Sep 4, 2018 - Stories

The DNA of a Family Reunion


By Marybie Arias, 23andMe Intern

From birth, sisters, Marsann and Marsine have always stood out, and they’ve done it together. Born premature and in each others’ arms these twins shared more than just a birthday, they a deep connection to their family history.

Marsine (left) with her twin sister Marsann.


From an early age they were both drawn to family stories and talk of their ancestors, an interest they have been able to explore by using 23andMe’s ancestry features.


“We would try to hear the stories from the elders to get more information about other relatives,” said Marsann with her sister’s agreement.


That’s why they pulled out all the stops for a massive family reunion over the summer in Arizona. Over a weekend in late July, the sisters invited dozens of relatives — many of whom they found with the help of 23andMe ancestry features — to what can only be described as a gala reunion — complete with a red carpet, cameras, delicious food and multiple fun activities for the family. The twins spent months planning this the reunion and inviting their far-flung relatives to spend time with family.


(It) really brought our family closer together, and gave the younger children some sense of connection to something greater, their identity,” said Marsine.

The reunion was the product of years spent tracing their family history. The twins often worked using paper records, but they hit a dead end when tried to go back beyond 1850. It is something faced by many African American families trying to trace their ancestors who were sold into slavery. This dead end is what prompted the sisters to do a DNA test with 23andMe. They wanted to find additional relatives and trace their roots back to Africa.


Testing with 23andMe, and using the DNA Relatives tool, also offered the twins new family connections, and they got a few additional surprises along the way.

They discovered that their grandmother was half Native American and half European, something they didn’t know. The sisters speculated that their grandmother likely hid her European ancestry in part because she married an African American man and in Alabama at that time, mixed marriages were not only illegal, but it could also put one’s life in danger.


Along with the shocking ancestry results, the twins matched with more than 1000 close and distant relatives on 23andMe DNA Relative tool. But the sisters went a step further than just matching with relatives through 23andMe, they insisted wanted more proof that they were related, using paper records when they could find them or taping their mother. And once they made confirmations, they often took steps to meet the newly found family members.


Just to keep track and stay in touch Marsine started a facebook group page for family members they found using 23andMe DNA Relatives too! Now the group has more than 175 members.


Bringing this sprawling family together for the reunion was the culmination of all their work, and it connected everyone to their family’s rich history.


Fresh off the success of one reunion, the twins are already planning on another — this one in Dallas in 2020. By then the sisters hope to have a few more family members and more stories to share.


“By the next reunion, we will have some new faces to invite and introduce to the lesser known side of their family at that event,” said Marsine.


Marybie is a 23andMe summer intern and a second-year student at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills. She plans to transfer to the University of California at Berkeley or Santa Clara University next year and hopes to major in Business Administration.

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