Monday, March 9, 2009


Another source of apparent non-paternity events is adoption. This is not usually thought of in the same context as marital infidelity, but for the family historian, the results are similar – that is, a mismatch between the social parents and the biological inheritance of the child.

Modern adoption is usually thought of as bringing a child unrelated to either parent into a family. There are notorious cases (such as the Orphan Trains or the forced adoptions of the babies of purged leftist parents in Argentina) where this was done on a mass scale. In many cases, adoptees were not told they were adopted and were given no information about their biological parents. If an adoption occurred several generations in the past, a mismatching DNA test could lead to questions about the nature of the NPE that could not be answered by any living relative.

Generally, however, this was less common in the past than a couple raising related children, particularly nieces, nephews or grandchildren, after the deaths of their parents. I have a case in my own family history where the death of a young girl’s mother led to an offer of adoption by an infertile aunt. Higher death rates among younger adults left many more children orphaned in the past than in modern times. These adoptions were not always formal, even though the children sometimes assumed their adoptive parents’ surname. In cases where an adopted son was the offspring of the husband’s brother, no NPE would be evident even from a yDNA test, although mitochodrial DNA would reveal a different maternal ancestry.

Where an NPE is observed, the family researcher should look at possible DNA matches other relations (such as the wife’s or son-in-law’s family) or with neighbors. If you find death records for a sister and her husband followed by the appearance of previously unknown children in a family, it could indicate adoption.

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