Without the proper mental and emotional preparation, your genetic results could lead to findings that are emotionally traumatizing.
For many people who order an at-home ancestry DNA test, curiosity is the primary motivator. Unfortunately, some people have uncovered deep family secrets or even outright lies from trusted family members as a result. Before you order a DNA test, a closer look at the possibility of enduring emotional trauma and scarring from the results is in order.
The Home DNA Test Process and Results
With popular home DNA testing services, such as 23andMe, you must wait a few weeks for your test results to be processed. Once they are available, you can sign into your account and access a wealth of information. This includes what percentage of your DNA likely originated from different countries or regions as well as what your ethnic makeup is. You may get detailed information about which specific areas of the country your most recent ancestors hailed from. For example, rather than learning that your ancestors are from the United Kingdom, you may learn that some of our great-grandparents or great-great-grandparents came from the London area.
You also have direct information about individuals from around the world who you share DNA with. These are only individuals who have also submitted their DNA and opted into the program, so the list is not inclusive. Many of the individuals on the list may be distant cousins who you understandably may know nothing about. However, if your direct, close relatives have participated in the program, you would expect to see these individuals in the results.
How DNA Reveals Family Secrets
The most direct way that a home DNA test would reveal a family secret is if your test results do not genetically link you to your known family members. For example, if you know that your parents or siblings have participated in the program, you may be floored to discover that some or none of those individuals are genetically related to you. On the other hand, you may discover that you have one, several or even hundreds of direct relatives that you were not aware of.
Even when direct relatives have not already participated in the program, you could learn a few astounding things. For example, you may expect your family to be from Mexico when they are actually from Italy. Some tests allow you to opt into genetic health information as well. If you agree to receive this information, you may learn about an increased risk for a serious health condition, such as Alzheimer’s disease or some types of cancer.
These scenarios may seem unlikely, but they actually occur more frequently than you might think. A closer look at a few of the many shocking stories uncovered by home DNA tests is revealing.
An Extramarital Affair
A reproductive and stem cell biologist ordered a 23andMe DNA test as part of a class that he was teaching. When the results were returned, he learned that he had a 22 percent match to a man who he was unfamiliar with. Further research indicated that he and this man shared the same biological father. The father’s extramarital affair and love child had been unknown to any member of the family before this revelation came to light. As a result, the man’s parents divorced.
An Unknown Father
Another man learned that he was the product of a secret love affair through DNA testing. His AncestryDNA test results indicated that had several half-siblings that he knew nothing about and that were not related to his biological mother or his known father. After researching the matter further, this man discovered that his mother had been involved in a secret relationship and that the man who he had thought was his father for his entire life was actually not biologically related to him.
Raised by the Wrong Family
Some secrets uncovered through home DNA tests can reveal secrets from previous generations. One woman had been told that she was Irish-American, but her DNA results indicated that she was Middle Eastern, Eastern European and European Jewish. This inspired other close family members to also order home DNA tests. The results ultimately revealed that the woman’s father was not biologically related to both of his parents. A substantial investigation led to the discovery that her father was switched at birth.
A Shocking Sperm Donor
One woman grew up knowing that her parents used a sperm donor to conceive her because of fertility issues. She was hopeful to discover information about her sperm donor and his family when she ordered a DNA test. However, she and her parents were shocked to learn that her biological father was the fertility doctor who had helped her parents many years ago. As a result, the fertility doctor was sued for breach of contract, emotional distress, fraud, battery and medical negligence.
A New Sister
Like many people who know they were raised by adoptive parents, one man decided to search for his biological parents through home DNA testing. He discovered a biological sister through his 23andMe test results. His sister had been raised by their biological mother, and the mother had never told her that she had a brother.
A couple adopted a little girl from China had a rare brain disorder, and they were hopeful to give her the care she needed once they brought her home. Around the same time, another family from their church had a similar experience. They also learned that their adopted daughter from China has the same rare disorder. After both families used home DNA tests to learn more about their adopted children, they determined that these two little girls who had been born on the other side of the world were actually biological sisters.
The emotional stress from a DNA test’s shocking revelations can extend beyond the family. One Michigan police officer learned from Ancestry.com that had had a strong African heritage. Not expecting to be harassed, he shared the information with his fellow officers. However, this led to significant racial harassment in the workplace, and the man ultimately filed a lawsuit.
The Incredible Emotional Turmoil of DNA Revelations
These are only some of the many incredible secrets and lies that DNA testing has uncovered. Home DNA tests have only been available since 2007, so the impact of related trauma from such revelations has not been thoroughly studied. However, the stories are each unique, and the emotional impact that they have on the DNA test participant as well as on all other impacted family members can be significant and varied.
Some people simply accept the facts for what they are, and some are thrilled to discover that they have wonderful family members who they knew nothing about. These may be individuals who are expecting or even hoping to discover biological family members. On the other hand, some people receive shocking news. They had no previous indications to suspect that the family structure that they grew up with was based on a lie.
In some cases, revelations change families by resulting in divorce. The family structure is forever changed. In other cases, people experience extreme grief. They mourn the loss of a person who they realize they never really knew. Some people learn about a close relative who has recently passed away, and they mourn the loss of a person who they never got the chance to know. In other cases, people simply do not believe the test results. While others in the family may accept a truth proved by science, others fight back against those truths. The result is a huge family divide.
Regardless of how some people take the news, they must also live with the impact that revelations have on other family members. For example, if a child learns that his or her parent had an extramarital affair and produced a love child, he or she may ultimately be accepting of the event that happened so many years ago. This person may actively try to form a relationship with a newfound sibling. On the other hand, other siblings and parents may also be directly affected and may not react positively. Because they each may react to the news in different ways, the result may be extensive family drama that may impact relationships for years or longer.
When the Results Are Incorrect
Consumers who participate in home DNA tests understandably assume that the results would be accurate within a narrow margin of error. However, a recent study completed by Ambry Genetics revealed that as many as 40 percent of the genetic markers in commercial DNA tests were incorrectly identified. There are not yet standards in place for ancestry testing.
More than that, many people fail to understand how commercial DNA tests work. These tests identify common DNA markers that you share with other people. The results are based on probability rather than certainty. When you are told, for example, that your ancestors are from the Middle East or Eastern Europe, this actually means that your ancestors have a strong probability of being from these areas.
The emotional distress that may initially overwhelm some people upon being faced with a DNA revelation may include feelings of disbelieve or confusion. On the other hand, that distress may be unfounded. Allegations may be tossed around, and distrust can ruin familial relationships even if the revelation ultimately proves to be scientifically inaccurate.
While many people satisfy their curiosity about their ancestry and biological background innocently enough, anyone who participates in home DNA testing should be aware of the possibility for a huge and perhaps unpleasant surprise. The emotional fallout of revealed family secrets and even bold lies can emotionally scar an individual and can even tear families irreparably apart.