Alice Toler is an accomplished artist and writer, but she calls herself a nerd of sorts.
Really more than that — for most of her life Alice has felt disconnected from others, more like “an alien.”
“My mind doesn’t seem to work like other people’s,” Alice said. “Throughout my life I felt a little bit like I’d been beamed down from some other place. I later learned that a lot of adoptees feel like that — disconnected from others in some way.”
That feeling changed a bit recently when she met her birth mother for the first time with the help of 23andMe and a lot of detective work of her own.
So perhaps it was appropriate that Alice met her mother for the first time in the otherworldly landscape of the Black Rock desert in Nevada. For a week each year, this wasteland hosts an “ephemeral city” of tens of thousands of unconventional thinkers at the annual Burning Man festival, where West-coast tech gurus and professional engineers meet hippies and alien abductees to create some of the most ambitious interactive art on the planet. Though off-season and empty of revelers during their day spent there, the open desert provided a fittingly uncanny backdrop for the first intense exchange of information between a woman and her child, separated at birth.
“The experience was surreal,” Alice said. “She was so happy to meet me, and she has a friendly dorkiness to her that suddenly opened a window of understanding onto my own dorky personality. We are nerds together!”
The story of how Alice found her mother is long and complicated, involving decades of on-again and off-again searching. But her big break came after finding a distant cousin through 23andMe.
Although she was adopted by a British couple in the Bahamas, she turns out to have genetic family roots in New Mexico and also discovered she has Native American ancestry. Finding her birth mother and then her birth father, and learning about her ancestry, grounded her in a way she never thought possible.
“I went from having no information at all, to finding out that I have extensive recorded family lines on my mother’s side—in fact, my grandmother’s family is recorded all the way back to the Spanish conquistadors,” Alice said.
And her life is richer, she said.
“Most people only have two parents and two ancestral lines,” she said. “I have four parents, more cousins (both adoptive and genetic) than I can count, ancestral lines documented back hundreds of years, AND the challenge of a new mystery to solve. I am truly lucky.”