Nov 18, 2022

Accidental Archivist by Angela Bier

November 18, 2022

Widespread DNA testing has meant the revelation of many family secrets. One of the consequences of this has been a surge in books about how those secrets were uncovered and what it meant to the people whose secrets were revealed. Some of the books are well-written and entertaining. Books such as Bill Griffeth’s Stranger in my Genes and Dani Shapiro’s Inheritance: A Memoir of Genealogy, Paternity and Love are great reads, whether you’re interested in genealogy and DNA or not.


However, many of the books are not so well written and entertaining. These are the books that show up on Amazon as self-published memoirs. I’m sure they are heartfelt and perhaps cathartic to their authors, but the average reader will probably not enjoy them. Between the poorly edited text and the purple prose, these books are tough to read.


At first glance, Angela Bier’s book seems to fit in the less than well-written genealogical secrets revealed type of book. Instead, the book is an engrossing read about an unusual paternal situation. Editing is a weakness of this book, however; occasionally, a page or two is missing from the ebook edition, for example. If you can get over this, the book is well-written and is worth reading.


The book discusses some complex DNA concepts because the biological parents in this case turned out to be related to each other. The central concept of uncovering the paternity of an adoptee is also more than just the usual bio parent search, focusing as it does on the topic of Catholic priests fathering children.


Angela Bier is an amateur genealogist who researches her German-American Bier Family in southern Wisconsin. A few years ago, an adoptee who was tracing her biological family contacted Angela because she believed that Angela’s great uncle might have been her father. The adoptee had been told her biological father was a priest, and Angela’s great uncle had been a Catholic priest.


Angela realized that the Bier Family had at least five priests who were of an age to have been the adoptee’s father. Figuring out which of them was the adoptee’s father is the central theme of the book.


Crucial to determining the adoptee’s father was the discovery that priests of the relevant time and location often had live-in housekeepers. In at least some instances, these housekeepers bore children with the priests. Although rarely discussed, it was common knowledge that this was occurring. The priests were helped by other priests to arrange adoptions for these offspring. The adoptee’s story was one of those situations.


This book reads almost like a mystery, but it details some serious research. It also addresses a couple of seldom discussed aspects of looking for parents of adoptees: the fact that priests sometimes did father children and the complications that having related parents can cause when comparing DNA matches.


It’s available on Amazon for free if you have Amazon Prime. If you find DNA research fascinating, this is a book worth reading.


Carol Stetser