Unearthing My DNA: The Lost Sister

By Eileen Williams

It’s natural to presume that family are the people who think like us, are born into the same cultural group, share similar political stances, and even look like us. A homogenous comfort zone called “family” might be nice to ponder, but the reality is often a far cry from this rosy Rockwell-esque tableau.

The unexpected discovery of a half-sibling made me re-think “family” and my place in it down to my very core. To put this in a Unificationist perspective: the reality of tribal messiahship with diverse members spanning two coasts and two continents sometimes requires both flying far and digging deep.

It was Thanksgiving 2020, and I was participating in a Zoom meet-up through my local library with Libby Copeland, author of The Lost Family: How DNA is Upending Who We Are. That might make a good Christmas present for someone, I thought, unawares that the very person to benefit from the book would be me.

Inspired by Copeland’s case studies delving into family heritage — its twists, turns, and surprises, the medical miracles, the family drama — I turned to my sister Mary: “Let’s buy ourselves Ancestry.com DNA test kits for Christmas.”

Mary and I were curious about where in Ireland our relatives came from; she was readying to visit my father’s second cousins in Germany. However, we had not anticipated that we were about to “out” our own family skeleton, although that doesn’t seem a nice way to describe a newly-found half-sister.

After Christmas, I received my test results, and there staring back at me from the Ancestry.com website was a photo of a woman tagged as a first degree relative. I determined after a few stunned moments that she could neither be aunt, niece, nor cousin but rather was/must be a half-sister (really?).

She had lurked on the Ancestry.com site for two years hoping to “strike” a match. I would come to learn that she had longed most of her adult life for someone — anyone — she could call family. And strike a match she did.

Although myself and three of my siblings had managed to forge a bond despite the childhood rupture of divorce, my younger adopted sister cut all ties with the rest of us. Sadly, family is not always what folks want to find, and sometimes it’s even those we want to lose. Yet, here on the site was a half-sister hoping desperately to discover family connections.

The first thing I learned about DNA testing is people can inherit different pieces of DNA from their ancestral gene pool. One does not neatly inherit 25% of your genetic traits from each grandparent, and then 12.5 % from each great grandparent; rather hereditary traits are expressed in a random manner.

My sister and I share a 58% DNA match, which is normal for siblings or fraternal twins; identical twins share a 100% DNA match. My sister has a higher percent of Scottish DNA than I do (ah, the red in her hair!).  My half-sister was a 27% DNA match with me.

All humans share 99.9% percent DNA in common, so why bother researching your genealogy at all?  Some DNA test sites suggest you can form meaningful connections from doing this — second and third cousin discoveries, famous relatives. Maybe your ancestors go back to a signer of the Declaration of Independence, as a proud friend of mine discovered.

Continue reading “Unearthing My DNA: The Lost Sister”

A Proposal to Allocate More Resources for Counseling

By Incheol Son

A two-year-old child sat on the floor in a relative’s house, wearing only one piece of knit in the cold winter. He was staring aimlessly and couldn’t recognize who had come before him.

This boy had forgotten the faces of his mother and father. He was left there all alone in “separation” from his parents who went out for witnessing. Immediately after his father saw the baby, his father escaped to the kitchen and cried quite a while.

This is the story my mother shared with me. It was about me. In fact, I have no recollection of it.

But, I surely recall the day when I tried to describe that scene in a testimony at a workshop. All those listening suddenly cried along. They were all second generation and had similar experiences as mine. I came to realize it was not just an individual but a collective one.

From a psychological point of view, however, the vulnerable little boy was exposed to an “overwhelming” event to lose his parents in his earliest years by being abandoned in what for him was a strange place. I had to face a series of similar events that continued to take place afterward, such as my mother’s sudden disappearance to go witnessing and my father’s quitting his job to become a pastor.

These experiences were very damaging to a child, though it’s been theologically justified as “indemnity” to build a condition that UC members tried to love the world more than their own children. I was educated in training programs to accept the logic as such. I tried and it worked — for a while.

I’ve even been encouraged to sublimate such primal wounds. But, they have never gone away. Rather they’ve accumulated; the emotional lump of trauma is still active inside me. And, now I realize it has kept influencing my life.

For example, I have a kind of “fear” of facing strangers, new people. Some say it’s just my character. And so I’ve also been encouraged not only to overcome it personally but to apply the ideal model of engaging in a new relationship. But, it’s like the fear of heights I have. I just react naturally to it. Fear is a psychological “symptom” of trauma.

When I served briefly as a pastor, one Japanese woman who had married a Korean man approached me for counseling. Her husband had no faith at the time and so was more like a secular man. He just joined the church because his older sister, from a senior blessed couple, had urged him to get married. The application forms were submitted and the man was able to participate in the blessing ceremony though he was not fully qualified.

On the other hand, the Japanese wife, who graduated from a renown university in Japan, entered the blessing by hope and faith. But the reality she had to face afterward in South Korea was far from what she had dreamed. Her specific difficulty she shared with me was her husband’s habit of inviting his friends over in the evenings. She had to welcome and serve those unexpected guests every time, but she, who already had two children and was pregnant with her third, couldn’t feel happiness from his habits.

Continue reading “A Proposal to Allocate More Resources for Counseling”

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