Family Surprises from a DNA test

By Noelle Adams

When someone takes a DNA test, there is always the expectation of a surprise or two.  Most people get an ethnicity they weren’t expecting, but for some, the surprise is far more life-altering. 

Marie from Utah got a free DNA kit from her work and thought it was great at first.

 “My family is as white as they come so when it (her DNA test) came back as mostly the British Isles and Northern Europe, there was nothing unexpected. I just thought it was interesting to see my DNA breakdown and then mostly forgot about it.”

The big surprise came several years later when she sent a few discounted DNA kits to her family members.

“I had walked them (her family) through the process of registering and getting their results online. We all wanted to be connected as a family so we chose the option that Ancestry gives you to find family matches to your DNA.  I educated myself in how to read and interpret genetic information so when my family’s results came in, I was eager to see what they had.”

For most of her family, the results were as expected but for one sister, it changed everything she knew about herself and an old family secret was blown wide open.

“I saw Carol’s results and at first I thought there was a mistake.  I called her and told her that she would have to take the test again, but when she told my mom about the need for a retest my mom got really quiet and then told her it wasn’t necessary. The results were correct.” After years of abuse, her mother left her husband for a time. It was during this separation that she became pregnant. Shortly afterward, she and her husband reunited. She honestly never knew that Carol had been conceived by the other guy.

Such revelations are becoming more common as over a million DNA tests are distributed every year and people are able to find out more about their personal history.  Long lost siblings, Secret affairs, unknown medical conditions, even hospital mistakes are being revealed as more DNA tests are taken and connected. This can lead to feelings of relief, as it was with Carol who confessed to being grateful she wasn’t related to the man who abused her during her childhood.  However, the information can be terribly destructive as well.

Thomas Doe’s (anonymous) family took DNA tests for Christmas one year.  He says:

“My mother was very vocal about not wanting to do the tests and when the results came back we found out why.  Turns out her sister got pregnant really young while dating this guy and when he found out he vanished. My mom had just gotten married to my dad who was on deployment with the Marines at the time so she and my Aunt came up with a plan.  This was during the 60’s and there were a fair amount of people doing the home birth thing again so my Aunt decided to give birth at my Mom’s house. Then my mom would claim the baby as hers. I don’t know how they were able to pull it off with the neighbors. Mom never explained that part, but mom took the baby after it was born and told my dad that she found out she was pregnant after he left.  He had been gone for a year and it wasn’t uncommon for guys to come back from deployment to find out they were fathers, so he just shrugged it off and never questioned it.

After my mom confessed to lying, my dad was, of course, pretty angry. He and my mom had a huge fight, she was adamant she had done the right thing, and they separated shortly after that.  They haven’t divorced yet, I don’t know if they will after 56 years of marriage, but they’re both miserable.”

Not all such stories have tragic outcomes. Linda H. from California knew she had been adopted (her parents were Caucasian and she was Chinese) took a DNA test and found a younger sister living only a few hours away from her!  When she made contact they were both thrilled to discover their connection and began communicating regularly.

There is a lot of good information you can get from a DNA test that can help you with questions about your personal genetic history. However, it’s always best to be prepared. Seriously – you just. Never. Know…. even if you KNOW, you may not know. Back in the day – information like this was literally taken to the GRAVE! It was NOT discussed… EVER! This information coming to light can be very embarrassing and traumatic – so, if there’s a discrepancy, I always recommend that IF you must approach the family member.. please do so with HIGH CAUTION using your BEST sensitivity skills. Just think about if it were you in that situation… how would YOU feel?

One good idea is to hire a genetic counselor. No, they aren’t psychiatric therapists. A genetic counselor is someone who is trained and certified to interpret genetic test results.  They can tell you exactly what your test indicates and what it may mean for you medically as well as genealogically. The National Society of Genetic Counselors is a great place to find genetic counselors and the best part is, their service may be covered by your health insurance! So once you have your results just go to nscg.org to find a certified counselor. That way you can be certain you have all the facts correct before jumping into a potential family drama.

No matter the reason for taking the test, I believe having accurate information about your genetic history is a good thing.  Hopefully, your experience is too.

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