Buyer Beware: The Dark Side of Ancestry Testing

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Okay, this is a bit of a personal piece and while it is long, there is a method to my madness. Something all of our parents tried to teach us long ago but a lot of us seem to forget over time — think before you act.

Like millions of others, I’ve been trying to find out more about my family tree. There’s a few adoptions in those limbs so it was a bit of a scavenger hunt for me at first, but I was able to find out quite a lot and of course it was rather interesting.

A couple of years ago there was a lot of advertising for DNA testing to find out your nationality percentages. Being from a strong lineage of Native Americans, I was naturally intrigued and promptly purchased a kit from 

Had I known what it would eventually reveal and the havoc it would cause in so many lives, I think I may have just let my curiosity lay dormant.

The Process 

Procrastination is one of my stronger weaknesses and though I purchased the kit right at two years ago, I promptly put it to the side, figuring I’d get to it “later.”

Well, that later turned out to be about two months ago. 

We were moving and as I was unpacking, I came across the kit. My wife, not suffering from procrastination, promptly opened it, followed the instructions for registration, and had me complete the process by spitting into a tube.

She quickly mailed the kit and within a few days, I received notice that the folks at Ancestry had indeed received my spit and would begin processing it to tell me where I really come from.

So far, so good. 

Sure, I’ve read the stories where DNA like this has been used to capture longtime criminals and family members that did bad stuff a long time ago. But hell, I figured I’ve been a (mostly) law-abiding citizen all my life and though my family has some (very) questionable members, I thought it was worth the gamble.

No law enforcement came knocking but history certainly did, and it kicked the door wide open.

The Results

Right about six weeks after sending in my DNA sample, I got the email that my results were ready. My wife was just as excited as I was, so I waited until we were together before taking a look.

Boy was I disappointed.

4% Native American.

“Impossible,” I grumbled at my MacBook. I was certain that it was a scam at this point. My father was full-blooded, his parents lived on a reservation in Oklahoma. My great-grandmother on my mother’s side was a full blooded Cherokee. The only non-native blood came from Mom’s dad.

I read and re-read the results: 73% England, Wales, & Northwestern Europe, 23% Ireland & Scotland. 4% Native American.

Yeah, “what a waste of money,” I thought.

I even considered penning a scathing article on it for a consumer protection site I work for. I stewed over the “rip-off” for a couple of days and then went back to the account.

There’s another button.

View All DNA Matches.

I clicked it. 

That’s where everything went to shit.

OCD & A Mystery: A Dangerous Combination 

How can you be a procrastinator and have OCD, you ask? Hell if I know, ask the folks that gave me this mixed-up DNA.

Anyway, this part of the site is actually pretty neat, at first for me anyway.

Ancestry shows you anyone that has submitted their DNA that has connections to yours. They break it into Close Family, 1st Cousin, 2nd Cousin, etc, and if those people have added a profile pic, you see their name and photo.

Mine had 2 people in the Close Family section. One was a long-lost aunt that I already knew about, she had been adopted and just recently found the family. The other was a female with a name I didn’t know, but a face that somehow seemed familiar.

I wrote to one of my half-brothers and an aunt, but neither of them knew who she was.

I reviewed the woman’s public family tree on the site, but we had no one in common.

My curiosity piqued, I dug a little further and found her on Facebook.

Not a single friend in common.


Okay, I turn to her photos and boy does she look familiar. Then I see one from the early 90’s and my mouth fell open. 

I called my wife into the room and showed her.

“Jesus,” she said. 

She looked just like… ME.

Well, not exactly like me thankfully, but there were a lot of similarities. Same thick, curly, dark brown hair. Same deep-set, dark brown eyes. Same nose, same smile.

She’s 6-months older than me.

Holy shit. 

I instantly knew she was definitely family we didn’t know about and I had a feeling that a few family secrets were about to be uncovered. I just didn’t realize how big that damn skeleton was going to be. 

“Hi xxxx… Sorry for the out of the blue message lol. But I just did the Ancestry DNA and you and I come up as within 1st cousins and I’m trying to figure out HOW lol. Would love to talk.. always nice meeting new family.”

That’s what I sent.

She replied rather quickly and of course she was almost as intrigued as I was. We started tossing names back and forth — do you know this person, does that name ring a bell, where did you grow up, were you adopted by chance — and others, trying to narrow down the connection.

We spent around 3 hours going back and forth, both digging through the Ancestry site and our own Facebook accounts, trying to find out how we were related. We ended that evening believing we’d found a possible answer with our grandparents being brother and sister, but then I kept thinking about it all night.

OCD kicked in as it usually does, when I’m trying to sleep, and my brain wouldn’t shut off.

It wasn’t right, the names didn’t match up with historical records that I’d already uncovered.

I messaged her again the next morning and she’d already came to the same conclusion, so we started our back and forth once again.

Neither of my parents are living but as chance would have it, both of hers are. So I suggested that she ask her mom if she happened to know my mom and dad.

That night, we both learned more than we ever expected.

The Relationship Reveal

At this point, I’m thinking that maybe my dad and her mom had a secret fling and she was another half-sibling. My father was a certifiable “man-ho” for most of his early life. Hell, who am I kidding, his entire life was spent chasing women and going through marriages like they were new cars, trading in the old one for a newer model every few years.

I have 4 half-brothers and 1 half-sister, and 1 of the brothers we didn’t find out about until pretty late in life, so another sibling wasn’t out of the realm of possibilities at all.

It was several hours later that I received a text message from her — “We need to have a conversation. All hell is breaking loose here.”


I asked what was going on, gave her my number, and waited.


For at least 2 hours there was nothing and when the phone finally rang, I knew that this poor woman’s world had come apart.

It turns out, her mom did know both of my parents. In fact, at one point she was pretty good friends with my mom. When she was asked how her daughter and I could be related, the mother screamed, threw up, and began crying uncontrollably.

Her daughter said she shouted, “No, no, no… it’s not possible” and wasn’t able to communicate for several minutes.

She’d spent decades trying to forget that one night.

Though the woman wasn’t a drinker at any point in her life before or after that night, she went out with my parents (who were just dating at the time) and though the girls were still in High School, all three were drinking. At some point during the party, my mom called it a night and went home, the woman and my father apparently kept things going and took the party to his house.

From my understanding, she said she doesn’t recall a lot of the evening but she eventually passed out and when she awoke, he was on top of her. 

It was not consensual.

I’m not sure what happened at this point, or if she ever told my mother what he’d done, though I suspect not since she ended up marrying him a few months later. However, I do know that she was crushed by this unexpected revelation from her daughter.

She’d been with her on-again, off-again boyfriend for years at this point and a few months later when she found out she was pregnant, she naturally assumed he was the father.

In 1968, my dad, well, “our” dad, had taken liberties with an unconscious High Schooler and gotten her pregnant.

The Aftermath

Of course the mom wasn’t the only one flattened by this news. Her 51 year old daughter just found out she was the product of rape.

The Dad she’d known all her life was still her Dad of course, nothing changed that, but her entire world changed in an instant simply by spitting in a tube. 

It explained a lot. She’d initially thought that none of her Dad’s relatives showed in her DNA profile simply because they hadn’t completed the process. Now she knew differently.

A million questions have run through her mind. One minute anger boils over and the next she is overcome with tears.

There’s absolutely NO denying that my father was a Bastard. Even before this came to light there were plenty of folks that would have attested to this fact. In fact, most of his children would be at the front of the line with plenty to say.

However, he was a decent man in the last part of his life and we actually became friends. While I never knew him to have control issues or have any sort of accusations like this one against him, I truly don’t know what he was capable of. He isn’t here to defend himself and we’re only getting one side of the story, 50+ years after the fact, but the truth is, none of us know what a loved one is capable of.

Why am I revealing all of this personal crap? Just to warn you to be careful with these things. You know what they say about curiosity and that cat, it can be quite costly. And not only to yourself.

My new sister and I speak every few days, I’ve put the reins in her hands and let her contact me when she wants to talk. I want her to know that her “brothers” are nothing like the man that fathered us, but I also don’t want to wedge myself into her life any further than I already have.

I wanted to know who the woman showing up in my profile was, and I woke up a whole pack of sleeping dogs. So, while I still don’t think the nationality portion of the DNA test was accurate in any way (I’ve actually spoken to a few people that reported the same sort of off-kilter results), the Matching portion is pretty spot-on.

She decided not to tell her Dad, which I think is the best idea. Why inflict pain where it isn’t needed? He worked with my father at one point, which makes this whole situation even worse when you think about it.

Had the DNA sequencing been accurate enough to say “Hey, you two have the same father,” I think I would have approached her and this whole situation completely different.

Learn from my encounter, be careful when contacting new “family,” you never know what you might be in for.

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