“A mystery DNA match messaged me! What do I do now?” Read this great advice on responding to unexpected DNA connections such as unknown birth relatives, written by genetic counselor Brianne Kirkpatrick.
Sometimes DNA testing leads to unexpected connections, such as surprise birth relatives. What should you do when you hear from a mystery DNA match? Guest author Brianne Kirkpatrick, MS, LCGC, genetic counselor and founder of Watershed DNA, shares the following advice.
Heard from a DNA Mystery Match?
Write them back! Don’t leave someone hanging. If you see a message from a mystery match but don’t have time right then to investigate further, send a quick note to let them know. If you think the match means you just uncovered a surprise discovery, let them know that you appreciate their patience while you look into and figure out the best next-step to take.
Follow through with promises. Reliability is so important. If you reply that you are going to be back in touch, follow up as soon as you can. Each day that passes might seem like a decade to the person waiting on your response, so resist making a promise you can’t or won’t keep. A discovery of a mystery person who now fits in your tree might not seem like big deal to you but could be life-changing for them.
Be slow to make conclusions about relationships. Be aware that DNA companies aren’t always accurate with their predictions. A first cousin match might be a half-sibling, and someone who is ‘close family’ could be a niece, aunt, grandparent, or other relation. If you step in to help narrow down relationships, be methodical and rule in all possibilities before making conclusions. A common mix-up is concluding the wrong brother in a set of siblings is someone’s father. Don’t make this mistake!
Do your best to facilitate contact between close relatives (with consent). If you think you suspect where someone fits in the tree and family members on that branch are alive, aim to connect the mystery match to their closest surviving relative(s). This may be a multi-step endeavor, involving notifying your close relative of the connection, conducting additional DNA testing and analysis to confirm the suspected relationship, and (with consent on both sides) introducing them to each other. After you introduce them, let those immediately involved take the lead in what happens next.”
Reach out to someone you can trust for guidance. If you aren’t sure how to help untangle the mystery, or if you run into a situation where you aren’t sure what is the right thing to do, reach out to someone you can trust. Explain what you’ve discovered and where you are feeling stuck. If you feel like you have stepped into an ethical conundrum, it is okay to pass the baton to a reliable, sensitive relative who can pick up where you leave off.
A few more thoughts
There is no single set of rules for how to proceed when you receive a message from a mystery match. Try to slow down, breathe, and understand that what’s an exciting discovery to one person might be a shock to another. If you can, take some time to learn about the experiences that lead to surprise family member discoveries.
Books like American Baby and The Girls Who Went Away can offer insight into the experience of biological mothers who surrendered infants for adoption, for example. Magazines like the one created by We Are Donor Conceived include perspectives on all sides of donor conception scenarios. When a message arrives in your box, try to offer up what you can when you send your reply.
Communicating with DNA matches isn’t always comfortable. How do you introduce yourself? How much should you say? What do you do if they don’t respond?
About the guest author. Brianne Kirkpatrick, MS, LCGC is a Genetic Counselor and DNA Consultant; Founder and Owner, Watershed DNA; and Author of The DNA Guide for Adoptees and Could the DNA Test Be Wrong?