DNA Skeletons in Your Closet – Read the Fine Print

Recently a close friend of mine who is adopted did a DNA test to discover her ethnic ancestry. I have to admit to being intrigued and I encouraged her to take the test. It was exciting to think of the discoveries she could make into her background this way, and how she could feel more connected to some ethnic traditions in her background.

With her results came a big surprise. And it wasn’t about her DNA showing she was over half Irish. Within a week of her results she got a note from a potential close relative who was interested in exchanging information. And she didn’t quite know what to do.

A while back I wrote about the good and bad of DNA testing from my perspective as one doing it for ancestral research. But I never, ever thought about it from the perspective of someone who was adopted or orphaned. Someone who had no contact with their biological family. Someone who doesn’t know what they don’t know.

But now I’m thinking about it…all the time. Because I also realized you don’t have to be adopted to discover a secret in your tree.

Recently there have been many stories about adopted people who have discovered long-lost relatives through DNA testing. Their reunions are reported as good news in the media. Who wouldn’t love to discover the long-lost family you’ve been searching for? It seems like a win-win situation.

This type of result is not something that the DNA testing services are proudly advertising. They emphasize the unexpected “ethnic background” discovery, or the long lost dead famous ancestor angle. Sure, if you find out you’re 25 percent Lithuanian who wouldn’t want to learn more about the country and the culture?

Now I’ve noticed lately that many of the DNA testing companies have added more prominent verbiage around the potential to discovering connections in your tree you weren’t aware of, or possibly things you don’t want to know. This is probably due to the fact that as more people take these tests, more connections will made. And, even if you are SURE you know your family, surprises can happen.

Anyone can have that proverbial DNA skeleton in their closet.

Over the years I’ve discovered a lot of cousins I like, and those I’d like to not know about. (I have to laugh here because I’m sure a few of them would probably like to not know about me either.) Over the years I’ve stopped trying to make these kinds of connections into more than a source of information.  I’ve learned that shared DNA does not mean shared experiences or similar personalities.

But I’ve never thought about discovering a lost close branch of the family. As someone who lived with biological parents and family surrounding me, it never even occurred to me that this could happen. And it simply could. Adopted or not, secrets exist in every family, and this is one more way a secret could come to light.

Genealogy has always lead to unexpected branches, and this is just another tool to lead to this kind of discovery. You have to go into these tests with open eyes. Adopted or not, you may discover something you weren’t expecting.  Are you ready to discover that secret your family has tried so hard to hide?

My friend is still deciding whether or not she’ll answer the note she received. We talked a bit about it, and she has tabled it for now. She has every right to ignore it, or answer it. Ultimately it’s up to her if she decides to open up a new chapter of her life.

What would you do if you got that unexpected message? Think about it.

 

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