Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Wait! What?!! What To Do When An Unexpected DNA Match Happens

I have to tell you, I love DNA testing, as far as genealogy goes.  Seriously.  When you find out as a young adult, as I did, that you have a possible different parent (or set of parents) than those who raised you, your mind goes reeling.  After the initial shock of learning I was adopted by my father, I would find myself daydreaming about who my biological dad might be.  Michael Landon fit the bill quite nicely.  It's true.  He was the dad I wanted to have if I couldn't be genetically related to the father who raised me.  He was, after all, Pa Ingalls!  I'm sure I wasn't alone.

All joking aside, I approached DNA testing as a shot in the dark and with fingers crossed.  I hit a total bull's eye when I connected with a second cousin who not only knew my biological father, but went to high school with him.  Her excitement pretty much matched my own and together we plunged into connecting me with my paternal line.  Why didn't I just ask my mom?  Well, those of you in similar situations understand.  As my mom used to say, "We don't talk about things like that!"  She is gone now.  I wonder at times what she thinks of this DNA journey I've taken.

I will say, the shock that rippled through the East coast of the United States was felt for months as relatives learned of this unknown child that suddenly made her appearance 46 years later.  It was exhilarating at times and other times down right frightening.  You have to understand, not all reunions are cozy and welcoming.  While my story didn't have a fairy tale ending, I did make some wonderful connections and the relationships to this day are becoming stronger.  You can read more about my DNA story on Ancestry's Blog.

I am used to being the DNA shocker in the family.  Granted it is only the paternal side of the family that was a surprise to me, as my mother who raised me is the same person who gave birth to me.  Nonetheless, the revelation ruffled feathers and gave me a glimpse of how it must feel for the relatives on the other side of the DNA reveal.  Well, I thought I understood how they felt.

Yesterday,  I opened my Ancestry DNA result page.  I used to stalk the page for updates the first year my results were in.  Lately, I remember to take a look when I suddenly get a notification that someone may have matched me.  Typically the results are within the  4-6th cousin range, so unless I'm looking to find some missing links to ancestors, I tend to be neglectful of the DNA page.  Yes, I know.  Shame. Shame. Shame.

Back to yesterday.  I was working on DNA research for a client and decided to take a peek at my own folder and was somewhat surprised to see a rather close match appear.  First - Second cousin.  Okay.  That could mean a few things.  It could quite literally be a first or second cousin.  Or, it could be an Aunt.  Or, a first cousin once removed.  There are a variety of scenarios and we have to allow room for error.

Here's the thing.  It's on my side of the family where 1. "The tree don't branch much," and 2. In the immediate levels of possible connection, the parents had only one or two children.  So.... basically, I know all my cousins -- on the first and second level.  (And sometimes even third and some removed.)  So, who had a baby a generation or so ago and didn't tell anyone?  The shock! And now it is our turn to wonder Who? When? Where? What?

So what do you do?  You keep it classy.  That's what you do.  You reach out to the individual and introduce yourself.  You ask a question or two and then you let the matter drop.  Allow them to process their own DNA thoughts.  They may not be aware of any situation that would lead them to an unknown family.  And when the time comes that they answer the message you sent, you respect their answers and any questions they have.

We live in a new generation.  There are not a lot of things that can shock us.  But I will say this.  DNA testing is very much like opening Pandora's Box.  You have to be prepared to expect the unexpected.  Plan ahead for all possible scenarios you could encounter and how you may want to respond.   And if you think that there may be some things that you just can't or won't be able to get past, then you may want to rethink taking a DNA test.

I hope you have enjoyed today's blog post.   I hope you will become a regular follower by entering your email address in the prompt at the top right side of the blog homepage.  Please feel free, to share on Twitter, Facebook and Google+.  You will find those share buttons just below this entry.  And, as always, I look forward to your comments.

* If you are interested in learning more about DNA testing with Ancestry, go to *