Nothing can prepare a person ahead of time from the shock of not DNA matching their own father. Oh sure, they tell you in the literature that comes with the test that, “you may discover surprising results,” but that’s for those other people. Not for you, unsuspecting person who has lived a happy, comfortable life with a loving family you adore. Especially not for genealogists that have spent countless hours chasing down scraps of paper, spending their time off and vacations working on their family tree and who, among their entirely disinterested family members, can easily name their paternal 3rd grandfather and the maiden name of the poor wife that bore him 18 French speaking children up on a farm in New Brunswick, Canada.
But it was me. And that wasn’t my 3rd grandfather anymore.
At least I didn’t think so. I wasn’t sure. When a traumatic event happens to a person, the human brain tends to cough up even the most bizarre scenarios to explain it. Maybe my DNA test got mixed up with someone else’s DNA test? Or maybe my father’s test did. I looked at his DNA matches. He had a ton of them. Much more that I did and lots of DNA matches people with French last names, too. It was doubtful his test was incorrect. He had closer cousin matches, too. All of mine were distant. Maybe there had been a baby switch at the hospital? Possible. I had a tiny plastic bracelet from the maternity ward with my name and mother’s name on it stashed away somewhere, but God only knows when they put that thing on me. I was born at midnight. Maybe someone had been sleepy and mixed me up with some other baby. Were there even commonly accepted, “best practices,” in maternity wards in 1964? Back then, I imagine any yahoo could probably just walk into a hospital nursery and take any ol’ baby they liked. Or switch one out for another one. Maybe my mother really had a boy baby and someone switched him with me? No, that’s crazy. My mother had been wide awake at my birth. She and my dad both remembered it well. Maybe my mother had been raped and was too…nah. She’d have reported it and told me. She wasn’t the sort of woman that would’ve blamed herself and felt shame. She’d have done whatever took to survive and marched herself to the police department, stat. If that had happened, I’d already know about it. If there’s one thing my family is lousy at, it’s keeping secrets. Tell one of us anything about someone in the family and you might as well get a public address system, find a street corner, and announce it publicly.
Unable to sleep, I’d sit up at night and google things like, “Not DNA matching father,” “Accuracy in Ancestry DNA testing,” “Is a woman considered a bastard or bastardess?” And, “Is bastard still considered a swear word?” I may or may not be a bastard(ess) but I’d still like the use the correct term. I read everything I could find on the subject of commercial DNA testing and it seemed pretty cut and dry: I wasn’t Fred’s child. My mind, however, was still not entirely willing to accept this. I called Ancestry and spoke with a customer relations agent. She told me that it can take a little time, “I’m sure your dad will show up in your match list. Just give it a few more days.”
Days came and went and my father didn’t appear on my DNA match list. I felt a deep sense of shame and embarrassment. I spoke to no one about my test results. At this point, only my mother knew about them and she was casually blowing it all off as, “wrong.” The stress of holding this confusing secret was unyielding. I’d park my car at work and at the end of the day, have no recollection of where it was or even the drive I’d made that morning. One afternoon, I spent the better part of an hour wandering around, looking for my car, crying. I’d walk into rooms, go to the grocery store, or post office and have no idea why I did so. I was endlessly wondering, “Why am I here and what am I doing?” I felt like I had been suddenly untethered from reality. It was if the law of gravity no longer applied to me. I was floating helplessly in space. The rest of the world kept right on spinning in mundane normalcy while I tried to get a grasp onto something solid, and couldn’t.
Christmas came and with it the usual get-together with my extended family. I sat in my brother’s dining room and looked at the faces of the people around me and thought, “I’m not really one of you. I never have been. I’m a fake. An imposter. A lie. And I don’t know who I am anymore.”
One sleepless night, while googling up DNA stuff, I stumbled onto a message board. Someone there appeared to be friendly and pretty well-versed on the subject of DNA. Too embarrassed to post a message on public board, I privately messaged them.
“Hi, Sorry to bother you but you appear to know a lot about DNA testing. I tested my father and myself and we don’t seem to DNA match each other. I’m uncertain what to do at this point. Could you point me to a website or someone with information so I can clear up this matter? Thank you in advance for any assistance you can give me. It’s much appreciated. Laurie”
They sent a message back that same day, “You should contact CeCe Moore. She can help you. Here’s her email address….”
Before I did anything, I needed to know a little bit about this person. I googled up, “CeCe Moore.” I learned that she’s a pretty famous person in the world of this DNA testing stuff; “genetic genealogy,” they call it. She was likely a very busy person and probably not going to pay attention to someone like me: a confused regular Joe. I figured any email sent to her would likely end up in a spam folder. I wrote an email to her anyway. I had nothing to lose.
She responded to my email the following day. Her reply was kind and reassuring. She seemed to understand how distressing this kind of DNA test result is to a person. She also said that she’d be happy to help me in figuring it out. It might take some time, she said, but it was doable. I would know the truth for certain. And if Fred wasn’t my biological father, she’d help me to figure out who was.
Reading her reply, it felt like someone had just thrown me a rope. I grabbed it and held on for dear life.
Perpetually curious. I love history, genealogy, old movies, good books, all sorts of music, and adventures involving travel. In my spare time, I help admin a genetic genealogy Facebook page for CeCe Moore ("DNA Detectives") and coach people how to connect with their biological family using DNA.