Gene tests can re­veal daddy of all se­crets

The boom in an­ces­try searches and DNA test­ing could back­fire on fam­i­lies

The Australian - - LIFE - DAVID CHAR­TER

When they hear my Bri­tish ac­cent many Amer­i­cans take de­light in re­lat­ing sto­ries about their fam­ily cas­tle in Scot­land or the an­ces­tral vil­lage in Ire­land. Grow­ing numbers of black Amer­i­cans are also keen to learn about the ex­act lo­ca­tion of their African fore­bears.

The ob­ses­sion with pre-colo­nial roots has fu­elled a boom­ing in­dus­try in DNA test­ing around the world. More than 15 mil­lion Amer­i­cans have submitted sam­ples for anal­y­sis to iden­tify ge­netic mark­ers in their fam­ily tree that point to coun­tries of ori­gin. Some hope for links to no­bil­ity, oth­ers for the thrill of learn­ing more about fam­ily history.

“So I traded in my leder­ho­sen for a kilt!” says Kyle, a cus­tomer on Ances­tryDNA, a lead­ing com­mer­cial test­ing web­site.

He grew up think­ing his roots were Ger­man but the $US99 ($138) test showed his fam­ily hailed from the auld coun­try.

Ances­tryDNA not only pin­points links to ge­o­graph­i­cal lo­ca­tions and fam­ily trees, it can give de­tails of other users who are “po­ten­tial rel­a­tives”.

In­creas­ingly the sur­prises are not so jolly. Cather­ine St Clair founded a Face­book group called DNA NPE Friends. NPE stands for “Not Par­ent Ex­pected”.

As the am­a­teur ge­neal­o­gist in the fam­ily, who had traced back her fa­ther’s links to the Wild West law­man Wy­att Earp, she was given a DNA test for her birth­day by her four sib­lings. The re­sults shook her to the core. She was only 50 per cent matched with them. At the age of 54 she learnt that the man she knew as her fa­ther was not her bi­o­log­i­cal par­ent.

That was two years ago. To­day her sup­port group has nearly 3000 mem­bers. One is Hope LaMon­ica, 51, a self-con­fessed “daddy’s girl”. A DNA test to pin­point her African her­itage iden­ti­fied a named per­son who was “ei­ther your par­ent, your child or your iden­ti­cal twin”. Through the DNA test­ing com­pany she sent a mes­sage to the man with de­tails of her par­ents.

He wrote back: “I’m happy to share what I know but I am not look­ing to cause you any pain.”

When they spoke on the phone he re­vealed he was her bi­o­log­i­cal fa­ther. She con­fronted her dad and he apol­o­gised and begged for for­give­ness — he had known about his wife’s af­fair but agreed to bring Hope up as his own and keep the se­cret. “There’s noth­ing to for­give, you were try­ing to pro­tect me,” she told him.

St Clair be­lieves that the next 10 to 15 years will be a time of reck­on­ing when many closely guarded fam­ily se­crets will come tum­bling out. Af­fairs, rape and in­cest are all is­sues her pri­vate in­ter­net group are grap­pling with. Some have con­tacted her dis­tressed by re­jec­tion from their bi­o­log­i­cal fa­ther or half-sib­lings.

Bri­anne Kirk­patrick, who has forged a ca­reer as a ge­netic coun­sel­lor, says the rate of chil­dren not be­ing matched with a par­ent could be greater than 5 per cent, but ad­mits sta­tis­ti­cal data is scarce.

“You do not have to do the test your­self for the sur­prise to come out. A sib­ling or a cousin can get matched to some­one. So if you are a per­son that is har­bour­ing a se­cret, it is time to think about who might discover it and who it is go­ing to af­fect the most.”

The next 10 to 15 years will be a time of reck­on­ing when many closely guarded fam­ily se­crets will come tum­bling out

Up to 5 per cent of DNA tests find chil­dren not matched to a par­ent

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