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Finding Dad through DNA

Updated: Jul 27, 2020

This is a true story that happened right here in Northern Ireland!

A friend told me that she was illegitimate and her Mum wouldn’t tell her who was her father. Eventually she got a name but very little detail, other than he was a Scot and in the army. I’ve changed names so as not to identity anyone, so let’s call my friend Sharon. She asked me if I knew any way I could find out where her father was, if he was still alive. A bit of a tall order, so I suggested DNA testing. Sharon opted for an Ancestry DNA test and the results came through in May 2017, but there was nothing particularly helpful, other than to confirm that her father certainly seemed to be Scottish, both from her ethnicity and also the number of matches who had Scottish names like McDonald, McLean and so on.

I then suggested that if Sharon could persuade her Mum to do a DNA test, we would be more easily able to sort out her matches into maternal and paternal. That was done by November, but there was still no sign of any family related to the name her Mum had given her. It was so frustrating! In February 2019 we thought we had a breakthrough – a 2nd cousin match had appeared, but she had no family tree online! I messaged the person, but she didn’t reply. I tried twice more – still nothing. Even more frustrating…..and Sharon was doubting that DNA testing was any good at all.

Then at the end of February 2020, success! A 1st cousin match appeared who was definitely not on her Mum’s side – and he had an extensive public family tree. I opened it, so excited and expecting to see the surname that Sharon’s Mum had given her…..but no. Now, if this 1st cousin match was correct, it would mean that this guy’s father or mother was a sibling of Sharon’s father. His Uncle would be her Dad. But the names didn’t match at all. His father had 2 brothers - there was a photo on his tree, naming the three brothers. Could her Mum be wrong about the name? Or did she deliberately give Sharon the wrong name to put her off the track? Lots of questions in my head about this!

Sharon asked me to message this 1st cousin (we’ll call him Bob) and carefully explain that she was looking for her father, and what the details were of her birth date, location and so on. Bob acknowledged my message and about 10 days later came back to me and said “I know who Sharon’s Dad is. It’s my Uncle Michael, but he passed away in 2011 and his wife just after. He has 2 sons who live in Canada.” We exchanged photos and there was no doubt – this was Sharon’s paternal family!

Bob was so kind and emailed the eldest of Michael’s sons and carefully explained everything. That son immediately messaged Sharon, welcomed her into the family as his sister and said he didn’t care about what happened all those years ago – she was family. Sharon is now in touch with both her half brothers and a trip to Canada is being sorted out. What a fantastic outcome – but without Bob’s help and the open-hearted attitude of Michael’s 2 sons, it could all have been very different.

This discrepancy in the names had immediately raised a number of questions in Sharon’s mind. Could her Mum be wrong about the name? Or did she deliberately give Sharon the wrong name to put her off the track? Did she just give her any old name to stop her asking? Was her Mum a real ‘swinging Sixties’ girl? That was hard for Sharon to imagine as her Mum was now in her 70s! Sharon’s Mum lives in England and was supposed to be coming over to stay with Sharon and her family for a holiday, but obviously with the Coronavirus pandemic, that wasn’t going to happen any time soon.

Sharon had continued to video call with her new family and her two teenage sons now knew all about what had happened, as they had walked in on a conversation Sharon was having with one of her half brothers. They wanted to know who this was that their Mum was chatting to, and so she sat them down and explained everything. They were astounded and the next evening, Sharon introduced them to their new cousin, a boy of similar age, over a video call. She and her half brother were struck by the similarities between the three boys, both in looks and personality.

Now that the boys knew, Sharon was worried that they would let something slip to their Grandmother when they were talking to her, so she decided she had to talk to her mother. Carefully, she broached the subject of her father, and asked her mother if the name Michael meant anything to her? Her mother was stunned at the question and so Sharon explained about the DNA test and what had subsequently happened. Her Mum broke down.

She explained that she had kept the secret for the last 50 years as she was so ashamed. She had a very difficult childhood where she got no love at home and suddenly there was Michael and also Brian, both of whom paid her attention and were charming. A few drinks were had on a couple of occasions and then she found out she was pregnant. She just wasn’t sure whether Michael or Brian was the father of her baby – but she thought it was Brian; the name she had given to Sharon. Sharon’s Mum told her that she had written her a letter for when she died, explaining all of this and she asked Sharon for her forgiveness. She is going to have a video call with Michael’s sons and is so pleased that all this is now in the open. Sharon says her Mum feels that a heavy burden has been lifted from her and she is now at peace with herself. What a wonderful outcome for everyone!

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