Q: Dear Ancestry Worship Genealogy,
After years of genealogy research, and using some public information databases, I think I've located the couple who could be my birth parents in another city several hundred miles from where I live. The husband and wife are very old if alive, which I think they are, and it looks like they gave me up and went on to have more children who they kept. I'm wondering about my genetic heritage. Maybe I'm the result of an affair? I want to write them a letter telling them why I think this may be and suggest DNA tests. Any opinion? Louise
A: Dear Louise,
I believe that any genealogy research leading to birth parents should be checked with DNA testing. It's available, accurate, and the prices have come down a lot. Why not be extra sure?
One thing I warn against is doing these tests through the mail. Someone - a lab tech or doctor - should be taking the sample and have good proof of ID. Though the mail a person can send someone else's swab.
Ideally you should work with one company that can take your test in your city and your possible parents tests in their city, in each case providing an ID.
I think you should first approach the question of birth parentage through a letter, presenting your genealogy research, and being honest about the public databases you used. You must be sure that these people do not get the impression you're some nut whose invading their privacy, lying, or trying to ID theft them. I would also send a recent picture of yourself.
You may find that there is an admission of parentage without the test first but many many years have gone by, and these people may have made their peace with themselves about giving a baby up.
I have a fellow genealogist friend who specializes in finding birth parents and he tells me that in one case in maybe 50, the DNA did not check out with his research. He said that people who deny parenthood seem to remember things differently once the DNA tests have been done. He's had more luck with siblings than the parents themselves becoming open and talking about what happened way back when.
In one situation I was presented with, a child called a birth father on the phone with her birth mother on another line and said this man was her father. He had not heard from these people in over 20 eyars and could have been located. He had no idea he was a father. When DNA testing was suggested, at my urging, they backed off and were never heard from again. He was ready to embrace a child even in his old age but was miffed and hurt. So I suggest that when you introduce the idea of a DNA test you present it as just wanting to be sure.
Another thing I'm warning about, because it's been in the news lately that DNA databases are being used for wrong reasons. BE SURE THAT THE SERVICE YOU USE IS NOT GOING TO POST THE RESULTS ON ANY DATABASE. You are paying them to test for a private reason. This is not the same as testing to be connected to possible living DNA matches for family history/genealogy reasons. Sadly it's been in the news that trusting people who allowed this matching service now have their personal DNA being used by unathorized people for other reasons.