Risks in DNA Searches

DNA testing can be used in many fields including archeology, paternity, medical history, law enforcement forensics, and even extraterrestrial and pet breed testing. But today I’m talking about the ever popular kits advertised on TV these days. DNA testing is a wonderful tool for ancestry searching, but it can have some unexpected negatives if people aren’t careful.

Many of my readers already know that I was orphaned at a very young age, sent into the foster care system and later adopted. I secretly searched for my birth family during my growing-up years, but continued my search in earnest after my adopted parents passed away. Knowing they were unable to have children of their own, I hadn’t wanted them to know I was searching for fear it would hurt them. We were/are real people with real emotions.

I’m afraid too many people take the DNA test and wait for the results informing them they are a certain percentage this nationality and a different percentage of another and treat it as a game. The connection is so far away, it’s just exciting and fun to know where in the world one started. That’s all well and good, but sometimes people forget these ancestors were real people, with feelings and stories, tragic and wonderful.

Some people may still be alive, and although they may have joined one of the search organizations, that doesn’t mean another member should inquire information from this person without trying to be thoughtful, considerate and/or diplomatic in their query. The ancestry sites try very hard to protect people’s privacy, especially those still living, but some members don’t realize they themselves need to be aware of protecting someone’s privacy, too.

For example, a relative of mine through marriage found some personal information about someone closely related and, without thinking it through, proceeded to copy that information and email it to both another relative and to me, thus violating the person’s privacy who was the subject of the information. As a result, feelings were hurt and this inconsiderate relative is no longer spoken to by several family members. The information was none of that relative’s business and should not have been forwarded so blatantly, however innocent the intentions.

Another case comes to mind, even more serious. I have a friend whose husband wanted to get his DNA done and sent in his sample. My friend had escaped an abusive relationship years before, but at that time this abusive person told her if he ever found out where she was, he’d kill her. I was concerned that her abusive ex, might use an ancestry search company to find her. He had already tried other methods, she told me. There are scammers everywhere. There is always a possibility they could lurk within an innocent source. So, I’m real careful on any site that is open to the public.

With all that said, I’m now 76 years old now and joyfully still finding family members; two other sisters, whom I plan to meet soon, and, sadly, I learned of the death of my brother and mother. Needless to say, it’s an emotional time for me right now, but I’m grateful to know.

Ten years ago I wrote in a short story that, “I pray I live long enough to be reunited with the rest of my family. Even if success proves elusive, I’ll continue to search. I’ll continue to dream.” I believe that finally my dream is coming to fruition. Thanks to God, and to DNA testing!


Coco Ihle is the author of SHE HAD TO KNOW, an atmospheric traditional mystery set mainly in Scotland. Join her here each 11th of the month.


Filed under How To, internet, life, musings

15 responses to “Risks in DNA Searches

  1. After 16 years of searching for my biological grandmother, I found her. She had lived a block away while my mom was growing up in an abusive home. Sad story, but also blessings. I have found some beautiful and sweet Uncles and cousins through the search. So glad you are meeting family and I pray you all are so happy and close 🙂 Jen

  2. Mary Moore

    A Very thoughtful post. So many good points, especially about being discrete about your findings on others. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this delicate subject!

  3. I’m so excited for you! And I appreciate your thoughtfulness in pointing out the risks involved in such a search.

    • Thank you, Sherrie. I am so blessed to finally be able to meet actual family, something I’ve longed for my whole life. Before modern methods became available, searching was so much more difficult; writing letters, hoping someone would answer, having to hire someone to go to a capitol city in another state to look up public records, because there was no internet. It’s easy to think this is a parlor game now, but real people’s lives are exposed and with that the dangers of inconsiderate or unthinking people flow into the equation and people need to realize this.

      • We had a situation kind of like that going on in my husband’s family. It all ended well, but the daughter was the one who instigated a search for her half sister, not the mother for the daughter she gave up for adoption. Yes, touchy situations and a lot of gray areas.

        • I understand what you are saying, Sherrie. I’m glad that the situation you are talking about worked out well. One of the ones I talked about did, too. PTL

  4. Kathy

    Well Said! Respect and consideration of peoples feelings needs to be forefront when looking into DNA. Putting yourself in another’s shoes might help people to think first. So much good can come from this testing, like in our family, however for others there can also be hurt and questions that remain unanswered.

    • Kathy, you are absolutely correct. Thank you for helping me remind people to be kind and thoughtful. I also thank you for stopping by and taking time to comment.

  5. Al Burnette

    So excited for you!!! 2 other sisters and a brother? How exciting… I did the one through National Geographic. I did learn a few secrets that are now explained… Not really secrets but more like explanations. It was interesting for sure. AL

  6. Pat Gordon

    Hi Coco, I had my DNA testing done & it confirmed what I knew: a tad more Slovak than Irish with a g small percentage of nationalities near Slovakia and Ireland. In your case, it’s most important to find your birth family.
    I wish much success in your search, Pat

    • Pat, how interesting. I believe I can see the Slovak in your bone structure. As with us, travel is another way to get an understanding of other cultures. Thank you for reading my blog and for leaving your comment. Thanks also for the good wishes for my search. 🙂

  7. Renee Latty

    I love to read your blogs! Always interesting. Always fun! And now so informative pointing out things of which to be aware that I never even considered.I wish you the very best in your search and look forward to hearing about meeting your sisters! Bravo for a great blog! Renée

  8. Susan Coggins

    How exciting that you have found two more sisters. I hope they can fill in some blanks for you.

  9. Yes, it is exciting, Susan. My dream of finding my family is finally coming true. Little by little answers are being revealed as well. So fascinating! Thank you for reading my blog and for your comment.

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