Most of the unknown parentage cases I have worked on have had very happy endings and I have enjoyed reporting on them here and in my presentations. Sadly it is not always like that.
My observations from the many cases I have been involved with is that the fathers who never knew are frequently delighted; while the mothers who gave up the child often want to pretend it never happened.
There are at least two cases in my files where the overly young parents, gave up their child, later got married, and were happy to have that child back in their lives. However I have another case where although they later got married, they subsequently divorced and are not acknowledging their son.
There are also a few cases where the father claims to not even have known the mother of the child. That does not necessarily stop him from being delighted to have a new daughter or son.
Some fathers are not so welcoming. The first case I ever helped out on was a DNA cousin, early in the days of testing, so I did not know she could be more distant than the reported 4th cousin. Regardless, I was happy to help. She lives in the next town over and came to my house to meet me. I did not realize what an emotional moment it would be for her, meeting her first ever biological relative. Subsequently her birth state opened their records, so she found her late mother’s family. With the extra information from her mother’s diary and her Ancestry test, I was able to find her birth dad, my distant relative. However he said in an email response to her, “Sorry, but I have no recall of a [her mother’s name].” Since the story was one of being taken advantage of when drunk at a party, my cousin chose not to pursue this.
Another genetic cousin who turned up early in my DNA explorations was also more distant than I realized, a double sixth cousin. Eventually I suggested he test at Ancestry where he found a paternal half sister born days apart from him. I found their Dad, my distant cousin, and called him, but he wanted no part of DNA testing. His reason was that he was protecting his known daughter who was going through a tough time and besides he was always “good,” never stepped out. Luckily a few months later that very same daughter did an Ancestry DNA test and is thrilled to have a half sister (she had no sisters) and another brother.
The case that broke my heart was a recent one involving two war babies.
Julie, born in early 1946, consulted me after discovering through DNA that her beloved dad was not her biological father. She was very upset by this. With the help of Tom, my wonderful volunteer tree builder, we built the extensive tree of her intermarried father’s family from her paternal DNA matches. Brothers from one family marrying sisters from another confused the issue (which line to follow) but we finally found her probable Dad. He was the only man descended from both families who was the right age and in the same town. It turned out that Julie had gone to school with her presumed older half siblings so she called up her possible half-sister Barb to ask her to test.
Barb, born in 1945, was very helpful and nice but she had already tested on Ancestry DNA and shared no DNA with Julie. No DNA in common on GEDmatch either. This seemed impossible; they should at least show as cousins since according to her DNA match results, Julie’s dad had to be a member of Barb’s dad’s close family; Julie had strong matches to relatives of both his parents. What did we have wrong?
Next I looked at Barb’s Ancestry DNA matches and I saw that she matched no relatives on her dad’s side. Unbelievably, her dad was not her biological father either! Meanwhile Barb had sent in a 23andMe test to double check this.
Barb’s brother Tim had previously tested at 23andMe, however his results were private so Julie had never seen them. Tim shared his results with Barb so by using her account we could see that Tim and Julie were paternal half siblings as expected, while Tim and Barb were also only half siblings, sharing just their mother. This confirmed Julie’s dad as actually being the person we had predicted from the DNA matching, namely Tim’s dad, although not biologically Barb’s. What a journey!
Before asking people to DNA test I always warn them that they might unearth family skeletons but I had never seen a double “not the expected dad” case before. I felt terrible to have discovered this secret about the lovely and helpful Barb. And yes, with Tom’s assistance again, we have figured out who Barb’s birth dad is. Happily, Julie and Barb have decided they are sisters anyway since they share a brother.
UPDATE 11-Nov-2018: So I wrote this piece to help me cope with my own feelings. In the process, I double checked the older cases. Lo and behold, C, the woman whose dad claimed not to know her mom, now has a half brother by him, born a few months later … similar story and the dad did not remember that mom either … the half siblings are enjoying getting to know each other and a 2nd 1R who is helping them. So maybe a happy ending after all. C, who looked like a 4th to my dad with a 10cM and a 20cM set of matching segments at 23andme, is both my 6th cousin and my half 7th on another line. Both lines are from a somewhat intermarried area of southern Norway; each of the grandparents of the dad were my cousins.