When DNA Results are a Huge Surprise

Have you thought about what you would do if your DNA results were a huge surprise? Did you learn something shocking from your DNA test? In this post, I’ll talk about some of the most common surprises that are revealed by DNA testing and how to handle unexpected situations.

Most people who decide to do DNA tests, like the ones offered by 23andMe and Ancestry DNA, have no idea that they might uncover a family secret or something unexpected about their ancestry. DNA testing technology is very powerful, and it is fairly common for us learn something shocking about our family tree from the process.

When DNA Results are a Huge Surprise

Sometimes, the shock from our DNA results come a long time after we take our test. Once we send in our saliva sample, our DNA information has the potential to sit in a database for many years, possibly waiting for the “shock” to arrive in the form of a surprise DNA match, or a technology update that reveals something surprising about our family’s ethnic ancestry.

What are the most common types of surprises people see in DNA results?

Based on the e-mails that I have received over the years from my readers, I can say confidently that the most common unexpected DNA results fall into one of the following categories, in this order:

  • Shocking region on an ethnicity estimate
  • Discovery of a new half-sibling
  • Surprise discovery of new extended family (i.e. half-aunt, uncle, first cousins)
  • One parent is not their biological parent (usually the father)
  • Discovery that the DNA tester, their parent, or their grandparent did not grow up with their biological family (i.e. adoption was kept secret)

Additionally, it is very common for someone who is searching for biological family to be surprised that they were actually able to locate close relatives through DNA testing. In fact, I have a close cousin who grew up with adoptive parents express to me that she didn’t actually think that DNA testing would help her find her biological family.

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Most common reasons people are surprised by their DNA results

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If you are reading this post because you have received shocking DNA results, I post this list to help you understand that you are not alone. There are many others in similar situations who are struggling to decide how to proceed with the new information that they have learned.

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Should you tell your family about your DNA results?

If you have learned something surprising, one of the first questions that you might have is whether you should share the information that you have learned with your family.

In my opinion, no one is ever under any obligation to share any of the information that they have learned from their DNA test. Your DNA and your DNA test results are private, and you have every right to keep it that way.

Even so, some people would like to consider sharing what they have learned. I recommend answering the following questions before deciding to proceed with sharing your discovery:

  • Do you want to share your results with your family? If you don’t, then you don’t have to. If you do, then move to the next question.
  • Will sharing the information damage relationships? If so, you have to weigh the benefit of sharing the information against the potential damage to relationships. Sometimes, it might be worth it. Other times, you may decide that it isn’t.
  • Will sharing the information cause material harm? If sharing this information could possibly put someone’s physical, economic, or emotional safety at risk, it should not be shared.
  • Is it your “secret” to tell? If the discovery doesn’t directly involve you, but you have been able to unearth a discovery through your DNA testing, it’s best to not get involved. If it is your “surprise”, and you have considered the questions above, then you can feel free to move forward with sharing the information if you wish.

Shocking DNA results can make waves within a family

Fairly recently, I discovered a pretty close DNA match with one of my parents. I’m pretty deep into chromosome mapping, and have my DNA on all the major testing sites, so I have access to a lot of information that can help me learn how my DNA matches (and those of my parents) are related to me.

It quickly became clear to me from whom this cousin was descended, and their exact relationship to my parent. I sent them a quick message inquiring about whether they would like to share information, etc, and provided the name of the person that I was fairly sure was their grandparent.

As it turns out, this person had been adopted as an infant and had been under the impression that their biological mother was someone else. I was sure my new cousin’s biological mother was the daughter of the grandparent that I named in this message, but this child was not someone the family was (is) aware of.

It’s okay to keep DNA results a secret

After our discussion, it was decided that my new cousin did not want to reveal the identity of their biological mother to anyone, and they asked me to not share the information that we discussed with anyone in our family. My cousin wanted to protect the privacy of their mother who had given them life.

Who can argue with that?

This is a perfect example of a “secret” not being mine to tell. Except in an anonymized form on my blog, of course.

If my new cousin had decided that they would like to pursue a relationship with members of their newly discovered maternal biological family, I would have been supportive of them making this decision.

If we look at it from my cousin’s perspective, it is their “secret” to tell, or not tell, as they desire. My role is to be supportive of my relative’s decision about how to proceed.


I hope that this post has helped you understand the most common reasons that people are surprised by their DNA results, and how to make a decision about whether the shocking DNA results should be shared with other family members or kept private.

If you would like to share your own surprising DNA results, or have a question about something that you read in this post, I would love to hear from you in the discussion below.

Thanks for stopping by!

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