This week: Secret roots of the family treeEdited by: Arakun the Twisted Raccoon
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Quote for the week: The bond that links your true family is not one of blood, but of respect and joy in each other's life.
Mystery readers most often encounter DNA as it is used by forensic scientists and police investigators to solve crimes. The same type of DNA analysis that can prove a suspect committed a crime can also be used to find out more about our ancestry and ethnic origins. What kind of interesting information (or forbidden secrets) might a simple DNA test reveal to your characters?
Genealogical DNA analysis is currently available from several different online companies. If you want a character's DNA test to be an important part of a mystery plot, it might be a good idea to do some research on how the tests are done and information that can be obtained. In addition to DNA testing, some of the sites also assist members in constructing their family trees through public records such as census information, birth and death records, baptismal records, marriage licenses, and newspaper articles and photos.
Here are some information a character might discover through DNA analysis and genealogical research:
Many people in the world are descended from people who immigrated from somewhere outside the country where they live. Consequently, some know little about their family origins, at least those that go back more than a few generations.
Even if we know where our grandparents or even their parents came from, we might not know much about the ancestors who came before them. I knew very little about my grandfather's family history, because he never talked about his family. Some genealogical research indicated that this may have been because his mother had not been married and he did not know his father. This wouldn't be a big deal today, but would have been seen as scandalous in the late 1800s when he was born.
A person who was adopted or orphaned at an early age might use a DNA analysis to search for possible relatives. With permission from all parties, some of the DNA testing firms will make members aware of any possible familial connections. I know two families who found siblings they didn't know they had this way!
Many health conditions have a hereditary component. Genetic markers that indicate a predisposition to certain conditions can be found through DNA screening. While the genetic markers may not always indicate that a person will contract the condition, it can make them aware of information they should share with their doctors. This might be especially important for anyone who does now know their family medical history.
The information the character finds out might be the conclusion of the story, or it might just be the beginning. Your characters may not be happy about the genetic information they uncover, which can create conflict for the story. Here are some examples:
A character might try to develop a relationship with a biological relative that the other person does not want. A birth parent might fear that a biological child only wants money. The child might be angry about being given up for adoption or might feel that contact with the birth parent is disloyal to the adoptive parents.
Characters might find out that their ancestry or family history is different from what they have been led to believe. They might have been told that they descended from a wealthy or aristocratic family, only to find that their actual ancestors were poor or had a criminal history.
Something to try: Write a mystery story that involves a character finding a family secret through DNA analysis or genealogical research.
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