22 November 2022
For National Adoption Day, Family Tree DNA sat down with 325Kamra to discuss their mission to reunite Korean and mixed-race adoptees with their biological families. Here’s what they shared.
There are an estimated 2% of children in the U.S. who have been adopted. Six in ten Americans have had adoption affect their lives in some way. Adoption is a subtle, yet prevalent, part of our lives. However, for adoptees, questions about what their lives would have been like are not so subtle. Many will keep these curiosities to themselves, but other adoptees will let their longing guide their search for their biological families.
FamilyTreeDNA has a long history of helping individuals and organizations with this search. With DNA testing, we are able to provide clues that can unite adoptees with their biological families. One notable example of these partnerships started in 2015 with 325Kamra Inc.
A perfect storm of events led to a mass exodus of children from Korea.
- Koreans fled during the Korean War in the 1950s
- Children were conceived by U.S. soldiers and native Koreans
- The recession of 1973-1975
These events resulted in Korean children being placed for adoption outside of Korea. As these adopted children became adults, they began searching for their birth families, while the native Korean parents began searching for their children. There are over 200,000 children who have been adopted from Korea into Europe, the United States, and elsewhere. 325Kamra is able to help with this search. 325Kamra is a non-profit organization working to unite biological families of Korean descent, as well as the families of veterans who fathered children.
To help celebrate the role of DNA testing in the search for biological families, Family Tree DNA's very own Jim Brewster recently reached out to them for an interview to help share their story with you.
Can you tell us a little about your organization?
The mission of 325Kamra is to DNA-test Koreans searching for birth families in Korea and globally and collect medical and family history data from them. We also distribute DNA kits to Koreans, Korean adoptees worldwide, and veterans who served in Korea. We work to help reunite birth families when possible.
What made you decide to start the organization?
The idea was sparked in September 2015 by the original founders, Kathy Augenstein, Katherine Kim, Sarah Savidakis, Bella Siegel-Dalton, and Tammy Wooldridge. It was designated a 501(c)3 the following month. When the original founders realized how important DNA testing was for American searchers, they reasoned that if they could get Koreans to build a database, Korean searchers would have a better chance of finding and reuniting with family.
What is the significance of the name 325Kamra?
The founders were attending an event at UC Berkeley called “Koreans and Camptowns” by Me&Korea. The founders were staying in room 325 at the Shattuck Hotel. Kamra is an acronym that has evolved over the years. The name was changed to reflect the organization’s inclusiveness of all Korean adoptees and is now “Korean Adoptees Making Reunions Achievable.”
Who do you try to test, and why?
We provide free FamilyTreeDNA tests to any Korean adoptee, Korean family member, or veteran that served in Korea to help find biological family members or to confirm a birth match with scientific proof. Our mission is to reunite as many families as possible while also assisting those in their search.
What are some challenges you face in connecting biological families?
Getting information to both Korean adoptees and searching families who do not have a presence on social media. We also work to dispel many of the myths that are out there about DNA testing, its safety, and the privacy of the tester.
How many families have you reunited?
Unfortunately, not everyone contacts us when they have been reunited with their family, for several reasons. Some people are extremely private and don’t want to share what they feel is a very personal experience. Others are afraid of causing conflict with their newly discovered family.
However, since 2016, we have received 422 notifications of immediate family DNA matches. In addition to Korean adoptees looking for their birth families, we also have birth families looking for a child that is either missing or was relinquished for adoption. We also provide free Family Finder kits to any adoptee or birth family that wants scientific proof that they have been connected to the right family.
Do you have any success stories you would like to share?
Here is one from Cho Yoon-Yu:
I first submitted my sample to a DNA testing company in the United States in 2009. In 2010, the Korean consul for the state of New York met with me to collect my DNA sample to compare with that of a man who came forward in Korea who thought he might be my father (our DNA did not match). In 2012, I went back to Korea for the first time since my adoption in 1973 and submitted my sample to a Korean DNA company. In 2013, I submitted my sample to two other DNA testing companies in the United States. In 2015, I took my second trip back to Korea since my adoption and submitted my DNA sample to the Korea National Police database for missing persons. It wasn’t until May 2021 that I was finally notified of a 1/4 Korean 2nd cousin family match at one of the companies in the U.S. That match led to comparing DNA with my full Korean aunt with FamilyTreeDNA. In March of 2022, I confirmed a match with my biological father, again with FamilyTreeDNA.
This all goes to show the importance of submitting your sample to as many databases as possible. I submitted my DNA to six different databases in two different countries since the different DNA companies do not share databases. It can take time (13 years in my case) for a close match to appear that could possibly lead to locating the birth family. Some people think that submitting their DNA to only one or two companies will result in the instant discovery of their biological family, but, unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way. It does take time.
I went to Korea at the end of September to meet my birth father, my half siblings, and several aunts, uncles, and cousins. They turned out to be very loving and welcomed me to the family. I am still searching for my birth mother, as my birth parents never married. When and if I find her, I will compare DNA with her to confirm our relationship. I have a website dedicated to finding my mother.
What advice do you have for people searching for their biological family members?
We try to stress the importance of getting into as many DNA databases as possible. We have seen first-hand cases where a searching parent tested with us with a FamilyTreeDNA test. The child they were looking for tested at another company, and unfortunately did not transfer to FTDNA until their parent had passed.
If you’d like to help those who are searching for their family members, consider getting yourself a DNA test.