Not always a happy ending

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.

A 1960s diary

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.

The famous 1945 V-J day kiss from Life magazine by Alfred Eisenstaedt, slightly edited by me

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.


21 thoughts on “Not always a happy ending

Click here to add your thoughts at the end of the comments
  1. Phew! I personally find DNA very complicated !
    I have currently discovered a person with whom I share more DNA than anyone else I met, and it seems we share from both my mother and dads side – is that possible ?

    • Cecilia
      In my search for my mom’s bio families (she was a foundling), I found a somewhat distant match to my mom who looked like a 2-3C match to me! He mother was related to my mom from the PA area, and her dad was a cousin of my dad from MS. So she matched me on both sides, as I did her.


      • As Deb said… up the tree 2 brothers from one family married 2 sisters from another family which confused us as to which line to follow in this case. This was not unusual. My own great grandmother’s sister married a brother of her sister’s husband

      • Yes, this is very common on DNA-verified branches of my tree. I have at least three such pairs on the Bavarian, Highland Scots, and Ulster Scots branches of my tree in the late 1800s alone. The offspring of such couples are double first cousins and their descendants will typically share much more DNA than they “should.”

    • Caith, I rewrote that little section to make it clear that brothers from one family married sisters from another … this confuses the DNA matching quite a bit!

  2. Hello Kitty,
    I found my biomom, who wants no contact, and biodad, deceased, but his widow has been helpful and kind, her daughter agreed to have the DNA test and we match as half-siblings.

    After about 4 years (6-8 hrs/day) of creating about 8 family trees, manually combining them to determine common matches, and somehow keeping them labeled so I can keep track of who matches whom and where, one big thing I learned is that even though our parents tell us not to have sex out of marriage, it’s been going on forever.

    My adopted father was born 3 months after the inscription in my grandmothers’ wedding ring; my parents were married 3 months after they met on New Years eve, but I once overheard my adopted mom say, “I couldn’t have kids”, and she adopted 3…

    Times are changing, women are in a position to support themselves and people often don’t feel they need the security of marriage – mostly for financial reasons.

    I love your blogs, thank you for working so hard on determining results from our DNA! I see now that I’ve determined my biodad, there’s “an app for that!” 🙂

    Thank you!

  3. CAith, I think you misinterpreted two brother marry two sisters, not their sisters. Ie Joe and James SMITH marry Nancy and Edith JONES. I have double cousins in my tree because of this. And I have twins who married twins.

    Kitty, good post. Lives are complicated and secrets will be found out. Not all ending are happy in any families, but there is something for knowing the truth no matter how painful.

  4. Kitty,
    I’ve recently uncovered by second DNA case of unknown parentage in a year. First I helped my daughter in law find her bio parents. And, just last month I located the birth mother of a 4C1R whom I’d only just connected with the previous week. To have built the tree and found her birth mother in a week was amazing. I find this work to be very rewarding. Although I’m only doing this for family right now, I hope to branch out.
    Follow up – my daughter in law and her birth Mom and the newly found half siblings, all have a wonderful relationship. She has chosen not to contact the birth father.
    On my 4C1R, she has received a call from her birth mother who gave her the name of the birth father, now deceased. The birth mother was nice, but doesn’t seem to want further contact at this time.
    I guess I need to blog about these finds. Thanks for all you do to help people.

  5. I took a DNA test with Ancestery and my oldest brother showed up along side my paternal uncle, not with my 2 sisters. His DNA showed he was 70% English and we had mostly German/Irish backgrounds, so that is what I always contibuted that to. I found he had matches that I did not, and got a feeling something is not right. So at 67 years old my brother found out he is not related to any of my paternal side. So he is taking it better than expected and I think connecting to a half sister and niece helped. Dna can be fun and a wealth of new clues opened up and it could also be a heartbreaker to find out the “sleeping dog’s” secret. Unfortunately my mother is gone and the secret behind this is buried with her.

  6. just to let you all know that I added an update about the woman whose dad did not remember her mother. She now has a half brother by him! Also adopted.

  7. I’m not sure if my story ends happily or not. At 54 years of age I learned my brother and I were adopted from different families. I found this out when I told our mother with dementia that my brother had died from an embolism. After finding my bio mother thru DNA I leaned she had died at age 41. My half-brother has a criminal record so I won’t contact him. My bio dad is one of five brothers and I’ve narrowed down to two; the one who is still alive has not taken a dna test I mailed him. I have dozens of cousins from Leitrim, Ireland and I’ve spent hours trying to figure out how I’m related to all of them (first cousins marrying wasn’t unusual).

    At first I felt like I deserved a happier ending since I’d been lied to my entire life. But as days pass, I am thankful to finally know the truth thanks to DNA testing (explains a lot!) and to find cousins all around the world (my mum was born in Glasgow). I have found four lovely first cousins in the US. Last summer I met family in Scotland and someday I’ll meet my cousins in ireland. My nieces and nephews are taking dna tests now and we will soon be looking for my deceased adoptive brother’s family.

    I guess I’ve had to redefine what a happy ending is for me.

  8. Kitty- love your blog- highly informative for a newby. My uncle (fathers youngest brother) had the FTDNA test in 2011 and he and I worked on our tree via email until his death at 82 in 2016. I just this week received my own results from FTDNA (mtDNA Family Finder only) and was surprised that my uncle was not listed as a match in the results. Does FamilyTree not include deceased persons in their matches, or is something else going on here?
    I have spent 30 years, off and on, researching original records in SLC, GA, TN, and local LDS libraries, but this is my first experience with DNA. Any thoughts or insights would be appreciated.

    • Glenn –
      Did your uncle do just the Y? That would explain the lack of a match.
      If he did Family Finder like you then it is too close a relationship for there to be no match so someone would have to have been adopted or switched in the hospital. Do you have access to his account? Can his heirs give you access? Then you could look at his matches and figure out what was happening. Else call customer support and explain the problem.
      Possibly your matches have not all come in yet … also get more paternal side relatives to test! In order to figure it out…

      • Thanks so much for straightening me out. The paperwork he sent me in 2011 shows that he only had the Y-37 test, and I was mistaken in thinking that my FamillyFinder test was based on mtDna- it is not.
        As I said, totally new at DNA, so much to learn! Thanks again for your help and quick response- GB

        • You are welcome Glenn. Family Tree DNA keeps the samples for 25 years so if you have access to his account, you can order a Family Finder test for his DNA still!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.