Week 13 – “She thought she was Irish…”

In this weeks reading, we hear the story Alice Plebuch and her family’s journey as they discover their family heritage. At the beginning, she takes a simple saliva DNA test to find out more about her dad’s side of the family. Instead of getting the expected results relating to her previously thought Irish Catholic ancestry, she found out that she had Jewish heritage as well. Throughout the article, it follows Plebuch and her family discovering people that have similar DNA to try to find where the Jewish heritage comes from. Ultimately, they discover the truth that Phillip and Jim were switched at birth from hospital records as well as other DNA matches.

I thought this article represented both the up and downsides of DNA matching. On a positive note, you will discover more about yourself and your family. At this point, I feel like the databases like Ancestry, 23andMe, etc. are becoming more broadly used, therefore making it easier for people to connect. The downside to that is the repercussions that may come from those discoveries. Much like it was talked about in the articles, the identity that you have before you to this digging may be dramatically changed; it is personal what that old/new identity means.

If Phillip Benson and Jim Collins got switched at birth, I have no doubt that it happened other times than that. When one of the professors they spoke to talked about the photograph with babies all together and the fact that matching parent/child wristbands weren’t common until the 30s-40s, I wasn’t surprised that it happened at all. Much like birth records can be messy from a long time ago, I also believe that immigration records, last names, translations, etc. may have also been messed up in the past. Specifically for immigrants who may have come over for this idea of the “American Dream” (whether it actually exists or not is up for debate), something that may have happened when they arrived here was a name change/misspelling. In certain cases, immigrants may not have cared, but names and heritage create identity. With a name change, some of that identity may have been lost. Genealogy does an important job of reconnecting those who may have lost parts of themselves to history, but it can also create more questions as well.

3 thoughts on “Week 13 – “She thought she was Irish…”

  1. The power of names, and the impact of misspellings resulting from the immigration process, and its role in the formation of identity, did not occur to me, and I think that is a really interesting comment! The concept of identity is so complex, especially for immigrants, and names are definitely a part of that. I think many people have the intrinsic desire to know about themselves and their ancestors, a desire to gain a greater understanding of their own identity, and I think DNA tests play into that, for better or for worse.

  2. It’s so cool how you brought up that labeling children after birth wasnt normalized till the 30s. Just like you said, this could have resulted in many babies switched at birth and we would have no idea. Along with the American Dream comment you made, it actually is evident that many people that immigrated to America did in fact change their name. Many simply to make the pronunciation easier for others, or changi the spelling to make it simpler for them to be recognized in a white community. In my research I actually found that Chinese Americans did in fact change their identities to be accepted into America after the Chinese Exclusion Act. This goes to show that maybe everyone’s family tree is just a little messed up, without the DNA testing, do we really know who we’re related too?

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