don’t have a;airs that early into their marriage.
And he was very dedicated to my mom.” As the two
of them contemplated the possible explanations,
Darcy sent her cousin another note: ;e website
was having a sale. For $79, Hightower could have
her DNA tested, too. “So I was like, what the hay?”
Hightower, now 65, had heard of Ancestry.com
but didn’t know much about it. When the cigar
box-size test kit arrived, she spit into the plastic
tube, sealed it, shook it to make sure her saliva
mixed with the stabilizing solution, placed it in the
collection bag and dropped the package in a mailbox. ;e whole process took five minutes, if that.
When the results were posted to her account
about a month later, Hightower glanced at her
iPhone and was utterly perplexed. Among her close
family matches—meaning people who shared 25
percent of her DNA—were a woman’s name she’d
never seen, a bunch of men’s initials, and someone
with a screen name she didn’t recognize.
She wondered, who are these people?
DEFINING DNA IS EASIER than pronouncing what
those letters stand for. Deoxyribonucleic acid is
the genetic code in humans and almost all living
organisms. Human DNA is made up of 23 pairs of
chromosomes, each of which contains hundreds to
thousands of genes.
Scientists have been researching DNA for
decades, but using it to explore familial lineage didn’t
become popular on a consumer level until after the
Human Genome Project finished mapping the full
sequence of human genes in the early 2000s. “People
have always wanted to understand who they are and
where they come from,” Jennifer Utley, Ancestry’s
director of research, says in an email. “In the last
few decades, the interest in family history has been
explosive because of the accessibility of informa-
tion such as historical records and online tools that
facilitate both family tree building and learning the
stories of your ancestors. If you add the cutting-edge
advances of genetics—which used to be extremely
expensive—you’ll find that people find this emerg-
ing technology to be compelling.”
Ancestry has more than 10 million people in its
consumer DNA network. When someone takes
a DNA test through Ancestry, the company adds
that person’s genetic code to its online collection of
family history records, which it says is the largest in
DORIE HIGHTOWER ALWAYS BELIEVED that she inherited many of her most treasured charac- teristics from her father. Edward Caplan was a longtime journalist, described in his 2001 obituary as a “crusty copy desk chief for the old Milwaukee Journal.” His daughter gravitated toward writing,
and worked in media relations for much of her
career, including a decade at the National Institutes
of Health in Bethesda. Music was another shared
passion. He delighted in playing the piano. ;e guitars propped on stands around Hightower’s Silver
Spring home aren’t just decorative; she regularly
strums them, and sings, too.
Hightower also thought she got her dad’s sense
of humor, and the resemblances seemingly didn’t
end there. Both were nearsighted. “People would
say, ‘You look so much like your mother,’ and I
would say, ‘I think I look like my dad,’ ” she says.
“Our eye shape, I thought, was similar.”
In December 2017, Hightower sat in front of her
computer and opened a Facebook message from a
cousin on her father’s side of the family. She hadn’t
seen Darcy, who lives in Los Angeles, since junior
high school, but the two had reconnected online.
Like millions of Americans, Darcy had taken a
DNA test through Ancestry.com. One piece of
information in the results ba;ed both women: A
man named Gary, whom neither of them knew,
was listed as a first or second cousin.
Hightower wondered if her father might have
had a child that no one in the family knew about,
but that seemed far-fetched. “My parents were
newlyweds at the time,” she says. “Most people