May 8, 2020
If you’re starting to feel like you’ll never be able to leave the house again, now might be a good time to read a couple of new books on DNA. They’re not the serious “how to” books that many of us usually turn to when it comes to genealogy; both The Milkman’s Son: A Memoir of Family History by Randy Lindsay and A Broken Tree: How DNA Exposed a Family’s Secrets by Stephen F. Anderson are memoir-type books that deal with each author’s life-changing experiences due to the unexpected results of DNA tests. Both books read more like mystery novels than scientific tomes and are perfect for some of the long days we’re all spending at home now.
Randy Lindsay had always known he didn’t look much like his three siblings; in fact, they often teased him by calling him “the milkman’s son” since his appearance was so dissimilar to theirs. However, no one in the family took the joke seriously until Randy’s father asked him to help him with his family history. Randy became a family historian and eventually took a DNA test to try to advance his research. Instead it showed that he was not his father’s biological son. The rest of the book follows Randy’s journey as he tries to come to grip with this life-shattering revelation. It describes his emotional upheaval as he deals with the ramifications of learning that his father is not who he thought he was and that his mother had kept the secret of his parentage for nearly sixty years. Much of the book describes Randy’s search for his biological father, who he eventually locates in New Jersey, along with three half siblings and a stepmother. Some of the most interesting parts of the book deal with Randy’s meeting with his New Jersey family and recognizing that he has more in common with them than he’d have thought. The book ends on an upbeat note with Randy happily united with his long lost family and also gaining new respect for the father who raised him as well as a closer relationship with all six of his siblings.
The other book by Stephen F. Anderson is a bit darker in tone as it follows Steve through a description of his family, which seems to have been dysfunctional throughout his life. Steve was the seventh of nine children, and as he portrays it, his mother really didn’t seem to enjoy her children at all, leaving much of the child raising to his three oldest sisters. At some point during their youth, his mother told two of her daughters that they were not the children of their father, and another child learned that he was not his father’s son when he had a life-threatening accident as a teenager and needed a blood transfusion. Although his father offered, he did not match his son. That type of test really didn’t prove that the boy wasn’t his father’s son, but the mother confessed to her husband that the boy wasn’t his. From that point on, the family lived with secrets that no one would discuss. When DNA testing became possible, Steve and one of his brothers agreed that they should try to get DNA from their parents as a baseline so that any of the nine children would have a way to know for sure if they were their father’s child or not. As DNA testing eventually revealed, none of the nine siblings were the biological child of the man who’d raised them. In fact, six different men turned out to be the fathers of the nine children. Like the other book, this book ends on an upbeat note as Steve notes that he has forgiven his mother for what she did to him and his siblings and recognizes that he’ll never really know what caused her out-of-the-ordinary behavior.
The circumstances of the authors of these two books are probably not going to offer much guidance to the average reader, but they do show exactly how DNA has upended the lives of many people who have taken tests. Neither book is as well-written as Bill Griffeth’s Stranger in My Genes or Dani Shapiro’s Inheritance, but both are good examples of how many family secrets are now being exposed by at-home DNA testing and are great reads for a long afternoon at home.
Researcher/Director at Large