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DNA Database Surprise

David Magee (L), his half-sister Ruthie Lindsey (R), and Jedediah Jenkins (Olivia Lauer, via Newsweek))

Here’s a neat story. David Magee, a writer for Newsweek, knew he had been adopted, but had never been able to locate his birth father. Here’s how the column starts:

My daughter had befriended a kind family physician four summers ago at a boy’s camp in the hills of North Alabama. He was the camp doctor, and she was a staff member, working as a college student during the break to keep the director’s children. They had grown close when she got quite sick. He had visited her in the infirmary, kneeling his tall frame down and gently holding her long hair back as she vomited.

She invited him to her wedding in Oxford, Mississippi, last year, as a gesture. He surprised us and came, as a gesture, driving five hours from Louisiana with his wife and six children along. Walking my daughter down the aisle that wedding day I saw the doctor and his family filling half a pew in the church, all smiling broadly. His youngest daughter, Lucy, eagerly watched every step. With a bow in her hair and a precious face that reminded me of my daughter from years before, she was so close that I could have touched her with my right hand when passing by.

Had I known that day what I know now, I might have clutched her hand and pulled her along into the wedding party, where she belonged.

Magee didn’t realize it, but that doctor’s family was his family! The big reveal happened when he took a DNA test … which led him to the family of Dr. Tim Lindsey of St. Francisville, La. — the famed Dr. Tim of The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, and brother of popular social media star Ruthie Lindsey. (Ruthie had taken the same Ancestry.com DNA test, and the algorithms matched her and Magee.) Turns out the Lindsey siblings, being wonderful people — welcomed their new half-brother, who was conceived before their late father married their mother. Read the whole thing — it’s a beautiful, amazing story.

I have to say, though, that this story shakes me up a bit. What if it had not ended well? What if the Lindseys weren’t such kind, welcoming people, but a clan that reacted badly to the news that their beloved patriarch had fathered a child before he met their mother? I did one of those DNA tests a few years ago — and now that I’ve learned more about what can be done with those tests, I deeply regret having done so, and allowing a large corporation to have my DNA information. Anyway, if I got the news that a stranger took the test, and was identified by the 23AndMe algorithm as a half-brother to me, how would I feel learning in this way that either my dad or my mom had a secret child before marriage? Given my temperament, I feel pretty confident that I would react as the Lindseys did … but not everybody is like this. DNA databases open up all kinds of doors that would never before have been opened — for better and for worse.

I’m curious to know, readers, if you’ve had good experiences from interacting with DNA databases, or bad experiences.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. He has written and edited for the New York Post, The Dallas Morning News, National Review, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Washington Times, and the Baton Rouge Advocate. Rod’s commentary has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, the Weekly Standard, Beliefnet, and Real Simple, among other publications, and he has appeared on NPR, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and the BBC. He lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with his wife Julie and their three children. He has also written four books, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Crunchy Cons, How Dante Can Save Your Life, and The Benedict Option.

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