My father was an only child, with all of the clichés that accompany that status – doting parents, a high intelligence that was nurtured from a young age, and a tad of narcissism. However, because of DNA testing from an ancestry company, we recently discovered my father had a half brother just two years his junior who grew up only forty minutes away. My dad never knew of his brother, and I doubt my grandfather could ever have imagined this secret, a secret he probably believed he took to his grave, being revealed by a vial of saliva that cost only $90 to analyze.
DNA’s pronounced affect on family history and hidden secrets is all over the news. For example, Dani Shapiro is the latest memoirist currently making the talk-show rounds being interviewed about her latest book, “Inheritance.” Shapiro was seeking medical information when she submitted her DNA to 23andMe, but what she received was stunning news that her father was not, in fact, her biological father. Her memoir describes sorting through issues of identity, familial relationships and reconsidering memories in this new context.
Over 12 million people have had their DNA tested
Considering the boom in DNA testing, it’s no wonder families have been left reeling. According to MIT Tech Review, in 2017 an estimated 12 million people had their DNA tested. Of course, numbers have only increased in 2018 and 2019.
The turmoil of these test results has created a need for commiseration and community. Catherine St. Claire is another well-known face in the aftermath of the DNA family secret debacle. Feeling lost and alone after her results showed NEP (Not Expected Parent) she launched a Facebook group that quickly grew to over 3,000 people, all looking for support. This led to NPE Friends Fellowship, launched in 2018.
DNA and your privacy
Questions of privacy abound when it comes to DNA testing. Will our information be shared with corporations or governments? (We already saw how an ancestry site was used to capture the suspected Golden State Killer.) And, where can a line be drawn for those who want to stay anonymous – sperm donors, for example? In 2018, a voluntary set of guidelines was introduced to help protect consumers, giving a data sharing option. But will consumers really read these privacy options or simply check a box?
Are family secrets generational?
While DNA testing numbers continue to grow, perhaps there is an end in sight for the upheaval that revealed family secrets have unleashed on our society. One has to wonder if the keeping of family secrets is generational? Adoptions, in vitro fertilization, and having children out of wedlock have all become socially acceptable. Our ancestors would be shocked by the level of sharing seen on social media and reality TV. Maybe current and future generations will simply be less secretive? Between DNA testing and changing social norms, it seems the age of having family secrets is coming to an end.
For now, be prepared and heed the warnings from these DNA testing companies. Testing your DNA could lead to “unexpected” results.
Has your life been changed by unexpected DNA test results? Please let us know in the comments below!