who were abandoned at the church steps. Just this year DNA databases have been used by law enforcement officers to arrest the perpetrators of violent crimes like rape and murder: both cold cases over 20 years old (including two here in the state of Washington), and current cases that happened just months ago. There are private support groups for the children of artificial insemination, for adoptees seeking their birth parents, and for those who have received the devastating news that they were born as the result of incest within a family. Children can have an intuitive sense when they don’t fit in within a family, and as adults that sense is often verified when an adoption or previously unknown half-sibling is revealed.

DNA testing can discover that long sought-for unknown parent or grandparent.

DNA testing can confirm or refute long-held assumptions about ethnicity or origin.

DNA testing can save lives, uncovering the inherited gene that causes breast cancer.

An article in the Boston Globe two months ago titled, “The Twilight of Closed Adoptions” stated “for most of the last century in the United States, adoption was shrouded in secrecy and anonymity. For adoptees to find birth relatives took considerable effort, if it was possible at all.”[1] And I could add to that, that the women who felt the stigma, shame and secrecy of giving up illegitimate children for adoption, even as late as the 1970s, still feel that shame today. I’m working with one of them.

Renowned genetic genealogist CeCe Moore stated at a recent conference in Arlington, Washington that “because of DNA testing, families are being reunited and identities reexamined. Guilt and secrets are heavy burdens, and for the most part, the truth revealed in our DNA is leading to healing and hope. Because of the popularity of DNA databases, justice is being done and society is safer as a result.”[2]

Jesus said, “Let the little children come unto me…” I’d like to tell you the story of one such child, a story of redemption.

When we moved to Gig Harbor almost 5 years ago, I came to St. John’s knowing no one. Over the course of a few weeks I made a few friends on Facebook, to get to know more people in the area. One of those was a woman named Rebecca. One day I saw her here on Sunday morning, and we pointed to each other and said, “Facebook!”

A few weeks later I messaged her, and offered to trace her family tree, because that’s what I do. Her response was immediate and adamant – she wanted nothing to do with her birth family; it was her foster family that she clung to. I didn’t necessarily understand her perspective, but I did respect it.

As I got to know her better, I began to understand. Her birth mother had schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, and when a concerned neighbor noticed that 12-year old Rebecca had been living in an abandoned house without water, plumbing or food for over a week, the authorities were notified, and Rebecca and her younger siblings were placed into foster care.

But I kept seeing her post on Facebook, musings about how since she didn’t know who her birth father was, how could she tell if she might be dating a sibling. And I kept telling her: “DNA will give you the answer!”

Last summer I made her an offer she couldn’t refuse: Ancestry DNA tests were on sale, and if she would buy the test, I would do the analysis and communicate with her matches, for as long as it took, for free.

When her results came in, it wasn’t long at all before I could tell her, “Your great-grandparents on your father’s side were Benjamin Bates and Emeline Esler; they were from Minneapolis, and came to Portland, Oregon by 1940.” The only problem was that they had twelve children, at least 20 grandchildren, and who knows how many great-grandchildren; in order to find Rebecca’s birth father, I would have to trace all of these descendants to the present, to find a candidate who was living in the Portland area in the right time frame.

Although I did reach out to a potential second cousin match who responded to my email, the conversation stalled. Then in January of this year, I got an email from a first cousin match named Kari, who was really interested and enthusiastic about helping Rebecca.

Because Rebecca was so concerned about her privacy, I acted as a go-between. As Kari and I emailed back and forth, she consulted with her family and told me that the consensus was that Frederick Gordon Granberg was Rebecca’s birth father. Although he died in 2012, Rebecca had an older half-brother, Harold Granberg. It turned out that her birth father’s family knew about her, but only knew her first name; they didn’t know her age or where she lived. Rebecca drove down to Oregon soon afterwards to meet her new-found family and walked into a room full of people with their arms open wide, welcoming her into a circle of light and love and warmth such as she has never known before. Now Harold comes up from Portland to work on his little sister’s car, and Rebecca calls him “Brotherface.” They look so much alike they could be twins.

Obviously, not all reunion stories end this joyously. I’ve done research for other clients to find an unknown parent or grandparent, only to be met with silence from new-found cousins. And any kind of record, not just DNA, can lead to unsettling news – a dishonorable discharge from the army, criminal activity, illegitimacy, murder and suicide. When we research our ancestors, we must take the bad with the good.

When it comes right down to it, though, it makes no difference who my great grandparents were. Does knowing that my 2nd great grandfather was probably a bigamist, deserting his regiment during the Civil war, or knowing that my great-grandfather Henry Chase died in an insane asylum make me any less of a person? Does that fact that my husband’s mother was not actually Cherokee and Choctaw, as she thought all her life, make him any different?

That’s a resounding no – because no matter who our ancestors were or what they did, and no matter what DNA testing reveals about me, my origins or my ancestors, I know with every fiber of my being that I am known and loved and cherished by God, and an integral part of His kingdom here on earth and in his kingdom that will have no end.


[1] S.I. Rosenbaum, “The Twilight of Closed Adoptions,” Boston Globe, 4 August 2018,  (https://www.bostonglobe.com/ideas/2018/08/04/the-twilight-closed-adoptions/1Iu4c5da4W5qNbIPn5IEmL/story.html: accessed 30 August 2018).

[2] CeCe Moore, “Making History with Genetic Genealogy,” Northwest Genealogy Conference, Arlington, Washington, 17 August 2018.

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