Cautions About DNA Testing Results

I give presentations about genealogical DNA on a regular basis. I also belong to way too many DNA groups on Facebook. One of the things I see in those groups and sometimes in audience questions involves expectations.

For adoptees or parents who adopted out children, I warn them the ending may not turn out to be all that you want. Responses from bio parents and the adopted children can range from mild to wild; happy to unhappy; apathetic to ecstatic. Don’t assume it’s going to turn out the way you want to and you may save yourself a lot of heartache. Prepare for the worst, hope for the best is a good mantra and that applies to people who find close relatives that didn’t know about as much as it does to adoptees and birth parents.

Let start with some basic assumptions people routinely make in this kind of situation.

One, they DNA tested therefore they must be looking for me or for somebody. Many people DNA test because they see the ads about ethnic results and they get sucked into the hype. In my case, my first DNA test was curiosity. I heard the hype and wanted to see what it would show. I spent a year studying DNA after I decided to do a test. I studied dozens of companies; types of DNA testing (autosomal, Y-DNA, mtDNA, sibling testing, paternity testing, CODIS testing, grandparent/first cousin testing); ways to be tested (blood, spit kit, cheek swab, tooth, hair, etc.),  and various and sundry other little tidbits. During this roughly 2,000 hours over a year’s time, I learned a lot. However, I didn’t learn a few key things until after my first two DNA kit failures.

Next bad assumption: They must have seen that we match. Sounds pretty reasonable right? If they were DNA testing looking for relatives, then they most likely checked matches. If they were only doing it ethnic results, don’t count on them looking for matches. Using Ancestry, you don’t automatically see DNA matches when you first go to the DNA page. You may see most of the following items:

DNA Story (Ethnicity Estimate)
DNA Matches X number of Shared Ancestry Hints; Starred Matches (if you marked them with a star; Y number of 4th cousins or closer – it doesn’t show names or relationships unless you click on it for more details)
DNA Circles (you may or may not have any)
New Ancestor Discoveries (potential ancestors or relatives who aren’t in the tree you attached the DNA sample to)

On FTDNA and 23andMe, there are sections for matching, but you don’t automatically see who you match if you don’t click on the relevant section.

Another bad assumption involves last log-in and lack of message response. Starting with last log-in assumption. If you stay logged in and don’t log out, it shows the last time you last signed in after logging out. I routinely saw days, weeks, or months because I haven’t logged out and logged back in. Pretty bad design flaw in my opinion; more so because many people don’t know about it. On to the lack of message response. There are two ways to message another Ancestry member. One is the DNA messaging system. It’s open to anybody who has DNA tested with Ancestry (you need a kit attached to the account and don’t know it works if you are the manager as I don’t manage anyone else’s kit). You don’t need to be a paid member to use this message system. The other messaging system is the main Ancestry messaging system. To make first contact, you have to be a paid member to use this system. However, non-paid members can respond to messages sent to them. I am not a paid Ancestry member, and I have responded to several people who messaged me first using the main messaging system.

Both Ancestry messaging systems are  broken in varying degrees. You may not get an e-mail letting you know you have a match or message. In other cases, your e-mail provider marked the e-mail as spam. I have filters on Yahoo Mail that should place certain messages in specific folders, but every so often Yahoo Mail decides to override a filter and send it to my Spam folder. I check my Spam folder everyday and move non-spam out of it. Sadly, many auto-dump their Spam folders without even checking to see if they have non-spam.

There are many other assumptions people make, but here’s a big and bad one to avoid. The person, especially if it’s a birth parent, adopted child, surprise child, half-sibling, etc., may not want to know you and they may think it’s a horrible mistake (usually lab mix-up being the first blamed; chimera effect following a close second from those who reported denials). As I mentioned above, such a revelation can go very positive to very negative to all sorts of in between responses or non-responses. Also, in the case of an unknown child, the child could be the result of rape, incest, one-night stand, too much alcohol, or other circumstances where a parent may be too embarrassed or ashamed to deal with it. In other cases, a birth father may not be aware they have a child. I ran across several cases where the birth father was told the woman lost the baby (abortion, miscarriage, stillborn, died shortly after birth) or that she was pregnant with another man’s baby and that’s why he doesn’t know about you. If there is denial, don’t be surprised if the denier uses every trick in the book and comes up with a few new ones you haven’t heard.




About ICT Genealogist

Originally from Gulfport, Mississippi. Live in Wichita, Kansas now. I suffer Bipolar I, ultra-ultra rapid cycling, mixed episodes. Blog on a variety of topics - genealogy, DNA, mental health, among others. Let's
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