‘I Was Numb’: Family Secrets Come to Light After DNA Tests
Eight months ago, Ryan got a call from his father, Gerry. It was a shocking conversation from the first words.
“He sent a picture,” Ryan said. “It was a screen shot of Ancestry.com. And he said, ‘Your brother is not mine.’ I said, ‘What are you talking about?'”
Then he asked his father, “What about me?”
Gerry and his wife divorced years ago, but only earlier this year did Gerry and both his sons find out that they are not biologically-connected.
Ryan, 29, and his older brother, now 33, spent part of their childhood in New Jersey. They always thought their mother was their mother and their father was their father.
Instead, a home DNA test kit proved that a former New Jersey state trooper fathered both brothers. Ryan’s mother confirmed to NBC10 that her sons’ father is the New Jersey state trooper, but insists that she had no idea until the DNA tests this year. She declined to be interviewed on camera.
“It’s difficult. It’s sad. But in the end, it really changes nothing as far as my relationship with my entire family goes,” Ryan said.
Shocking results that took the family by surprise are expected to grow in number as millions more take home DNA tests in the years ahead. The idea that your life could be turned upside down from some spit on a cotton swab isn’t what most people expect when they go looking for their ancestry.
The story of Ryan and his family is both a forewarning for others and an outlook people should consider if all new family history comes out in test results.
“The results change nothing for me,” said Ryan, who now lives in Miami.
“My dad is my dad. I don’t have to have a relationship with the other guy.”
He added, “I’m grown up now. (I have a) family of my own. It’s easier that way.”
Home DNA testing kits, like those done by Ryan and his brother on Ancestry.com, have grown in popularity the last decade. More than 20 million Americans have taken tests provided by companies like Ancestry.com, a Utah-based company, and 23andMe, of California.
The pace of submitting DNA via consumer tests is rapidly speeding up, according to West Chester University professor Anita Foeman, who has studied the industry since 2006.
More than 100 million people will submit their DNA for testing in just the next few years if the trend continues, Foeman said.
“It is changing the way that we think about each other, our relationships to one another, and what’s sort of out there and what we can keep secret,” she said.
The tests also raise ethical questions about the Big Data aspect of such personal information: What can companies do with your DNA results? Should law enforcement agencies have access to the results?
And of course, there is the upheaval within families when the results from a home DNA kit yield big surprises.
“We see them all the time,” Foeman said. “The tests are far better at pinpointing genetic relatives than they are at ancestry. So if someone had some unclear ancestry, I could say, ‘Well, you know, the test isn’t perfect. But people are finding out, again, that their parents are not their parents, et cetera.”