Damaged Roots, DNA Testing Piecing Together Broken Family Histories

Tracing family trees is becoming an ever more popular hobby. For some, however, it is more than a hobby or interesting pastime. For those whose family trees have damaged roots, which lead to them having little or sometimes no family history to look back on this can have profound effects on mental and emotional wellbeing. 

As human beings we need a sense of connection, we need to understand those who have gone before us. It helps us to feel at home in the world, to understand our place, and to be more able to cope with adversity.

Image Credit: Kaboompics from Pixabay

Reasons for Broken Family Histories

Although there can be a myriad of reasons how and why family histories get lost and the roots of family trees are damaged or broken completely there are two in particular that this article focuses on. The first is slavery and the second is adoption. Although completely different; slavery being grounded in greed and racism and adoption being (usually) based around family, love, care, and support.


Those whose family histories have been affected by slavery are more likely than most to find tracing their family roots difficult. This is not only because their ancestors were torn from their homelands but also because until 1870 slaves were not recorded by their names but only listed as property in the official records. This means that family history research tends to reach a dead-end at this point. For many, this feels like their identities have been stolen and so the longing to connect to a history and a past before slavery is essential to their feelings of connection.

Image Credit: Clker-Free-Vector-Images-29580 from Pixabay


People researching their family tree who have either been adopted themselves or who have adopted parents or grandparents will also hit stumbling blocks when researching their ancestral history. For those who have themselves been adopted, there may be issues surrounding guilt or a feeling of not wanting to hurt their adoptive parents by beginning this search. For those whom a parent, grandparent or even great grandparent has adopted the stumbling blocks may come from a lack of documentation or information surrounding the adoption.

DNA Testing 

Whatever the reason for a broken or damaged family history, ancestral DNA testing can provide the missing pieces to the puzzle. This can help people not only find out information about where they come from, discover relatives they may have known nothing about but can give people a real sense of belonging, identity, and who they are. By simply spitting in a test tube or swabbing your cheek and sending it off to your chosen DNA testing company you can receive information about where your family have come from, tribes, or cultures in your ancestry and potentially find and contact relatives living today.

Success Stories

By using a DNA testing website a professor at Weber State University in Utah, Jean Kapenda has found hundreds of relatives. The World reported on one particular meeting Kapenda had with a cousin Aiyana Lakes as well as her mother and son. He was able to talk to Lakes about her heritage, what tribe she was from in the Congo, the Lunda tribe, and about the tribes’ history. Lakes was pleased not only for herself but to be able to give her son a ‘connection to his ancestors’. 

Another story of DNA testing providing someone with a sense of belonging through tracing their family tree is the story of Briana Reavis.  Briana was adopted and although she had a positive and loving relationship with her adopted family, she took a DNA test to find out about her ancestral heritage. Instead of just finding information she found a whole other family, which gave her a new sense of belonging; “I’ve never looked like anyone in my family, and now I have a whole bunch of people who look like me, and they’re my family”. 

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