Genealogy Studies Program

When Results from Genealogy Testing Services Tell a Different Story

Revolutionary DNA-matching services like FamilyTreeDNA, 23andMe, and Ancestry are an exciting breakthrough in genealogy technology. These services can provide anyone who submits a simple swab or vial of DNA insight into his or her ethnic backgrounds and matches to ancestors dating back generations. As these services have grown in popularity, millions of people have used them to find out more about their heritage.

While it is fascinating that people can find generic information about their ancient genetic history, some DNA results leave users with more questions than answers about who they are. Just like traditional paternity tests used to confirm the relationship of a father to a child, DNA results from genealogy tests can also uncover discrepancies in matches to immediate family members, unmasking potential family secrets.

Unexpected results can be life-altering and some people need to find ways to connect, cope, and heal. Much like dating services and websites that provide social interactions online, social media groups have been a source of comfort to those who lost their sense of identity after finding out family secrets through their DNA results. Facebook groups like DNA NPE Friend (Not Parent Expected) provide an online forum for those who have found discrepancies in the identity of their paternal parents and seek comfort in knowing they are not alone.

Founded by Catherine St. Clair, as of August 2018, DNA NPE Friend has reached more than 2,300 members. St. Clair herself was someone that found what she thought was a glitch in her DNA profile. After reviewing her AncestryDNA results, she found that her sibling was only a partial match, which meant that her biological father was not the man who raised her.

The DNA NPE Friend group is a safe haven for those who have experienced the same shock and trauma that St. Clair did by providing a support system to help make sense of the impact on their lives and sense of self-identity. However, being added to the support group is a carefully vetted process. Users must prove that they received unexpected results from a DNA-matching service before being admitted.

Online forums such as DNA NPE Friend can help the DNA test-takers suffering from feelings of self-doubt. However, the question regarding how much information can be revealed about a person without his or her consent through DNA services is an issue.

Much like we have seen with the identification of a suspect in the Golden State killer cases from DNA (linked to one of his family members through a non-criminal DNA database), many biological parents or relatives do not want to be found. In some cases, they have legally signed contracts with the adoptive parents and agencies that keep their identities private. DNA results from matching services can also reveal the identity of sperm donors who may not wish to be identified.

It is reported that 94% of Americans feel like they have the right to access their DNA profiles, however, 80% express concerns over their privacy. While DNA results are hard to refute, this controversy continues to be inconclusive.