At home DNA tests have become wildly popular. It can be fascinating to trace your ancestry and learn about your ethnic background. But you could also learn something that will change your life forever.
A mesmerizing string of chemical information, DNA is the blueprint that makes us who we are and holds the secret to our past and present.
“I tell people, do not spit in that cup unless you are ready for what you’re going to find,” Dione Ramsdill said.
More than 26 million people have taken an at home DNA test and uncovered heritage and relatives they didn’t know existed.
“They didn’t tell me,” Eric Lautenschlager said. “So I was like, you guys had this little family secret.”
It was a genetic bombshell that led to a father’s confession, a gigantic family reunion, and perfect strangers building a bond as brother and sister.
A recent phone call spanned 700 miles and more than 40 years in the making. Jenny Kline knew she was adopted and wanted to learn more about her biological family but feared rejection.
“I just always had my guard up,” she explained. “This could go bad; this could be hurtful so just watch out.”
Through an AncestryDNA test and online sleuthing, she found her father, who told her she was born out of wedlock right before he shipped off to basic training for the Vietnam War – four years before her half-brother, Lautenschlager, was born.
“I immediately sent her a message saying welcome to the family,” Lautenschlager said.
Then came their first face-to-face meeting with her father and the rest of her newfound family. Kline and Lautenschlager learned they have the funny genes. She left feeling complete.
“So that wonder has been fulfilled and those questions have been answered and it does change my identity a little,” she said.
It seems the U.S. is facing an identity crisis with an increasing number of people interested in genealogy. DNA gives us the big picture, but historic records tell the story.
Up until recently, stored on microfilm and loaded into a reader to be examined, a professional from Capital Genealogy said the painstaking work is now obsolete thanks to digitization.
Just like that, you’re connected to a growing online database that in two years could include genetic information of one-third of the U.S. population.
In Wilton, the Ramsdill family has found many of their relatives who were placed for adoption through AncestryDNA.
“While they may have had wondeful adoptive families, they want to know the full picture,” Ramsdill said.
One of them is her cousin, TJ. Their connection was immediate.
“His parents, we realized, is a missing sibling of my father’s,” she said.
Ramsdill and her husband spent hours trying to track down her aunt, TJ’s biological mom, to no avail. He was born in Utica on April 16, 1969 and was very ill as a baby.
“He’s not even sure if his birth parents know that he survived,” Ramsdill said.
Their search will continue and as more and more people submit their DNA online, the changes of getting a hit improve. And for better or worse, closed adoptions won’t remain hidden forever.
“Times were very different, so I’m glad there are tools that do bring families together,” Ramsdill said.
Not all outcomes are positive when a family secret is exposed. But some of the stories prove old wounds can be healed by new discoveries.
When it comes to privacy, AncestryDNA says it will not share your test results with law enforcement but that doesn’t stop users from uploading their genetic information on public sites. If you don’t take a test, if your second cousin or any relative does, you could still be tracked down.