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Shaken Identity

Genetic ancestry testing can sometimes throw off a person's sense of identity, the New York Times Magazine writes.

Now in her early 60s, Sigrid Johnson took a DNA ancestry test a few years ago at the encouragement of a childhood friend who was studying such testing and ethnic identity, the Times reports. It notes that Johnson learned in her teens that she was adopted and had a half-Italian, half-African background, adding that she was raised by black parents and attended a historically black university. But this test revealed Johnson had little African ancestry.

"Two percent African?! I thought, Well, who am I then? I knew that at my age, I shouldn't really care what people think, but I was embarrassed to show it to anyone besides my son and my cousin, who's like a sister to me," Johnson tells the Times. Identity, the Times notes, is shaped by social and cultural factors like family traditions and experienced.

But as the ancestry test Johnson took was more similar to a forensic genetic or paternity test, the Times offered to buy her kits from commercial services to see if the results differed. Those services reported higher levels of African ancestry — as well as Italian — though with varying percentages and degrees of certainty.

Those tests also, the Times reports, uncovered a half-sister with a similar story, and Johnson was warmly connected to her biological mother's family.