Aitheantas Genealogy Survey
Overview of survey
In the absence of adequate information and tracing legislation in Ireland, and the chronic difficulties in accessing background information, adoptees have taken advantage of scientific progress and are increasingly turning to DNA platforms in order to accurately identify and contact their biological relatives. Adoptees also frequently engage genealogists and family history researchers to assist them with their information search.
Aitheantas believe that the perspective of researchers that have assisted adoptees with information tracing provides a valuable perspective on the experiences of adoptees in Ireland. To that end, Aitheantas carried out a short context survey of genealogists and family history researchers.
The survey was focused on the use of records and DNA testing in the process of family tracing. The aim of the survey was to illustrate not only that engaging researchers is becoming a preferred pathway to information for adoptees, but also to establish whether this method is an effective, supportive way to access identity information. Aitheantas also conducted further research as to how Adoptees would prefer that Genealogical supports were delivered in the Participation, Validation and Memorialisation Survey.
Aitheantas distributed this survey to individual genealogists and to genealogy/family history forums and groups, via email and social media platforms. The survey respondents were a mixture of professional genealogists and family history researchers.
Questions put to participants can be found in Appendix C.
19 genealogists and family researchers responded to the survey. The majority assisted adoptees in a personal capacity rather than a professional one. They indicated that gathering background information on adoptees was more difficult than other kinds of family history research.
The majority of respondents helped between one and five adoptees. Over 15% of respondents helped between 10-20 adoptees in accessing information, identifying biological family members and facilitating contact.
Overall, the most common method used for obtaining information was a combination of records-based search and DNA test results. 63.2% of respondents said they used both resources, while 31.6% used records only and 5.2% used DNA platforms only.
Of the respondents who used DNA platforms, all had used AncestryDNA at some stage in their research, while many also used 23andMe, MyHeritage, GEDmatch and Family Tree DNA.
The survey results indicated that as a result of records-based research conducted by genealogists and family history researchers on behalf of adoptees, over 40% of cases led to reunions between adoptees and members of their biological families, and that 70% of the people reunited remained in long term contact. Aitheantas believes that this illustrates that reunions can be successful when the emphasis is on supporting the Adoptee, with a supportive light-touch approach and minimum intervention. This is a useful mode in developing a successful modell moving forwards.
Nearly 95% of respondents felt that it was harder for adoptees to get information on their biological heritage than people who are not adopted. Respondents also thought that information and tracing legislation needed to change in specific ways.
“A birth child lives in solid ground with roots. An adoptee lives in shifting sands, and with little or no knowledge of their ancestry they can’t be rooted. Knowing your family history gives one a sense of identity, belonging and inclusivity. Being denied access [to information] is simply cruel”.
“Access to records, [the law needs to] understand that adoptees are coming from a trauma and need extra understanding, not more rejection of their needs”.
“They [adoptees] must be at the forefront of any law. Ultimately it’s their rights above anyone else’s that must be guarded & protected. They should have an absolute right to their birth information”.
Every genealogist and family history researcher who participated in the survey acknowledged the difficulties adoptees face when trying to access information on their own identities. The significance of DNA testing was also acknowledged. Respondents suggested that information and tracing legislation needs to ‘catch up’ with adoptees’ needs, and that it needs to incorporate and support these new, evolving methods of tracing.
Many respondents commented on the importance of retrieving personal information, as the quotes below show:
“To know where we are going, we need to know where you came from.”
“[…]sometimes a little piece of information means so much to someone who has no information at all”.
“Everyone needs to validate their own identity and have a sense of their family history. It matters medically too, to know what conditions run in a family. Forewarned is forearmed”.