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It meant one of her parents wasn’t who he or she was supposed to be — and, by extension, neither was she. In the third row: Alice Collins Plebuch and her sister, Gerry Collins Wiggins.We are only just beginning to grapple with what it means to cheaply and easily uncover our genetic heritage.But she talked to her sister, and they agreed she should test again. In a family photo, Alice Collins Plebuch’s father, James “Jim” Collins, poses with his children.If the information Plebuch was seeing on her computer screen was correct, it posed a fundamental mystery about her very identity. In the second row: Jim Collins, John Collins, Bill Collins, Brian Collins and Ed Collins.“I did data processing most of my life, and at a fairly sophisticated level,” she says.Computers do not intimidate her, and neither do big questions that require the organization and analysis of complex information. Just the skills necessary to solve a very old puzzle.
“You find out that a lot of things are not as they seem, and a lot of families are much more complex than you assume.” Alice Plebuch found herself in this place in the summer of 2012.
After the initial shock of her test results, Plebuch wondered if her mother might have had an affair. So, she and her sister, Gerry Collins Wiggins, both ordered kits from DNA testing company 23and Me.
The affair scenario seemed unlikely — certainly out of character for her mom, and besides, all seven Collins children had their father’s hooded eyes. “My father, he was in the Army and he was all over the world, and it was just one of those fears that you have when you don’t know,” she says. If the findings were right, it meant one of Plebuch’s parents was at least partly Jewish. They had a gut sense that it was unlikely to be their mother, who came from a large family, filled with cousins Plebuch and her siblings all knew well.
The other half picked up an unexpected combination of European Jewish, Middle Eastern and Eastern European. It was the early days of direct-to-consumer DNA testing, and Ancestry.com’s test was new.
She wrote the company a nasty letter informing them they’d made a mistake.