DNA tests can be great. They can trace our history back through generations, linking us to places we’ve never been and proving that no one is ever really just from one country.
However, DNA tests can also throw up some unexpected results. They could reveal, for example, you’re adopted, or you’re somehow related to your partner, or your parents aren’t really who you thought they were.
Nonetheless, DNA tests are a growing trend in Christmas gift ideas, with millions of people in the US alone deciding that getting a friend or relative to spit into a test tube is a good present.
Unfortunately, for every eye-opening discovery – like finding out you’re part Viking, let’s say – there are some not so welcome discoveries.
Jenny, a writer from Connecticut, for example, found out some really interesting facts about her genealogy. Her heritage was largely British and Scottish, with a bit of Scandinavian thrown in, she discovered.
However, after persuading her brother to participate in the test, the results came with a chart that raised a few eyebrows. Concerning her brother, the results said: ‘Estimated relationship: half-sibling.’
Thinking her brother must have done something wrong with the test, Jenny persuaded others in her family to take it, including cousins and – eventually – her 86-year-old mother.
Jenny said, via the BBC:
She was my mom of course, but I wanted irrefutable proof because finding out that the man who had raised me wasn’t my dad shook me to my core. I just felt like everything I’d known for 50 years wasn’t true any more.
It took Jenny a year to pluck up the courage to ask her mother about the test results, and essentially ask her mum who her real dad was.
Apparently, there was a ‘business owner’ who lived in the same town as Jenny and her family when she was growing up, who she remembers was always ‘very friendly’ with her mother.
I said [the business owner’s] name. Her eyes got huge and she asked me how on Earth I’d worked that out.
Jenny’s mum revealed how she’d intended to never tell her daughter the truth about her affair, and had also never told her husband, who had died almost 10 years prior – meaning the man who raised Jenny was not aware he was not her biological father.
Of course, that doesn’t make him any less of a father, but it was an understandable shock for Jenny to find out.
It was like a new bereavement. I went through all these stages of grief. It was something out of my control, there was no going back and no way to fix it.
Jenny did find some comfort in a book – The Stranger in My Genes, by Bill Griffieth – who had a similar experience, and detailed many other people who had been through the same thing as Jenny.
Genealogy is a fascinating subject. Though, like any science, it seems it can often produce some unexpected and unwelcome results.
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Charlie Cocksedge is a journalist at UNILAD. He graduated from the University of Manchester with an MA in Creative Writing, where he learnt how to write in the third person, before getting his NCTJ. His work has also appeared in such places as The Guardian, PN Review and the bin.