Christmas 2021 was a memorable year for Shelby and her family, but not for the reasons she expected. Or possibly wanted.
A seemingly harmless gift for her mom, Susan, (a fake name used for anonymity), revealed a five-decade-long secret that changed her family forever.
An AncestryDNA test would reveal that Susan’s dad was not actually her biological father, leading her on an emotional journey to find the truth.
However, Shelby and her mom aren’t the only ones whose lives were transformed by a genetic genealogy kit.
Newsweek spoke to three women whose lives were turned upside down by a DNA test at Christmas—for better or worse.
What Is a DNA Kit?
DNA testing to establish paternity was first used in the 1960s, but tests were only 80 percent accurate and couldn’t distinguish between close relatives.
More precise testing was developed in the 1970s, with the first crime solved using DNA evidence in 1986.
Consumer genetic testing really began to take off in 2017, with over 12 million people submitting their DNA to genealogy sites to find out more about their family history—including 1 in 25 Americans.
By 2019, this figure had grown to 26 million.
‘I Don’t Think People Understand What They’re Getting Into When They Buy A DNA Kit’
It was during the 2017 boom that Shelby bought her mom an AncestryDNA kit.
“I was thinking ‘I’m daughter of the year,’ and this is such a great gift idea,” she told Newsweek. “She was so excited to get it too.”
Susan sent her DNA in early 2018, but when the results arrived three weeks later, she was shocked to find she’s 50 percent Italian.
“There was no one Italian in our family,” Shelby said. “She thought it must be a mistake.”
When Susan typed her maiden name into the database and there were no biological matches, she began to get nervous. Shelby began conducting research online, looking at the people who were showing as family matches on the AncestryDNA database.
They narrowed her mom’s biological father down to one man, who used to be her grandma and grandfather’s landlord in the mid-1960s.
“Apparently, this man used to come around a little bit during my mom’s childhood,” she said. “He’d come by and work on cars with my grandpa.”
When Susan called her mom to discuss the results, she denied it, but called back a few weeks later to explain the situation.
“My grandma said it was non-consensual,” Shelby said. “It’s not that we don’t believe her, but we’re only ever going to have one side of the story.”
Unfortunately, Susan was unable to ask her biological father questions, as he died in 2014. His children did not want to talk to Susan, but luckily, a first cousin reached out to help fill in some gaps.
“She is the sweetest lady in the whole world,” said Shelby. “She calls her all the time and they talk on the phone.”
Susan’s biological father was married and had three children. Susan will always wonder what traits she inherited from her father, especially as she doesn’t closely resemble her siblings and has a very different personality.
The results made her question her identity, but after attending therapy, Susan decided to train as a trauma coach and use her experience to help others in similar situations.
Shelby shared their story in a video on TikTok in 2020, along with the caption “How I ruined my family in one day.”
The clip went viral, receiving over 18,000 views. She doesn’t regret buying the DNA kit for her mom, but she does wish there was more education about the potential results.
“I’m not the one who lied about anything, but I do wish I’d thought more about it,” she said.
“I don’t think people understand what they’re getting into, especially with so many people buying them as gifts.”
‘My Dad Wasn’t Entirely Surprised, But Despite It Hurting Him, I’m So Happy I Gained A Sister’
Until the age of 32, Baelee believed she was an only child. That was, until she gave her dad (Steve, a fake name used for anonymity) a genealogy kit for Christmas in 2020 so she could complete her family tree on 23andMe.
When the mom-of-two received the results a month later, she was shocked to discover Steve, 70, was not her biological father.
“My bio dad never knew I existed. Him and my mother had a brief fling in the 80s and then he moved back to Arizona,” Baelee told Newsweek.
She didn’t have any DNA hits on 23andMe, so did an Ancestry DNA kit, where she was matched with her biological dad.
After looking him up on Facebook, realized that she strongly resembled his 25-year-old daughter, Lauren. The pair have since become close, with Lauren flying out to California to visit Baelee and her two children regularly.
“We talk on the phone all the time and I honestly feel like she is one of my best friends,” she said.
“We think alike and have a connection I’ve always wished for.”
When Baelee first confronted her mother, she denied it, but eventually came clean and gave her the information she needed to find her biological father. However, telling Steve was difficult.”I recently broke the news to my dad who was both hurt and wasn’t entirely surprised considering their tumultuous marriage,” she said.
Baelee has since met her biological father, 65, and describes him as a “very nice and welcoming man.” However, the news is still raw, and she doesn’t feel ready to form a relationship with him.
She also discovered that she has two other biological sisters, along with Lauren, and one brother. She hasn’t met them yet, but hopes to meet her sister Chelsea in the new year.
Although the experience was traumatic, Baelee would do it all again to have Lauren in her life.
“It has been a rollercoaster but in the end I got a sister that I always wanted,” she said.
“I hate that I was lied to for 32 years, [but] I’m glad I didn’t find out until I was older. I am in a good place to properly deal with the situation.”
‘I Never Had A Dad Growing Up, But I Found Out He Had Seven More Children’
Unlike Shelby and Baelee, 22-year-old Bethany Bolton had grown up without a father figure—biological or otherwise. Raised by a single mom in Surrey, southern U.K., Bolton was a teenager when she first started inquiring about her biological dad.
“All I had in my life was my mum, and that’s all I ever needed,” she said.
“But when I reached about 13, I decided I wanted to know more about him.
“When I approached my mum, she told me everything that happened in their relationship.”
Although Bolton has always been close to her mom, it was clear that her father was never going to be a healthy presence in her life. However, as the years went by, Bolton wondered if he’d changed his ways and decided to start searching for him.
Her sister gave her an AncestryDNA kit as a Christmas present in 2021 to help her track him down.
Sadly, she was never able to meet the man she believes is her biological father. The results led to a match with a relative of his, so Bolton reached out—only to discover he’d had passed away.
“I decided to try and keep an open mind, as this was just a possibility,” she said.
“He had seven more children, but unfortunately the woman never got back in contact with me about them.”
After joining a DNA group on Facebook, a Search Angel confirmed that the man was likely Bolton’s biological parent. Search Angels, such as pro bono project MyHeritage, help to reunite people with their families through research and testing—including adoptees.
She said those who knew the man don’t want to talk about him or “reopen old wounds.”
“I decided from the moment I started my journey, that if my father didn’t want me in his life, then I would respect his decision,” she said.
“Now, even though it’s not him, I have to respect these people’s decisions to not allow me to meet my siblings.
“While I may have not got to meet my father, I like to think that by the end of his life, he was a changed man. A good person.”
If you have a family dilemma, let us know via [email protected]. We can ask experts for advice, and your story could be featured on Newsweek.
I have been writing professionally for over 20 years and have a deep understanding of the psychological and emotional elements that affect people. I’m an experienced ghostwriter and editor, as well as an award-winning author of five novels.