Genetic Testing Adoption Family History

Doctors know that an accurate family medical history is an invaluable tool for maintaining the health of their patients. While adopted children don’t always have access to their biological family’s medical history, a DNA test can fill in many of the gaps. Over 1,000 genetic tests are now available through commercial laboratories. Blood test results from genetic tests can provide information about an individual’s risk of developing certain diseases. Some common inherited conditions include:

  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • cancer
  • schizophrenia
  • sickle cell anemia.

Understanding disease risks from family ancestry can prompt preventative measures and screenings. It also can encourage lifestyle changes that may prevent or delay disease onset.

Adoption Records

Adoption records usually contain certain non-identifying information about both parents. This information may include:

  • age
  • education levels
  • ethnicity
  • medical history
  • race.

Each state varies in the amount of information provided, and how it is maintained and disclosed. Usually, information is not updated after the child is adopted. This means that medical information on biological parents can be outdated.

Birth parents themselves may not provide sufficient medical information and history for adoption records. This can be because they do not wish to reveal information they feel is private and personal, or because they are just not aware of certain medical conditions in their families.

Discovering Ethnic Heritage

Knowing one’s racial and ethnic background is very important for health. Certain conditions and diseases are more likely to occur in specific ethnic groups. Colon cancer, for example, is more common in Ashkenazi Jews than the general population.

Many genetic tests are now available that can reveal your ethnic ancestry and detect genetically inherited diseases and risk factors. If there is a condition that is common in your biological ethnic background, your doctor may recommend a DNA test for a disease risk profile. She can also order early screenings to improve chances for treatment.

How to Find Ancestors

Each state has unique laws regarding access to information about adopted children and the rights of all involved. There is no federal law governing legislation. The National Adoption Information Clearinghouse (NAIC) is a national government resource that deals with everything concerning adoption, assisting an estimated 60,000 people searching for their birth parents or children each year. Adopted adults can state in their files whether they would like to consent to releasing their information to their birth parents, should they request it. NAIC can also help a person get information about support groups.

Discovering one’s family ancestry may not be easy. Starting a family search could include:

  • contacting an independent search consultant
  • getting a court order
  • searching through registries.

Courts in most states will only open sealed adoption records when there is a sufficient medical reason to do so. Extreme situations, such as an organ donor or bone marrow transplant, have the best chance of disclosure.

Privacy Issues

Some biological parents choose to maintain their privacy by remaining anonymous. Adopted children may also prefer to keep their status private. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) ensures the security and privacy of health data. This act regulates of the use and disclosure of information pertaining to any part of a patient’s medical record.

Family Ancestry and DNA

DNA tests can help an individual identify closely related ancestors and relatives. Several tests are available:

  • Maternity tests determine mother and child relationships
  • Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) determine maternal ancestry
  • Paternity tests determine father and child relationships
  • Siblingship tests determine half or full siblings
  • Twin zygosity tests determine identical or fraternal twins
  • Y-DNA tests determine paternal ancestry.

Learning the medical history of multiple biological relatives is often helpful to adoptees in a number of ways. When two or more children are adopted together, a sibling’s medical information can be more significant than a parent’s. Some diseases are more likely to be detected in from sibling than a parent, such as hemochromatosis. It is ideal to know how many relatives are affected by an inherited disorder, and how each one is related to the individual in question.


DNA Roots. (2007). Ancestry DNA testing. Retrieved November 30, 2008, from the DNA Roots Web site:

Randall, M.C.l (2000). Adoptees and genetic information. Retrieved November 30, 2008, from the Genetic Health Web site: