Finding my First Cousin through 23andMe

Cover Image: Marco Verch, modified

In February of 2019, I opened my 23andMe account for the first time. Little did I know that when I opened the account and scrolled over to the “Family and Friends” tab on the site, I’d found the surprise of a lifetime.

As an adoptee, there have been many instances in my life where I’ve wondered what it would be like to have a relative that shared the same features as me. I grew up with parents who were both white and a sister who was adopted from a different part of China. Sometimes, I’d wonder what my future kids might look like, if I chose to have any, and how they would be the only biological mirrors of myself that I may ever have.

When I opened my account and saw that I had a close cousin that lived in the United States, I reached out imminently and said something along the lines of “we share 14% of our DNA…I think we might be close cousins!” I didn’t expect a reply right away or one at all, but the next day my cousin replied back. We kept chatting and found each other on Facebook and then we shared our numbers.

I remember the first time I saw my cousin on FaceTime. I was in a restaurant with a friend when she called, so I stepped aside and asked if I could call her back in an hour. When I called her back afterwards in my car, she was sitting in her dorm room and we both looked at each other in surprise and just sat there for a couple minutes, unsure of what to say.

No one prepares you of what to say to someone who is your first biological, living relative that you know of and who was just living on the other side of the country for the past 22 years.

We talked for about an hour, just learning the basic facts about one another and talking about school and work. She studies chemistry and I was an English major. She grew up in Georgia and I grew up in Washington. Our birthdays are only a month apart in the same year.

While I was trying to learn more about a stranger whom I shared this connection with, I started wondering whether or not we had any personal traits or health history that we shared in common. Over the course of many subsequent calls, we have traced our linage a bit longer and tried to determine which of our relatives were…well, related! We’re still looking for answers, but based on our 23andMe results, we can conclude that it was one of our fathers who was a sibling to another one of our parents.

Small details like this can lead to large assumptions, especially given what was happening in China at the time with the One Child Policy. It brings up questions of who knew about me and my cousin, and if we had both met in the past.

Tracing one’s roots is something a lot of people take for granted. But for adoptees and other people whose family tree is incomplete, it can be a large part of our identities that we seek to know.

I still am in contact with my cousin and we were planning to meet this year before COVID-19 restricted travel. Knowing that there’s someone out there that is biologically related to me gives me more hope in my search for my birth family. It also gives me more clues into my early months of life and the family history that was erased at a young age.

While for some, a biological connection may not be significant, but for myself it is. It is a connection to my birth family and my future family; should my cousin or I have any kids in the future. It is also part of rediscovering the culture and heritage that is a life-long journey for myself and other adoptees.

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