Friday, July 15, 2016

How DNA Uncovered a Family Secret

It's taken a while to sit and write this, originally I learned about this back in May but since then I have left it on the "back burner" of genealogy to process the information. I mostly wanted to write this post because I think it speaks volumes to the power of genealogy, but especially to genetic genealogy and how it not only can be helpful to you but also to others. This post is about how I figured out that one of parents had a (previously) unknown half-sibling through In order to provide privacy to my living family members, I won't be using any actual names.

23andme homepage [23andme]

I guess you could say this story began like any other day for me. I was home visiting my parents and it was a typical lazy Sunday. I decided to log onto my 23andme account just to see if there was anything new going on on the site. Recently, I've been logging on less and less to the site and I am not sure why. Maybe because I am focusing more on other things than genetic genealogy and/or the buzz for me has died down, but I occasionally go on to see what new relatives I might have gotten or any news such as possible sales.

Except logging in this time was very different than the last times I have done it over the last past 6 years. As I logged into my account on the right top hand corner it said, "We've found a genetic relative! Add your 1st cousin" and my originally thought was, "Hmm, how weird!'. I'm pretty sure I know all my first cousins and so having this pop up was weird, but yet again Puerto Rican genetics work different than most others because of DNA that has been recycled… but not this recycled right?! So I decided to check my other accounts. Having various accounts for my family members allows me to easily see where and how a person matches me with other family members. Unfortunately, I haven't gotten good enough to do triangulation and cross-checking since like I mentioned there are high odds that this person will match me on my mom's side and my dad's side if they're a full Puerto Rico. Sometimes, even half Puerto Ricans match both of my parents which makes it tough to find one branch of our tree or an ancestor we match through.

So I logged onto both of my parents' account seeing who would receive this match, and then I came across this message that dropped my jaw:

23andme Genetic Message Relative Message [Personal Photo]

All of my years of genealogy had not prepared me for this! Initially I denied it, and not because I did not want one of my parents to have a half-sibling but like I mentioned I knew that genes had a weird way of arranging and working themselves. But I had read enough forum messages and personal stories on 23andme about adoptions and family secrets revealed that I knew that something had to be up. I immediately jumped over to the relative finder to see how this could be! Right up on the list, appearing second (right after me, son) was this half-brother. Though there wasn't much information I knew that with the Y-DNA and MtDNA I would know what side of the family this match was from. I noticed that they shared the same MtDNA and not Y-DNA with one of my parents and so I knew it had to be from their mother. But wait, how was that possible? I knew both of my grandmothers and I knew them fairly well… or did I?

Having this conversation with my parents was difficult, how could I tell them this without shattering their world? But fortunately, genealogy had prepared for me for this in a sense. I had always been the one asking random questions and wondering about our origins that no genealogical conversation was too random for me. Luckily, the conversation went well… surprised at first, questioning, but then understanding. We were able to deduce when and where and between what time frame this sibling would have been born. There were no hard feelings on our end and we knew that life made people make tough decisions sometimes. Some phone calls were made to Puerto Rico to see if anyone had heard anything, even a potential murmur of this, but it seems that mum was the word in our family.

I initially decided to give this person some time for them to reach out to me but then doubt started to sink in. What if they never search their relative finder? What if they just log on once and then never again? What if they don't know how to manage the site and don't see their matches?! So I decided to reach out to this sibling the next day and explain what the results were showing me. Luckily by the end of the day I had a response! The person knew they were adopted but did not know much about their story so we exchanged some messages back and forth and discussed my family origins, sending them some pictures along the way. I am not sure how this person must have felt but knowing there was someone out there directly related to me in such a close way but not knowing them was hard in a sense for me. Maybe it's because I'm the family genealogist and I spend so much time crafting and editing my tree, that every ancestor and their story in a way speaks to me. Hopefully I'll get a chance to chat more with this person and hopefully have them meet our family.

It's funny how one day a simple message can change your life, we know only so much through paper trails and genetic genealogy is truly opening up a new way to see family history and genealogy. There are a lot of skeptics out there about genealogy, I was even told once that was a scam because it was just built to find connections to anyone out there… which obviously is not true and I'm fairly sure this person had no understanding of census records. But here genetic genealogy floored me with something I did not expect to find in my recent family. Yet again, there are many family skeletons in all of our closets, it's just being opening to dusty out those closets and being open to what's inside! You never know what you'll find! 


  1. loved reading this - gives me hope!! thanks for sharing!!

    1. Thanks for reading Francine! I hope others have as much luck as we did with connecting the dots!

  2. Whoa!!! I wasn't expecting to read this. Amazing! Maybe one day when your family is more comfortable you can explain in a later post about why they were adopted & how it came to be such a secret. I'm so curious & nosy I guess. Thanks for sharing something so personal. I enjoy reading all your posts.

    1. Hopefully along the way we will continue to learn more about the secrets that are yet to be revealed but they probably won't for many reasons. Thanks for always reading :)