Ms. Jacobsen, 67, learned she has West African ancestry, which led her to the discovery that her biological father, a man she never knew, was black. She has been trying to reconcile those facts ever since.
Her journey has led to both painful and revelatory experiences—with new relatives and existing ones, especially her 31-year-old son, Alek Marfisi. He disagrees with Ms. Jacobsen’s idea that her African ancestry changes her identity from what it has always been, a white woman.
Along the way, Ms. Jacobsen acknowledges, she has stumbled. She pushed a new relative to take a DNA test, and then felt remorseful when it revealed a family secret. She bought an African head wrap and skirt and wore the ensemble to a local cultural event, intending to show affirmation and celebration of her paternal ancestry, she said. She was taken aback when her son and some of her new relatives criticized her choice.
“Race is not biology or genetics, it is your experience in this world,” Mr. Marfisi says he told his mother. “She has had no experience as someone who is black.”
Ms. Jacobsen said she feels the DNA results matter, not just her life story, which in fundamental ways was incomplete. “In my heart, I feel a connection.”
The growing popularity of consumer DNA tests has allowed millions of people to trace their ancestry and learn more about family history. It has also prompted difficult questions about one of the nation’s most fraught issues—racial identity.
Ms. Jacobsen took her first consumer DNA test in 2016. When the test revealed 22% African ancestry, it appeared to confirm a story she was told, once, when she was 16 years old.
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