DNA testing for race and ancestry-Colin

When we adopted Colin, his birth mother, who is Caucasian, did not identify his birth father. The only information she gave on her intake form was that the father was African-American, and we did not ask any additional questions about it the first time we met her.

After we were home a few days, we started to wonder if Colin’s birth father had really been African-American. Colin’s skin is light, but his hair is thick and black. It gets curly when it’s wet. Many of our African-American friends or people we know who have African/Caucasian mixed children told us they thought he was African/Caucasian, and that his skin would get darker as he got older. We were told to look at the tops of his ears, the beds of his fingernails, and his genitals for darker skin. We still didn’t know.

We have had some limited contact with Colin’s birth mom, Amy, but we have had fairly regular contact with her sister, Amber. We set up a generic e-mail address (without our last name). It started mostly with photos (we e-mailed her some photos of Colin, and she e-mailed us some photos of his half-brother and half-sister, his cousins, baby pictures of his birth mom, etc), but it gradually developed into a “relationship.” Eventually we purchased a pre-paid cell phone and talked to her a couple of times. We are still cautious in that we limit the frequency and content of the contact somewhat, but right now we feel comfortable with the decision to keep in touch. (I’ll have to write a separate post about that sometime.)

Anyway, after we had been communicating with Amber a while, I finally felt that we had reached a point where it would be appropriate to ask more questions, and we asked about the birth father. Amber told us that Amy thought the birth father was an African-American man, but that there was also a possibility that the birth father was a Hispanic man.

By then we were really curious. There were days when we were convinced that Colin was half African-American, but then there were days when we were sure that his birth father had been Hispanic. As time passed, his skin seemed to get lighter, not darker as many people told us it would if he had half African ancestry.

We also started to wonder what we would tell Colin one day. What if we raised him telling him he was half African-American and then found out that he was not? I think most people who were adopted have some identity issues, and it just seemed like those would be compounded for Colin if he didn’t even know what RACE he is.

I started researching DNA testing online, and found that there are tests that can determine genetic ancestry. There are several companies that do this type of testing, but we chose DNA Tribes and purchased a kit online. When it arrived, I swabbed the inside of Colin’s cheek and soaked up his saliva on a giant, flat Q-tip like thing, and transferred it to a test strip. Then we mailed it back to the company. About three weeks later, they e-mailed us the results. And…..

Colin is Hispanic and Caucasian.

Statistically, Colin’s DNA is most similar to the DNA of the people in these population samples, in order of highest to lowest:

  1. Denmark
  2. Central Mexico
  3. Mato Grosso du Sul, Brazil
  4. London, England
  5. Chihuahua, Mexico
  6. Ireland
  7. Hispanic (Arizona, USA)
  8. Flemish
  9. Puerto Rican (Springfield, Massachusetts, USA)
  10. Finland
  11. Glascow, Scotland
  12. Norway
  13. Republic of Ireland
  14. Hispanic
  15. Dundee, Scotland
  16. France
  17. Belgium
  18. Belgium
  19. Caucasian (USA)
  20. United Kingdon

(The categories listed here are from DNA Tribes, not from us. For example, I have no idea what the difference between “17. Belgium” and “18. Belgium”.)

Colin’s birth mother is Caucasian, and indicated that she was of Western European heritage (she specifically listed Scandinavian heritage, though that was only on her mom’s side as she does not know her biological father). So, assuming the Denmark, England, Ireland, Finland, Norway, etc genes are from his birth mother, the Mexico, Brazil, Hispanic, and Puerto Rico genes would be from his birth father.

Of course, we never really cared what race he is, but we were curious. I also just think that this will give him some connection to his birth father since he will not have any other information about him.

We think we will have this same test done for Zoe. It would be wonderful to learn which of the 50 or so ethnic groups in Vietnam she belongs to, but I don’t think the test is sophisticated enough for that yet. They would have to collect samples from each of those minority groups to be able to compare DNA. However, the test should be able to tell us if Zoe has any Chinese or European ancestry in addition to her Vietnamese heritage. Many Vietnamese people tell us that she is not “all” Vietnamese because her eyes are too big. It is conceivable that she could have had an American grandparent (a soldier stationed there during the war). It’s also possible that she has Chinese ancestry, since her province is near the Chinese border. Additionally, she could also have French ancestry as Vietnam was under French colonial rule from the 1850s to the 1950s. In any case, since we do not know anything about Zoe’s birth family, we feel like this is at least some little piece of information we can offer to her about her heritage.

Christian and I also plan to do the test eventually, just because we think it’s interesting. Noah gets to skip the cheek swabbing though, since we can just figure out his results from ours.

21 thoughts on “DNA testing for race and ancestry-Colin

  1. Wow! I didn’t even know that they could do that. That is so cool that you did that for him. Thank you for posting that and sharing the link.


  2. That is amazing to look at the map. I know we talked about this a while ago and I am even more interested in it now. What great information for Colin.

  3. This is really, really interesting and I absolutely think it was a great thing to do for Colin. Like you said, you wouldn’t want to raise him under the assumption that his birth father was one race (and so therefore Colin’s ethnicity was half of that race) only to learn years later that was not correct. I cannot imagine that would be easy for anyone – adopted or not! I also appreciate you sharing the info because eventually, I’d love to have Matty tested.

  4. Very interesting! Ever since you started posting Colin’s pictures I’ve thought he doesn’t look half AA. My nephew is half AA half causasian, so I was basing it on that, though I realize everyone is different as far as skin tone, hair, etc. At any rate, each time I’d see a picture, I’d wonder about that. I think it is great that you were able to find out for sure so you have something to tell him when he is older. Thanks for sharing the company info. as well.

  5. I would be really intrested in doing this with our Guatemalan kids. People say Logan doesn’t look Guatemalan and that Ava looks Asian. Could you tell us where you got the test kit at?

  6. That is incredibly interesting! I was hoping there was something like that we could do with Jocelyn one day (we are about 85% sure she is Muong, as we have had several VN people tell us so, but in the same breath, they think she’s not *all* Muong…that there is some Western in her. So, now I’m curious as to what the test would say…)

    And how cool is it that a little bit of saliva told you all of that!

  7. This is what I suspected. Not that all people are the same, but I told my DH I thought Colin might be of hispanic heritage and not AA. I told you the story of my friend, so I find the whole thing very interesting. I think Colin will be happy later to know about his background. Thanks for sharing.

  8. Wow. This is really interesting. I think it’s great you did this for him, because, as you already pointed out, adoptees have enough to deal with (regarding identity issues) as it is, without adding the additional “Gee son, we don’t really know what race you are” into the mix. I had no idea this kind of thing was possible without involving a trip to a hospital lab. Really, really cool. I may do this for myself someday. It would be really nice to know what my ethnic background is, since I’m almost 42 years old- lol.

  9. Hey there! How are you? (I don’t know if you remember me but we met at the clinic in Vietnam. I was with the sleeping daughter who the ladies woke up to make more comfortable. LOL)

    Anyway, I am so glad I found your site again. I had lost the link but saw your comment on Lawmommy’s and linked through it. So much has happened for you. WOW! Congratulations on your new son! It is absolutely AMAZING that you can trace his roots through a DNA test and that is available to regular people. VERY VERY COOL!

    My daughter Bronte is getting so big. She is doing great although I have to find her a new doctor since we’ve relocated from NJ to Virginia. I’ve got about a dozen various specialists for my children. Finding new docs has been the hardest part of moving.

    I see you voted for Obama. I totally feel your pain with what you went through in order to vote. Good for you. I am for McCain/Palin although I have a gorgeous jack-o-lantern depicting Obama proundly on display on my front porch. My teenage son is very very into this year’s election and is a Democrat.

    Happy Halloween!


  10. I am so glad to see that you found something that works. My husband and I have two adopted girls one we have no guess what her ethnic origin is and our other daughter well the birth mom is not sure, we too would like to give the girls some information about what other ethnic race they come from. They are our girls so we also want to rule/be aware of some medical issues that tend to be more common in some races.

  11. Zoe is definiely vietnamese. vietnamese/austros have the biggest eyes in asia. they tend to have dual eyelids and darker skin too.

    i am gonna do a test! thnx

  12. Pingback: Confronting racism (and when I haven’t done it) « My Minivan Rocks!

    • Yes, Susan, we had great luck with DNA Tribes. Call Lucas and there and he is usually great at answering questions and helping to interpret results.

  13. Pingback: El Dia de los Muertos « My Minivan Rocks!

  14. Hi I took a DNA test through DNA tribes. I have heard that that company is not legitimate and this has caused me to doubt the validity of my results! Has anyone heard of this company? Csango, Romania is my number 1 match and I have no known ancestors who live there. My relatives are from England, IRE, Germany, France, and the like. Why is that country on my list? I am also Native American. Lucas said I am 12%. How can that company break down ethnicity like that? PLease email me with feedback. Thanks

    • I can only speak for our results (we tested our daughter, youngest son, my husband, and myself) and I believe our results were accurate. We were surprised that my husband’s results were not more Western European because we know all of his great-grandparents were, but DNA tribes is looking further back than that.

  15. Belgium has two main population groups: Vallons in the south (darker features, french speakers) and Flemish in the north (fairer festures, taller, flemish speakers).

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