Libby is a geneticist for NOAA Fisheries, the federal agency responsible for the management and conservation of living marine resources. One of her responsibilities is to genotype endangered species of fish, tracking generations of families. That’s right, fish have families. They have pedigrees. The irony is, Libby does not.
She turned to 23andMe to help her explore the health and family history she couldn’t learn about any other way.
Adopted in 1963, Libby never knew a biological relative until her children were born. She had scant information regarding her birth parents. She knew her birth mother was born in Rupert, Idaho, but no names of immediate family members.
“I would search for clues, maybe find a name, but would not really know if I was on the right path because I had nothing to go on,” she said. “It was disappointing”
Libby only had a cursory family health history. Like many adoptees, Libby has never had a family medical history to share with a doctor to help guide her care.
Several years ago, Libby was able to get her original birth certificate with her birth mother’s name and birthplace.
“I kind of sat on that for a while, did some searches and nothing came up so I thought it was just another dead end.”
Then Libby became a mom.
The search for answers was not just about her but for her children as well. She has a “family”, the loving couple that raised her. What she is looking for is “history”.
“I guess it happened when I had kids of my own and I could see the resemblance when I look at them. And other people will say ’Oh, yes. She IS your daughter.’ But then I would look in the mirror and say, “Who do I look like?”
Libby had no family photos. No faces to look at and compare.
A colleague told Libby about 23andMe. She immediately sent in a test kit for herself. The information she received amazed her. Soon, she ordered test kits for her husband and children.
On the ancestry side, 23andMe matched her with a predicted third or fourth cousin.
“One of the family locations she listed was Rupert. The hair on the back of my neck stood up: this could not be a coincidence,” Libby said. “ It is difficult to convey the heady feeling of finally discovering a biological relative after all these years of searching and wondering.”
Not long after, an even closer match, a woman named Dianne who turned out to be Libby’s birth mother’s second cousin.
“She was kind and welcoming enough to help me fill in many of the names that she knew, and pointed me to a wealth of published family histories to fill in names of my other ancestors.” Libby said, who learned she had nine first cousins from Dianne.
Libby knew that her mother’s pregnancy had been kept secret from the families of her birth parents. Libby learned that her mother had gone to great lengths to conceal the pregnancy by attending college in Hawaii while pregnant and then giving birth in Oregon. Her birth parents were college students at the time and this was after all, 1963.
“My existence came as a surprise to Dianne – she had really only been searching for information about her father’s side of the family and did not expect to uncover a new cousin,” Libby said. “I am a secret no more.”
Libby has now started sketching out her biological family tree. She only has a few branches but it is growing. She can now trace her maternal line back five generations!
“What 23andMe has done for me personally is nothing short of a breakthrough, and the best part is that my story just keeps growing.”