With Genetic Testing, I Gave My Parents the Gift of Divorce

DNA testing can be a wonderful thing. It solves family mysteries, brings families closer together, and more. Sometimes…

A stem cell and reproductive biologist had his own DNA tested. After all, he is a DNA expert. He even teaches a college course about the genome. He recently gave DNA kits to both his mother and his father and was anxious to see the results. As he wrote, “I was very interested in confirming any susceptibility to cancers that I heard had run in my family, like colon cancer. I wanted to know if I had a genetic risk.”

He received a surprise, to say the least. It seems 23andme found a close relative, closer than anyone had expected.

If you have an interest in DNA, you will want to read the story by George Doe (an obvious pseudonym) at http://goo.gl/8RMztZ. You might want to think about this story before ordering DNA kits for your close relatives.

My thanks to newsletter reader Scott Tilden for telling me about this story.

25 Comments

In the article How is it that children think they have the right to think they are the only ones who were ever perfect? This family had to be dysfunctional to start to have reacted the way they have and not made the necessary effort to “get past it!” O.K., the parents had the right to divorce and likely should have done it years before, but the children (adult ones to boot) need to “lighten up!”
Anyone having a DNA done should expect there could be surprises! My mother warned me when I first showed interest in Family Research 50 years ago;-)))
Barbara

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    That’s easy for a woman to say. Every child that crawls out of your vagina is automatically yours. I wouldn’t be caught dead raising another man’s child.

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    Adoptees need to understand that their supposed “right” to know their “family history” is misguided. Their “family history” isn’t biologically based and the dream of a close relationship is unlikely. If a biological relative wanted a relationship, it would already exist. No DNA test can force or forge a “family”. People need to accept reality and be happy with what they have, not with what they wish they could have.

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I find it interesting that ‘George Doe’ had no problem not telling Thomas about his newly found father but seemed unable to not tell his family about the results. We don’t have enough information to draw an informed conclusion (like how old is Thomas) and what his father said in response to a son (obviously with someone other than his wife).

Basically all we get to read about is the evil (and snooty) 23andMe.

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Over the years there has been warning about taking a DNA test and things you may find you did not want to know. These warnings have now been lost in the abundance of information found on different DNA lab webpages and with all the fine print we see now a days people do not consider the consequences that can arise from taking a genetic DNA test. On the positive side there have been many success stories with happy reunions.

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Someone wise once said, “Be careful what you ask for. You might just get it.” Genetic genealogy has the power to create and destroy at the same time. It can either confirm your research or destroy it. If you don’t want to know the answer, don’t ask the question. It’s just possible you aren’t who you think you are.

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I suspect that the author’s parents’ marriage had many other long-standing problems than JUST the results of this DNA test for it to end in divorce. The author seems to be in denial about any other possible discord in her parents’ marriage.

This story seems very one-sided to me. The author seems sorry that the truth has come out, even though thatis whatvresearch is all about. This story does not mention any of the positives that came out of the DNA testing. I.E. the half-brother now has access to his medical history and his biological family. A father has made contact with a long-lost son. Is the author resentful of the attention the new son is getting from the father?

There are many, many positive stories regarding DNA testing. Adoptees have found their biological parents; researchers have broken down long-standing genealogical “brick walls”; many, many family connections have been made that could not have been made otherwise, since any documentation has long-since been destroyed.

I have personally experienced the benefits of DNA testing. After over 60 years of searching for family connections by several family members over multiple generations, a DNA test provided the answers. Another DNA test eventually led to an entire group of descendants numbering over 385 people in multiple countries being able to connect with each other, despite the fact that most records of their early ancestry have been destroyed. The more people that get DNA tested, the more likely that genealogists will make more such breakthroughs, the the benefit of many researchers.

Have you been tested?

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There’s a related article also of interest, about 23&me’s plans to change their terms of service with respect to privacy. It appears the change will affect everyone who has already had their DNA tested, unless they affirmatively opt out of the new policy and it’s not clear those people will have an opportunity to realize the policy has changed in order to opt out in time to avoid having their DNA results shared with other users of the service.
http://www.vox.com/2014/9/9/6107039/23andme-ancestry-dna-testing

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I feel for the author, his family has been altered, maybe irrevocably, but it seems as a biologist he would have been aware of the possibility. I ordered dna tests precisely to sort out the little rats nest of who my 86 year old mother’s father was. There were 3 possibilties. My mom didn’t really care, she just wanted to know. Happily, for us, the man she grew up with as her father turns out to be her actual father.

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I too had a surpise finding after doing a 23andme DNA test. A cousin I never knew about, and neither did anyone else. I contacted the “new” cousin and we found that without a doubt, my uncle was his father.

I then contacted my “known” cousin who comes from a family with 7 children. Her parents had had a falling out at about the time this child was born, BUT by checking various people’s birthdates we discovered this child was conceived before her parents had separated for several years. There were other family problems over the years and my uncle’s name is rarely brought up by anyone in the family…this issue cannot be brought up to my aunt, no one will dare appproach her with the issue.

My known cousin was happy to talk to the newly found cousin but she is afraid to let all the other siblings know of his existance–although she has told 2 of her siblings that they have a half brother out there, and with the 5 year separation we are not going to be surprised if more show up…but finding out this newfound cousin was conceived before the separation was quite the “kicker”.

Now myself and my known cousin are kind of stuck in the middle…If I put him on my family tree other cousins will find out about him and eventually the others will realize that my known cousin knows about him but has not told most the other siblings…so these “surprises” can show up in many ways and how to handle it can be a tightrobe walk. Of course him being a cousin to me did not even allow me to click on the box of “do you really want to know this” because as a cousin he shows up automatically on testing.

Infidelity is nothing new, and I am sure many of us will find some people in our trees, via DNA who were not legitimate children…but when you get a surprise like that sometimes there is no easy way to handle it. Some of us are in touch with the new cousin, some not.

I have warned my known cousin about the possible repercussions of sharing this info with only a few family members, as others will surely be upset when this info is discovered by the the others, and will not be happy that she did not tell everyone about this newly found half brother.

It is possible this new found cousin may have been the cause of the separation for 5 years, but no one dare ask the mother who was cheated on about the circumstances…but there are other issues that we know had a lot to do with the 5 year separation. It is very possible this new found cousin had nothing to do with their separation and that my Aunt knew nothing of my Uncle’s indiscertion (he died back in 1984 so this doesn’t matter to him, it is only having an impact on his children)

We really doubt the mom knew about this child who was put up for adoption, but people need to be aware there are a lot of adopted folks out there trying to find their family history, if for no other reason than to discover their medical history.

The point to this comment? You can get surprises in many ways, and breaking this news to a cousin can be just as difficult as breaking the news to someone closer. I am happy that at least 2 of the “known” cousins will talk to their newly found half brother, but I feel bad that the others are in the dark so that he is being kept a secret still.

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If you love being in a family, you will welcome anyone that is part of it. The saying “you can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your family” comes in to play here. I found out I had a half brother at age 70 – I was absolutely delighted and met him shortly after. We are on this world but a short time,and we should be good to one another and be more accepting of others. I don’t believe for one instance that this situation caused the divorce, as it had to have been shaky in the first place for his parents not to have loved each other enough to forgive, and get through this together. That may yet come to pass!!!!

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In 1946, my maternal grandmother received a letter from Stanley Converse who was the son of her second husband, Earl Converse. Uncle Stan did not know that his father had remarried apparently until a distant cousin mentioned to him that his father had remarried. The cousin also revealed that he had a half-sister, my mother, Maxine Converse. They managed to meet in the summer of 1946 and remained in contact through the remainder of their lives. I think what I want to point out is that having a half-sibling to them was not a bad thing but it was something that enriched their lives. This was not a story that came about as a result of DNA but it was a story of a family that didn’t come apart as a result of these disclosures, it actually brought people together!!

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My family was dead certain that we had “Native American” blood in our veins. My DNA test confirmed that we absolutely DID NOT have “Native American” blood, but, we had 2% African (Mali) blood. This turned out to de-mystify and old family tale. My father must be spinning in his grave.

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Years ago, I got a call to scrounge up some old photos of my grandfather. Seems he had a son he never knew about. The son’s wife and children dig some digging with help of a genealogist and thru obits contacted a family member who in turn contacted my aunt (who would be a step sister to him). The family welcomed this new family member with open arms. We all said that our grandmother in turn would have also welcomed him. Not all families would handle this situation as mine did, but family is family. Gail

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It should be noted that the article linked by G above mentions that George Doe’s half brother was conceived before George’s father married George’s mother and was not the result of adultery. This fact was omitted from George’s article. The divorce was apparently caused by George’s mother and sister’s inability to accept the father’s reconnecting with his son.

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    Thank you for that information! I think the author is so caught up and reeling from thinking HE is responsible for this. I feel bad for the dad! Why is “no one” talking to him?

    So he — the dad — didn’t know that he had impregnated a woman? Because otherwise, he might have been reticent about signing on for the testing.

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Not sure why the author’s father agreed to be tested, or why the author is blaming 23andMe for his father’s philandering. It seems that he would be satisfied if 23andMe simply added a “Do Not Show Illegitimate Relations” button to the site.

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As I told people in our Genealogy Group: If you aren’t ready to consider that some of the family legends may not be true: you are not descended from King Reginald X or a Mayflower passenger or from a Cherokee princess… don’t take a DNA test. Because DNA tells you what is, not what you want to hear.

The same is true for unexpected family members. If you suspect you may have an unknown child out there and don’t want to know about it – don’t take a genetic genealogy DNA test.

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23andMe can’t possibly know whether some relation that turns up is “illegitimate” or not. Perhaps genetic testing services need to have a warning in their materials you sign telling you that if you have any illegitimate children (or even some resulting from sperm donation) they could be uncovered by the tests. Maybe they do have such, I don’t recall reading it when I sent my sample in. People have to take responsibility for their actions. Remembering that no one is perfect, it would be hoped that forgiveness for past mistakes is also possible.

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George Doe blames 23andMe for erroneously calling “Thomas” a grandfather. 22% could be a number of relationships and apparently birthdates are not factored into eliminating invalid possibilities.

Yes, there was more than just this test. “Years of repressed memories and emotions uncorked and resulted in tumultuous times that have torn my nuclear family apart. My parents divorced. No one is talking to my dad.” I don’t think he blames 23andMe for breaking up his family, but it was the trigger.

And we should re-read his last paragraph. This seems to be the whole point to the article: “This is an example where having more information has had a negative emotional and psychological impact on me and family relationships.” Bottom line, beware of asking the question – you may not like the answer.

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Blaine Bettinger has posted a response to the Vox article, expanding on the concept of “genetic exceptionalism.” You wrote “You might want to think about this story before ordering DNA kits for your close relatives.” Absolutely true — but you should also think about the possibility of uncovering family secrets through traditional genealogical research. Genetic testing is not “exceptional” in this regard.

http://www.thegeneticgenealogist.com/2014/09/13/response-genetic-testing-article-vox/

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The real problem with anonymity on 23andme is that it is mostly the result of ignorance. Having 50-75% of the kits as anonymous people really makes the whole test with them pretty useless if you are researching genealogy. These people who want to be anonymous somehow really think that an Identity Thief will be able to steal their identity if he finds out their name. I know this because I was accused of this by a First Cousin, once removed on Ancestry who used her initials. I knew who she was obviously. But she still believes I was trying to steal her identity. She contacted the company and told them I had hacked into their computer database. I am not making this up.

The problem we have to face in Genetic Genealogy is a lack of education. I have a number of family members who are terrified to test because of this. It is very frustrating to me. We need positive stories about DNA research in the newspapers. We don’t need scaremongering and sensationalism.

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This article by “doe” is so poorly written, I actually doubt its validity. If it was real, I would think that someone would say, “dad had a drive by baby with a woman wen where….blah blah” but nope. We get Nada. The other thing is that the outrage seems teenagerish. As an adult, I realized that my parents were human beings….with mistakes, failings, etc. They’re both gone now, but the outrage over a sexual relationship seems pretty immature to an adult. People do way worse things to one another all the time. Sex is pretty innocuous in today’s world… And also, if dad was spreading the joy…ahem…why would he check the box? My doubt escalates further. I think this is probably a disgruntled employee rather than a real happening.

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In researching my daughter’s father’s family, I discovered 2 half brothers he didn’t know he had (his mom disappeared after his birth but married again and had two sons). Also discovered that two “full siblings” he thought he had were actually half siblings (born to his dad and another woman not his wife). Discovered this researching marriage licenses and birth records. And doing my father’s tree we found he (and his siblings) had been lied to about their grandfather being dead – when he was alive and kicking until my dad was about 40. Apparently there had been a divorce between his grandparents and so his parents figured they’d hide it from the grandkids with a lie. Which deprived my dad and his siblings the chance to get to know not only their grandfather but all the cousins this man’s siblings provided (my grandparents were both only children). My dad was profoundly disappointed when I told him – and mystified why a divorce was seen as such a big deal. Especially when he found out that they all knew about the divorce and it was like “ho hum – no big deal”. I think teens and adults can generally handle the truth better than lies. My ex knew he was being lied to since he was a kid, he just didn’t know what was true and what wasn’t – and now his entire life and the way it played out makes sense to him for the first time, and with that comes a sense of peace. As for me – if I found out I had a half brother or sister somewhere, I’d welcome them 🙂 After all, they didn’t create the situation they were born into! There is love enough to go around.

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Mom & Dad must have had other deep running issues to allow the conception of a child and subsequent adoption, prior to their marriage, decades earlier to cause them to cancel out their marriage and family. I can understand shock or strong feelings, but can’t relate to wanting to divorce my husband over this. I just took a test and await my results. Maybe I’d feel differently if I discover I have 4 half siblings. 🙂

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