Netflix documentaries for the genetic genie enthusiast

If you’d like to consume your hobby in a new format, have you considered documentaries? I’ve got two to recommend.

First up, Found is a feature-length documentary about three Chinese-American adoptees (Sadie, Chloe & Lily) who discover they are related to each other through 23andMe DNA tests and then, supported by their families, decide to embark on a process of investigating their origins in China with the help of a Chinese genealogist. It’s an engaging piece of film making, following each of the three girls (all teenagers), which culminates in them taking a trip to China together. It’s a emotionally-charged documentary, which is inflected with a background focus on the 3 families’ faiths. This seemed an odd choice to me, but the filmmaker is the aunt of one of the girls and perhaps she wanted to ground each family this way. I don’t want to give away what they do and don’t find out. There’s lots of good detail on China’s One Child Policy, which led to many girl babies being abandoned over its long history. As a genetic genealogist, I wanted a little more science & especially to know how close or distantly they thought the girls were related. I’d have been happy with “they’re in the second cousin range” or something like that. Watch it with a box of tissues handy.

Our Father is a very different feature. It follows a woman who discovered, following a direct-to-consumer DNA test, that she was actually the daughter of a doctor who perpetrated fertility fraud on dozens of unsuspecting couples in Indianapolis in the USA. Donald Cline wasn’t the first and he won’t be the last to be discovered having committed this kind of medical malpractice, although it does not technically appear to be a crime (surely this will change?!) and the film also focuses on the legality of it. The documentary features interviews with parents and children impacted by this doctor. A line that particularly stuck with me was said by one of the main contributors, Jacoba Ballard, when she sees a new half-sibling on one of the sites “I know I’m going to call them and I’m going to ruin their life.” Of course, Cline refused to participate in this so his voice and perspective is absent. I’m not in any way trying to justify his behaviour, but it does leave you with many unanswered questions.

Have you seen any good documentaries that use genetic genealogy? Let me know in the comments what you recommend.

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