“DNA and Inheritance”

April 19, 2018 Hull & Hull LLP Beneficiary Designations, Power of Attorney, Trustees, Uncategorized, Wills Tags: , , , 0 Comments

The title of a seminar last week on genealogical research by a group in Toronto caught my interest and I was happy that I attended. Ron Wencer has been a speaker at many meetings of genealogical societies over the years and his talk this time was entitled:  “My completely new Grandfather: the DNA Gods Giveth, and they Taketh Away”. His talk reminded me of how advancing technology changes society and how society and laws adapt in response. You only have to do an internet search to find numerous recent examples of DNA testing through outfits like Ancestry DNA or 23andme to see how some lives were changed by DNA test results. Among the stories you will find are those locating previously unknown siblings, children, or other family members that have resulted in everything from happy reunions to divorce. 

In the case of Ron Wencer, he had begun researching his own family history over twenty years ago. He knew that his family was originally from Poland and that they had immigrated to New York, living in the Maspeth neighbourhood of Brooklyn. But his grandparents on his maternal side were initially a mystery. He was eventually able to find information on them.  Both Michal Silakowski and his wife Marianna had died in the 1930s before their first grandchild was born, and not much family history had been transmitted, but the village that they were from was located.

Ron Wencer recently took a DNA test and allowed the results to be posted on the internet. After then connecting with other DNA test results and analyzing the results of first cousins, second cousins and so forth, and then going back up the family tree he came to a startling conclusion. Although all of the earlier research established that his grandfather was Michal Silakowski, the DNA genetically established that it was not possible that Michal Silakowski was the biological son of his Silakowski parents, the  Silakowski great grandparents. One of the explanations is that perhaps in infancy this young boy was cared for by the Silakowski family. Such informal adoptions would have been common back then if there was a death of the mother during childbirth or for other reasons.

This however, raises an interesting  question on tracing missing heirs in estates. This tracing can be required where there was no will, or where there was a will that resulted in an intestacy due to the predeceasing of a beneficiary or otherwise.  It has usually been accepted that a Certificate of Birth from a Vital Statistics Agency showing the family connection is proof of the right to inherit. But, are we perhaps moving into new territory in the future, where DNA testing may be involved and may then “Giveth or Taketh Away” an inheritance?

Thanks for reading,
James Jacuta

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