Dear Rabbi & Mrs. Lapin,
Please let me first tell you that I have learned much from your writings. I appreciate your knowledge, willingness, and even courage to boldly share truth with those who have ears to hear.
My question: Is it wise and worthwhile to spend time and money investigating one’s genealogy? What do you think of the DNA tests to discover where your ancestors lived?
I was adopted and have discovered my biological family through DNA testing. I am over 60. My bio and adoptive parents are all deceased. I continue to think of my adoptive side as my “real parents and family”. However, the treasure hunt for older blood ancestors and lineage has been quite interesting.
One concern I have, which I’d like you to address, is whether I spend too much time in research. It can take hours and hours of looking at records to find and confirm even one person. I would say though that some of those ‘finds’ has yielded some very interesting and fulfilling data.
This experience has led me to better understand and appreciate the hand of God in my life. I’ve spent about 3 years now in this process and I wonder if it really matters who my 4th great grandfather was and whether he was born in Scotland or Sweden? Should I discontinue my research, if I am the only one in my family who finds this fascinating? I have adult children who are not the least bit interested.
I do not spend time or money researching at the expense of my family’s needs. What do you think of this new craze to have your ‘DNA done’?There are many passages in the bible about genealogy, so how does Ancient Jewish Wisdom apply to my situation? Thank you!
Working backwards through your letter, we have to say that we know very little about the companies in business to test your DNA. We tend to be wary of fads and would recommend researching the reliability of any of these companies and the usefulness of the results well before parting with your money or your DNA. For the most part, all they tell you is about the presence of ethnic and geographic markers with limited accuracy. Information about particular ancestors would be more interesting but that information is available only through the research that you are enjoying.
Having said that, you are correct that God’s system places great importance on genealogy. While each of us is an individual, we are also links in a chain. Much of today’s pathologies are the result of devaluing family and pretending that caring who one’s parents are, in particular fathers, is irrelevant and unimportant. Many men who saw an easy income stream in becoming sperm donors while in college found, to their shock, that the offspring they put out of mind were eager to find them.
Physical and spiritual adoption are also a part of the Bible. Mordechai raised Esther after the deaths of her parents and Joshua, rather than his own sons, became Moses’ spiritual heir. While you cherish your adopted family, it is not surprising at all that you are curious about your physical antecedents.
We’re not sure why this hobby is any different from golf or collecting duck calls. While it would be nice if you and your children shared this interest, as long as this isn’t interfering with your family’s welfare, why shouldn’t you continue? It is very possible that as your children get older, they will find that they are, indeed, grateful to know more about their background.
You sound very aware of the limitations of time. If you spend hours researching a relative, those hours are not available for other pursuits. If you are not minimizing more important areas of your life, but this is your “free time” relaxation, then not only do we see it as a benign activity, but one that is clearly filling an emotional need of yours. That sounds like a good deal.
Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin