Katherine Hayton | Distant relatives
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29 Aug / Distant relatives

A few years ago I was convinced that I was doing any number of things that were about to lead me into straight into the face of death. Without even knowing it. It was going to be one of those things that seemed fairly innocent – I’d already given up drinking and smoking after all – but something in my genetic makeup was going to surprise me and I was going to find out that if only I’d known beforehand I wouldn’t be dying horribly from… whatever it was.

Torn between purchasing the hypochondriacs handbook and never going to see a doctor ever again, I instead invested in a little tube that I spat into and then posted overseas (after declaring that it was perfectly fine to post even though it was classed as a biological hazard.)

A few weeks later data poured into my membership page. At last, at my fingertips, I had the keys to my genetic code and I could fathom the full depths of all diseases to see which ones I was likely to die of. Unless the genetic testing attached to them was separately patented. Like, you know, BRCA1 & 2. Which I kinda wanted to know. And kinda thought I would.

Not to worry though, I still got to give myself a few good scares. The ones you really, really don’t want to have are carefully hidden away and you have to verify that you understand the consequences that will result if you open them and find out you have a high risk of dying of it, because you can’t unsee that s**t. Ever.

There weren’t too many horrible surprises. I have triple normal risk for psoriasis (big tick), double normal risk for Alzheimers (and it was at a higher prevalence than I’d realised so that was a double double-shock) and Bi-polar (I’m not), and I was a carrier for alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency with increased risk of liver and lung disease.

Which did explain a few things about attacks of dry pleurisy that kept being noted down as idiopathic. And made me glad I’d already given up drinking and smoking because that, oddly, would’ve been harder if I had to because it was going to kill me. It would’ve really felt like giving something up, instead of just stopping something I didn’t like doing and something that felt like it was killing me. Especially the bits of me I liked.

It was all very interesting, and I keep checking back on the site to see which information has been updated because new discoveries are made all the time in genetics. Some solid. Most tenuous.

Another service offered, which I didn’t really need or care about, was an ancestry overview that told me which matriarchal lines I was descended from, where my genetics groups had moved from and were most populous in (Basque region anyone?), and which members of the site had the most similar genetics to mine – indicating a relationship.

This section also, not surprisingly, had a large opt-out question that you had to go through before you found out the information. There have been at least one, and possibly a few more unreported, cases in which someone discovered they were adopted and their real family was suddenly available to be contacted at the click of a button.

Once again, these are things that you can’t unsee.

But I didn’t have any drama. There’s been a constant stream of 3rd to 6th cousins noted in my file since joining, and every few months the tally jumps up a couple of notches. I’ve exchanged DNA information with a few, but never actually pinpointed a common ancestor.

Until today. I researched a name that a contact provided to me, and discovered that we share a great-great-grandfather, which makes us 4th cousins. It was really quite exciting. I looked up my Ancestry.com account to trace back the family tree and see if I could work out which other child her lineage may have sprung from, but our common ancestor having had ten children all with the highly distinctive name of Mitchell, and naming them exotic things like John, Edward, Elizabeth, makes it all a bit hard to know if you’ve got the right person, or even the right generation.

Well, at least I’ll have someone to look after me as I live into my disease-free old age. I’ll let her know.

By Katherine Hayton in Katherine Hayton's Blog

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