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Who Do You Think You Are? Let your DNA Speak


Everybody needs a sense of self – knowing where we come from, who our family are and our roots all contribute to this. The importance of identity and confirming who we are and who our relatives are by using a DNA test can have a massive impact on your life – from discovering a lost parent or finding a lost brother. A test can be used to find those elusive answers to untold mysteries. For many of us, a DNA test can be the solution to one of the biggest questions we will ever ask in our lives, namely, who we think we are.

Ultimate Proof in DNA 

But there are the odd bizarre stories in history where even the ultimate proof of identity – the DNA test – isn’t enough to determine our sense of self. In 1999, a man turned up in Toronto, he had been mugged and hit on the head and had lost consciousness. When he woke, he had no clue to his identity. His wallet and his memory had been stolen in that moment. Of course identity is more than the sum of our fingerprints, dental records or a test. The man who said his name was Philip Staufen had an English accent and yet spoke French and Italian and could read Latin – but he had no clue as to why he was in Canada. He could not travel the world in search of his former self as he was unable to get a passport. Losing our identity has to be one of the biggest anxieties in our modern world; communities and families are increasingly more and more displaced. The DNA test is now available so that people can put their identity in a ‘bank’ and so, in one sense, never lose who they are genetically, no matter what bizarre twist of fate comes their way.

DNA Test ‘Bank’

In fact, the idea of a ‘DNA bank’ isn’t a new thing. J. Edgar Hoover wrote an entry on fingerprints for the Encyclopaedia Americana. In it, he stated that most of the 191 million fingerprint records on file at the FBI in 1969 were those of ordinary civilians. Many of them, Hoover explained, asked to have their prints on record ‘as a protection against accident, amnesia, or loss of identity through disaster’. For decades, and particularly in wartime, people have predicted, and feared, a Philip Staufen situation.

The idea of a DNA bank has evolved from then and today we have governments storing DNA samples from convicted criminals in vast DNA databases. The UK has the United Kingdom National DNA Database (NDNAD; officially the UK National Criminal Intelligence DNA Database), the USA has the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) which is the FBI’s program of support for criminal justice DNA databases.  However, despite aimed at curbing crime, the DNA database controversy has not been extinguished with millions of individuals showing concern about how this genetic data is stored and used.

DNA Test Can Help

With the help of science and a DNA test, we can be prepared to protect our identities and we can confirm how we fit in with the rest of the world – how we are related to others, where we come from. But the mystery of the self and the soul is more than knowing who we are genetically as the story of Staufen revealed. Memory can be an elusive but vital ingredient too. Staufen, who never regained his memory, went on hunger strike after being refused a birth certificate by the Canadian government and became increasingly paranoid. He had fingerprints taken and a DNA test and yet without his memory, without a past, he had no identity – physically fading away with hunger seemed to be a physical manifestation of his sense of self fading too.

Discover the DNA test

It’s an extreme scenario, but by locating who we are through a test and discovering who our parents, brothers, sisters and relatives are, is vital to our sense of self. The stories of our parents, grandparents and siblings all add to our own story too and help sustain our memory and our sense of self.