As science has advanced and DNA testing has become easier, more reliable and more affordable, home DNA testing kits have become highly popular. One of the primary reasons that people turn to DNA testing is to discover lost relatives. Nowadays, for example, many people are adopted and know nothing about their birth family because their birth records are sealed or they discover that the man raising them isn’t really their biological father. Additionally, many individuals have half-brothers and sisters whom they’d like to know more about. DNA kits can help.
How Can You Use DNA Kits to Find Lost Relatives?
You can order a DNA testing kit from one of the top DNA testing companies that we’ll mention below. You’ll receive a kit in the mail and follow instructions to take a simple cheek swab or saliva sample and send it back to the lab for testing. Within a few weeks, you’ll get the results via a secure email.
Once you receive your DNA test results, you can set out to search for your relatives. If you get your test through one of the big family history sites like Ancestry.com or MyHeritage, you’ll receive a list of matches along with your results. These matches show the relationship between you and the match and how much DNA you share (measured in centimorgans).
You can also log your DNA results on to other DNA databases so that you can compare them with the widest possible number of potential matches. The bigger the database, the greater the chance of finding a genetic match. If you don’t get an email every time a new match comes along, you should remember to check your database regularly in case another relative has had a DNA test and joined the database.
Which DNA Testing Kits Offer this Feature?
Although finding lost relatives is a very popular use for DNA testing kits, it’s not an option offered by every company. If you want the find-relatives function, choose one of these tests:
- More than 17 billion searchable records
- Over 6 million users
- 90 Million family trees
Ancestry.com offers autosomal DNA testing, which is the best type of DNA test for discovering relatives, and it has one of the largest DNA databases around. Ancestry.com’s DNA database is international, which improves your chances of finding family members who’ve moved overseas. The site also hosts family trees so that you can analyze your DNA results together with other family history documentation.
- Largest international network of family trees
- More than 42 ethnic regions covered
- Free to contact DNA matches
MyHeritage also offers DNA tests to help you connect with relatives. Although the DNA database isn’t yet as large as that of Ancestry.com, MyHeritage’s database still has helped build over 39 million family trees and is growing all the time. It hosts an impressive collection of profiles and plenty of genealogy tools which should help you to use your DNA results more efficiently to connect with family members. Both MyHeritage and Ancestry.com send you a list of matches along with your DNA results and both require you to subscribe in order to access the full range of tools and databases.
- Covers over 150 ancestry regions
- Ancestry + health reports
- Includes both maternal and paternal lineage
One other DNA testing options for finding lost relatives is offered by 23andMe. It is not as powerful a family history site as MyHeritage or Ancestry.com, but it does offer a reliable and easy-to-use test and a DNA Relative Finder tool. This tool allows you to compare sections of your genetic profile that overlap with your relatives’ profiles against 5 other genetic matches so that you can triangulate whether they are truly family members.
What Happens When You Use a DNA Test to Find Lost Relatives
Finding lost relatives can bring peace and a sense of identity to people who spent years – sometimes decades – wondering about their real family heritage. In the 1950s and 60s in the US, closed adoptions were the norm, so many people who are now in late adulthood had no way of learning about their birth family until now.
One woman suspected that her ‘father' was not her birth father. After decades of pressing family members to give her answers and following up false trails and after the deaths of her mother and her ‘father,' she used an Ancestry.com DNA test in 2012. It didn't bring up any close matches, and she was back to square one. However, 5 years later she got an email from a woman who had also done an Ancestry test and been matched as her first cousin. Her new-found first cousin helped her work out which of her two uncles was most likely to be the woman's biological father and encouraged him to take a DNA test as well. It confirmed that she had finally found her birth father, along with 6 more brothers and sisters! It was a breakthrough which she described as ‘finding the other half of me.’
Sometimes, extremely unusual discoveries are made through DNA testing. One woman who did a DNA test just for fun instead embarked upon a long journey which unraveled two family mysteries. Instead of getting results showing the mixed British Isles and predominantly Irish heritage she’d expected, the test showed Eastern European and Jewish ancestry, which she knew wasn’t present anywhere in her family tree. At first, she blamed the testing service for mixing up the samples, but it turned out that the results were correct. Her mother’s heritage was almost exactly what she’d expected, but her father, who had never resembled his brothers and sisters or his own parents, wasn’t who everyone thought he was.
It was only years later that a woman on the other side of the country took a DNA test that showed she wasn’t as Jewish as she thought she was and far more Irish than she ever expected. Finally, the mystery started to clear. As it turned out, two newborn boys were swapped at birth in a hospital in 1913. One of them was the first woman’s father, and the other was the second woman’s grandfather. It was only through a chance DNA test 100 years later, after both the men had passed away, that the mix-up was discovered.
Some DNA testing sites include multiple warnings about the potentially upsetting consequences of taking a DNA test. While some people are delighted to be reunited with long-lost relatives or understand the truth about their identity, not every DNA test has a happy ending. Some people uncover hidden affairs by learning that their father has no biological relation. Bitter family secrets can be revealed by DNA tests, secrets that were buried for decades. It’s usually painful and sad to have to grapple with them. Sometimes, families are torn apart, like two brothers who no longer speak to each other after learning that one of them is the result of a fling of their mother’s in her youth.
Others suffer new rejection because they used a DNA test to find their real siblings or parents, but it turns out that their newfound family doesn’t want to know them and would rather pretend that they don’t exist. For someone seeking the truth about her birth parents, finding a close genetic match is exciting and gives valuable information about her real identity. But, her half-sister’s peaceful life and sense of self is shattered when this new family member turns up ruining her father’s image as a moral, loyal husband.
Sometimes DNA tests don’t actually reveal anything out of the ordinary, but they help one accept reality, The fifth stage of grief is acceptance, and that’s what Nancy, a divorcee, says a DNA test from 23andMe helped her reach when she realized that her 2 children’s DNA is more similar to her ex-husband than to her own. She and her 2 children took a DNA test, and while her own results read 95.6% Ashkenazi Jewish, her kids’ results read only about 67% Ashkenazi Jewish, a number much closer resembling her ex’s heritage.
Whichever DNA test you use, you can learn valuable and powerful information about your long-lost relatives and your family. Use it wisely.