After columnist Nicole Brodeur told her story of uncovering family secrets through taking a DNA test on Ancestry.com, readers reached out with their own interesting tales.
So I guess I’m not the only one who learned that her grandfather was unfaithful, had a child with another woman, and left it to his descendants to find out through DNA testing that there was family out there.
Jo Bledsoe’s grandfather, like mine, had an affair (same) with a waitress (same) that resulted in a child (same). It even happened in the same state: Massachusetts.
“Hope this makes you laugh,” Bledsoe wrote. (Not really. But I’ll get there.)
After Bledsoe’s discovery, she connected with her half aunt, whom she called “a joy to my brother and me in many ways.”
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It wasn’t that way for everyone who reached out after I wrote about my family’s revelatory experience with Ancestry.com.
Late last year, I sent in a saliva sample, as did my niece, whose results directed her to a strange new family tree that included my grandfather, an unknown uncle who died before we could meet — and his daughter, Lee Ann, a cousin I met for the first time last month.
Spitting in a plastic tube may seem like a pretty benign exercise, but new and available DNA technology has turned saliva into a far-reaching truth serum that can spill the beans on any number of family secrets.
Readers wrote about siblings, cousins and parents they never knew, hearts broken and mended. And at least one reader brought up the issue of privacy — be it our own, or that of others who would prefer that sites like Ancestry.com stay out of their bedrooms and closets.
Michael Diamond called the DNA-testing site “a can opener.”
Through Ancestry.com, his wife learned that her grandmother had a secret daughter who she kept hidden from her three other children. Last Christmas, Diamond’s wife got a call from her “aunt” (“Hi, don’t freak out …” was how he described the call.)
The two women met recently for the first time. “She is lovely, spitting image and all of my wife’s grandmother,” Diamond wrote of the new aunt.
But there’s more. Diamond grew up in a Greek household, “yet I never even remotely identified with it.” On a visit to Scotland, he had a strong feeling of being among his people.
His Ancestry.com results? “0% Greek.” Turns out his mother had a fling of her own with the guy who managed the building they lived in around the time Diamond was born. His brother is really his half-sibling.
“I’m adjusting,” Diamond wrote. “It reveals a layer, or sides of people (parents) you think you know, and artificially hold to some higher standard. And yet, they, too, were once younger, sadder, lusting something, someone, missing something, needing something, etc. and yet capable of making unexpected choices.
“Go figure,” he concluded. “We’re all human. And flawed. And maybe, occasionally, worse.”
One commenter named “Jasminett” wrote of being adopted, and how her birth mother “was not in a position” to meet her when she turned 21. Using 23andMe.com DNA testing, she found a first cousin who gave her “a better understanding of my birth mother,” who then called her — 40 years later. “We will finally meet.”
Her birth father chose not to meet her, but his daughter did: “I found someone that I really felt a connection to,” she said. “There were many twists and turns, but I would not change a thing,” she wrote. “This journey has given me a better understanding of my origins and has created a healing that I greatly needed. I am no longer a secret and that makes me happy.”
One commenter learned that their father was not their biological parent, “and I never had a clue.”
They wrote of feeling “shocked, unable to function normally, totally unprepared for that revelation.
“This is not sensationalism or made up,” the commenter wrote. “It happens and it is real and it is difficult for the one with the surprise.”
Some readers raised concerns about whether privacy laws will catch up with DNA technology.
There were the suspicious folks, like the reader who wrote: “Now, if only Ancestry DNA covered Japan, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam. My dad got around while serving in the Marines, even though he was married.”
And there were the nasty folks who called out my grandfather for his adultery, and for rejecting his son (there’s no other word for it, really) when he tried to make contact with him.
I can’t argue with any of it. The facts stand.
But the people, the emotions, the reasons behind it all do not. They’re gone. And all we can do is make the best of what — and who — is left behind.
In this case, it is family: An uncle I missed getting to know, and two cousins I look forward to spending time with.
It is a chance to add to my family in the years after losing my parents, which is a gift. A chance to share ourselves, to hold each other up until we, too, are gone.