Commercial ancestry DNA kits are a boon to armchair genealogists and regular people who just want to know more about their genetic makeup. But in some families, as Philadelphia’s WCAU-TV reports, those kits are revealing shameful family secrets and, in some cases, tearing families apart. And you don’t even have to purchase and use one of those kits to find out that your biological family isn’t composed of who you thought it was.
Imagine that, for decades, you and your father have had the same type of relationship that all parents have: complete with ups and downs, but generally cemented by love. Perhaps family members commented that you took after your mother than your father, but you thought nothing of it, since that’s how the genetic dice sometimes roll.
Then, you get a call from your dad, telling you that he is not your biological father. What’s more, he only found out about it thanks to commercial ancestry DNA testing. And now your mother, your sibling, and he and you must deal with the emotional and familial fallout of the revelation.
It’s exactly what happened to a man identified only by his first name, Ryan. The 29-year-old found out a while back that, after decades of believing that his father was his father, it turns out that his actual, biological father is a New Jersey state trooper.
“It’s difficult. It’s sad. But in the end, it really changes nothing as far as my relationship with my entire family goes,” Ryan said.
Over in Delaware, a woman named Anna Marie found out, after using one of those tests, that her mother had hidden the true secret of her paternity from her for years. Once the DNA test results came back and she was contacted by a cousin she didn’t know she had, “the cat was out of the bag,” she said.
Other families with nothing to hide have found their lives disrupted by commercial ancestry DNA tests. As reported by The Inquisitr, an Oregon doctor, back when he was a medical student, had donated sperm to his university for what he thought would be a study. He claims he was told that his sperm would be used to father no more than five children; that it wouldn’t go to mothers in the Pacific Northwest; and that the children wouldn’t be able to find him. None of that turned out to be true: after being contacted by a biological daughter he never knew about, he eventually learned that he’d fathered at least 17 children through his donation, most in the Pacific Northwest. Many of those children attended church and school with the four kids he had with his wife, never knowing that they were in the same place as their half siblings.
West Chester University professor Anita Foeman, who has studied the commercial ancestry DNA testing industry for over a decade, has some advice for would-be ancestry-seekers: talk things over with your family first. Ask directly if there’s anything you should know before proceeding with the test. Foeman says that some people have opted not to go through with the test after talking with their families.