The Unexpected in DNA Results

Many of us take a DNA test to find our heritage, our family, and sometimes our potential health risks, but what happens when we discover the unexpected in the DNA results?

DNA Surprise
Photo by GiselaFotografie, licensed under CC0 (1.0)

I have been helping a client with locating her birth father through DNA testing. [1] Her mother had always said Joe was the birth father, and that is who is listed on the birth certificate, but the dates of birth and when her mother and Joe got together did not match.  Joe died over 20 years ago, and the mother died a little over ten years ago.

My client took an Ancestry DNA test and, as expected, no family members of Joe’s showed up in the results.  Recently Joe’s twin brother was convinced to take a DNA test and the results showed no genetic link to my client.

Now many would say this was unexpected, but it really was not.  It was suspected that Joe was not her biological father, and the DNA tests only reveled that suspicion to be true.  The unexpected comes later.

The DNA Match Research

To determine who the biological father might be, mirror trees were created based on DNA matches on Ancestry.  Communication was established with some of those who fall into the second to fourth cousin range.  Some were very helpful, some were not, and most did not even respond, but that did not deter the hunt.

After making several mirror trees a few surnames kept appearing in each of those trees; Wilson, Foster, Case, and Lane.[2]  After the names and trees started making connections, all of the trees were merged into one, single tree with all of the DNA matched people in the tree.

With this a single family, and a single man, has been identified as possibly being my client’s biological family.  He is of the correct age, the correct place, and he was in between marriages when my client was born.

There is more work to be done to confirm this link before he, or his family, will be contacted, but it appears to be a solid lead, but this is not the unexpected results referred to in the beginning.

Unexpected Connection

DNA ResultsA third cousin, matching 167 centimorgans across 12 segments, was contacted as a part of the research since their family tree was locked on Ancestry.  While they have been responsive, they have not appeared excited about the search, and a bit weary of communication.  This is understandable, especially when contacted by a stranger regarding their family.

We still do not understand where the genetic connection was made, but I was able to locate a tree and information about the family of this third cousin.  They are African American.  My client is white, and her ethnicity shows a less than 1% African genome.

This was unexpected.

Depending on the age of the person, a DNA result of 167 centimorgans places them at the second cousin once removed to third cousin level, or eight degrees of separation.[3]  This means this person and my client have a 2x or 3x great grandparent in common.  What we have here is the possibility of this cousin being the offspring of a slave and their master in the mid to late 1860s, and my client’s family was the slave owner.

I have not presented this theory with the third cousin yet, but considering some of the communication and surnames being thrown around, along with the DNA matches, I am sure they have figured part of this out.

I do not know if anything will come of this, but I would love to see the connection made and these cousins come together and see each other as family, even if that connection was due to a dark time in history.

Sometimes the unexpected comes from DNA results.

[1] The client has given her expressed permission for generic references to her case in this article.

[2] The surnames have been considerably changed to protect the identities of the client and those living persons who are part of this search.

[3] This relationship conclusion is a combination of the “What does this mean?” link on the Ancestry DNA, and the Shared cM Project located at DNA Painter ( : accessed 7 January 2017)