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23andMe Horror Stories: The DNA Tests That Tore Families Apart

‘I’m confident that the decision to buy a stupid $99 gift led to the permanent destruction of my entire family’

This December marks the fifth anniversary of the time Andrew “unintentionally threw a grenade” into his family’s otherwise peaceful holiday plans. “I was 21 and saw 23andMe kits were for sale online, and convinced my dad we should each buy one to see our genealogy,” he tells me. “Five years later, I’m still confident that decision to buy a stupid $99 gift led to the permanent destruction of my entire family.” 

For the uninitiated, 23andMe is a company that provides direct-to-consumer DNA test kits. Customers spit into a test tube, mail it back to the company, and in a few weeks, they’re provided with their DNA analysis. Among other health-related information, 23andMe’s report often details the customer’s genealogy and grants them access to a “relative-matching database,” where they may come across distant or unknown relatives. In the event that several members of the same family get tested, customers are provided with data outlining exactly how related they are, from a genetic standpoint

Being given the opportunity to learn more about your ancestry and genetic makeup surely sounds like a fun gift for your dad, right? Not necessarily, according to the many people who’ve learned the exact opposite the hard way

So, to put your family’s uniquely chaotic holiday gatherings into perspective, we asked Andrew and a few others to tell us about the time 23andMe results completely unraveled their family units.

‘From my bedroom, I could hear them screaming and crying all night’ 

Andrew, 26, New Jersey: Some background to this story is that I’ve always referred to my dad’s friend (we’ll call him John) as my uncle, even though he’s not my dad’s brother. Growing up, he was my dad’s best friend, and he and his wife and my dad and mom were all friends growing up. John’s son, Mark, and I also grew up as if we were cousins, even though we weren’t related. 

Back in 2016, my dad and I were looking through all my grandpa’s old stuff when I got the idea that he and I should do a 23andMe test to see how Italian we were. Our tests came back, though, and basically said we weren’t related. I initially thought the results got screwed up or were inaccurate somehow, which my dad seemed to buy at first. But the database also showed me that I apparently had a half-brother who’d also taken the test. 

It was Mark. I was in shock and didn’t know what to think or believe. I was sure this had all gotten messed up somehow. But when I asked my mom about it, she started bawling and ran out of the room. My dad came out of his office to see what was happening, and I told him about my test, saying I was half-brothers with Mark, which meant John was my biological father. My dad turned purple. 

Before long, my mom and dad and Mark’s mom and dad were all in our living room. I ran up to my room and locked the door. I was furious at all of them, and mad at myself. It felt like I’d gotten the wind knocked out of me. From my bedroom, I could hear them screaming and crying all night. 

My dad and John got into a physical fight, the cops were called and my dad (not John) ended up in the hospital with chest pains. Later that night, I visited my dad in the hospital and we had a long talk about our relationship and how he was still my dad no matter what. 

We’re still close, and I’m still close with my mom, too. But I still struggle with the feeling that I ruined everything else. John and his wife are divorced. Mark hasn’t talked to me since. And my mom and dad are trying to make it work and stay together for my little brother, who, for what it’s worth, has since been proven to be my dad’s.

‘When my dad heard I matched with a cousin of his, he got super excited’

Dennis, 36, Texas: My dad always had a suspicion that I wasn’t his kid. I was the second of four children in a marriage that ended when I was seven. I never felt much of a connection with my dad and that never changed as I got older. He lived in Alabama after the divorce, and we lived in Florida. While he made attempts to get my siblings to live with him, he never really tried with me. I wasn’t as athletic as him, and I was pretty nerdy. 

Unrelated to all that, two years ago I did a DNA test for fun. That’s how I found my dad’s cousin. When my dad heard I matched with a cousin of his, he got super excited. Evidently, this is how he found out that I was his child. (My brother later told me that my dad confessed to him he had always suspected I wasn’t his child.) The results made him want to spend more time with me and make up some of that lost time. All I could do was roll my eyes, really. 

I now live in Texas, and he’s still in Alabama. He recently reached out to me and planned a trip to come visit for my son’s fifth birthday — a son he’d seen only once before — and to meet my 18-month-old son. He also talked about moving down to Texas to be closer to me. It all just seemed to come out of nowhere. 

From what I understand, there was no reason for him to doubt paternity. He was married to my mother, who never strayed. It was just because I didn’t look and act like the rest of my family that he assumed I wasn’t his. After all, how could a star football player end up with a skinny nerd for a son? My siblings have acknowledged that I’d always been treated differently. I think when we were younger, we didn’t notice it enough to really process it. Now it’s an ongoing joke between us. 

Ultimately, I didn’t let this incident bother me, and I haven’t let it change the relationship I have with my dad. I don’t have hostility toward him, but he’s never the first phone call I make when something exciting happens in my life either.

‘When I got my results back, it showed that I had more than 10 half-siblings’

Kate, 29, California: Growing up, I had no inkling whatsoever that my dad wasn’t my biological dad. He never implied he wasn’t, nor did the rest of my family. The only people who knew the truth were the people on my mother’s side — she told them I was the bloodline in case anything were to happen to her. As far as I know, my dad’s side of the family didn’t know I wasn’t “his”; they even said I looked like a great aunt they had. 

Then, just a week ago, I did a 23andMe test to learn more about my heritage. Although I grew up with him, my dad and I weren’t very close, and I knew very little about his background or family history. When I got my results back, it showed that I had more than 10 half-siblings.

At first, I was just like, “Uhhhhh, that’s weird. Maybe the website was inaccurate or something?” So I posted my inquiry to a subreddit dedicated to genetic testing, and pretty much everyone suggested either my mom went to a sperm bank, or my dad was donating sperm. Originally, I thought it was the latter because I never thought my dad wasn’t my real dad. But suddenly, small things from the past started to make sense. For one, I look nothing like him: Both my parents have blue eyes, and mine are brown. I also remembered once asking my mom if I was adopted and her response was, ‘You were planned, believe me, you were planned.’ 

My dad passed away two years ago, so I can’t ask him anything about this whole situation. I always kinda felt like he was in my life because he had to be. I can’t really describe it, but I think we both had an unspoken agreement that we carried on an amenable relationship for appearances only.

Overall, I’m happy this happened when it did. I’ll be 30 soon, and I think the timing was excellent. I understand why my mom did what she did, and my mom’s side of the family reminded me I’ve always been loved and they never viewed me differently, which I thought was kind of silly. Because if that wasn’t the case, then what the fuck? 

My dad’s side of the family, however, still doesn’t know, and I’m not sure if I’ll ever tell them, mainly because I think it would be weird.

I did start reaching out to my half-siblings. We’re all the product of this one dude, and I want to know more about him. A few of them have sent me pictures of him and his sperm application thing, while others don’t want anything to do with me. I realize he probably doesn’t want anything to do with me either, but still, I want to know more, see more pictures and learn about his personality. 

My mom is still alive. She says she always wanted to tell me the truth but could never find the right time to do it. So when I learned about it on my own she was heartbroken. When she received the sperm, they told her to never tell the child. She took the news of my finding out harder than I did, but we’ve always been really close and I think this made us closer.