When DNA Science Hits Home

There have been many news stories lately describing the effects of DNA testing in families. I’ve always been fascinated by those stories and the mysteries and secrets that mainstream DNA testing has uncovered. When I purchased a DNA kit for my older brother for Christmas one year, I wasn’t looking to uncover any secrets. I was looking to verify some family heritage stories that I grew up with. My brother’s DNA test came back with disappointing results. The Native American ancestry that we had been raised to believe was part of our close lineage was nowhere to be seen.

Family Surprise

Debbie hugging her brother Mark

Debbie meets her brother Mark for the first time

Close to a year later, we had a surprise that more than made up for the initial disappointment. My brother was contacted by a man, Mark, who had been given up for adoption in the ’60s. Mark is a full brother and the first born in our family of six (now seven) siblings!

Ours became one of those feel-good, Hallmark movie-bound stories. Mark always knew he had been adopted, so he was grateful to finally learn more about his biological parents. His adopted parents were ecstatic for him as well, along with his wife, two children and three grandchildren. My parents were thankful to find out what a great family had adopted him and what an incredible life he’s had. My parents had just celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary that year. Me and my siblings were grateful to have another brother and sister-in-law to tease, a fabulous niece and nephew, and sweet grandnephews to spoil. To top it all off – we learned all of this on Thanksgiving!

Not every story recreational DNA testing has uncovered is so rosy. There are growing support groups both online and in person to help people cope with unexpected results. Genetic Counselors are also seeing an uptick in the number of adults that need assistance in dealing with DNA surprises.

So, what has this discovery meant for me? Apart from the obvious of building family relationships, it’s given me new inspiration to work on my genealogy, so I can share the stories of our ancestors with family new and old. It’s also given me a deeper understanding of what family really is. Now that’s something to be thankful for.

We’ll Help with Genealogy

With help from the Baker Genealogy Center, it’s easy to start working on your genealogy. In the Topeka Room, located on the second floor of the library, you will find everything you need to get started building your family tree. They can help you figure out how to put together your family tree and begin researching your family. With tools like Ancestry.com and American Ancestors (available only in the library), as well as others and all the worksheets, you too can become an avid family researcher in no time!

Related Articles

Genetic Testing and Family Secrets,Monitor on Psychology

How DNA Ancestry Tests Can Turn Your World Upside-Down,” Psychology Today

When a DNA Test Shatters Your Identity,” The Atlantic

Additional Resources

International Society of Genetic Genealogy: Includes known support groups and further reading.

Watershed DNA: Links to a variety of resources for those facing unexpected DNA results.

View complete list

Debbie Stanton supervises the Information and Learning team in Public Services. She supports and mentors our staff in the Topeka Room, Baker Genealogy Center, Alice C. Sabatini Gallery and Level 2 Tech Center along with the Business and Careers team, Community Connections team and reference staff.