DNA home test kits are booming in popularity, but there's a unexpected phenomenon that comes with uncovering family history.
For some, the results are shocking - exposing decades-old buried secrets, and reshaping entire families.
KIRO7's Deedee Sun talked to four people with unique stories of unexpected DNA results who were able to find support through an online group that helped them through the trauma.
"It's been like a whirlwind,” said Gregory Loy of Oak Harbor.
Four people had their lives turned upside down by home DNA test kits, like 23andMe.
“My face looks like a stranger's face,” said Kara Deyerin, who lives in Seattle.
“I was actually kind of fearful of it,” said David Wrate, of Victoria, BC.
“I felt like an emptiness just - it just overpowered me,” said Alesia Weiss, who lives in Bothell.
Seattle born and raised, Kara Deyerin knew who she was.
“Half white, half black,” Deyerin said.
She shared a photo of the parents on her birth certificate. Her dad wasn’t there much.
“I was raised by a single mom,” Deyerin said.
But she says growing up, she spent a lot of time with her grandparents on her dad’s side.
“So I was raised biracial,” she said.
It's a part of her identity she says people constantly challenged.
“People would look at me and go, 'No, you're not half black. You're Greek, you're Italian, you’re Armenian, you're Hispanic,'” Deyerin said. “I spent my whole life defending my identity. Actually had a picture of my father in my pocket, or my phone nowadays, because people would say, 'Really? What's he look like?'”
She got to know her dad as an adult and wanted to learn more.
“I always wondered where in Africa my father was from, and he had no idea. We traced it back to two slave brothers who came from the Horn of Africa, but we didn't know anything beyond that. So for Christmas we decided to do a DNA test,” Deyerin said.
That was last Christmas, and it changed her life.
“I had zero African-American DNA,” she said. “It's almost as if time slows down. You’re sick to your stomach, time speeds up, everything happens slowly and quickly.”
At first she thought it was a mistake, but then then she understood.
“I cried. I cried,” Deyerin said.
Each person who was a part of the panel said they didn't realize how much of who you are is built upon your family's history.
“I look at it as a house being knocked off its foundation in a tornado. I mean that's what you feel like. You've just been through a tornado and the house is off the foundation. And now you have to pick up those pieces and put them back together,” Deyerin said.
They are far from alone.
All are part of a social media group of nearly 6,000 people nationwide who all have a "Not Parent Expected" or NPE..
They're connected through a secret Facebook group, called "DNA NPE Friends.
Some are "out" - they've told their families and friends.
Many others have uncovered secrets they're choosing to keep to themselves, but all have found
support from the group.
“The group - what it did for me when I found it about a little over a year ago - it brought such relief that I was not alone,” Weiss said.
Alesia Weiss from Bothell got interested in genealogy about a decade ago.
She knew her dad was Welsh, Irish, and Scottish. Her mom, German and Swiss.
She took an Ancestry.com test to hopefully expand her family tree.
Instead, the results reshaped half of it.
“I almost passed out. I was home, opened my computer up, and I get an email saying this test has come up, and I looked at it, and I literally almost fell on the floor,” Weiss said.
“I was 52 percent Jewish and I had no idea,” she said.
Science forced out the truth.
“My mother was married at the time and had an affair,” Weiss said.
The dad who raised her knew.
“They never told me, he died in ‘93. He took it to the grave,” she said.
David Wrate of Victoria, BC, grew up knowing he was adopted, but he didn't know his ethnicity.
“I could've been Greek, Italian, First Nations, anything,” Wrate said. “Basically my whole life I've wanted to know - what am I?” he said.
A DNA test kit told Wrate he was 50 percent Chinese.
“Before that you had no idea you were any percentage Asian?” KIRO 7’s Deedee Sun asked. “None,” Wrate said.
“What was your reaction when you found out you were half Chinese?” Sun asked.
“I was quite relieved. Because – finally,” Wrate said.
Then there's Gregory Loy of Oak Harbor.
Because of DNA home test kits, he found out he was a sperm donor baby.
“At first I chalked it to, hey, cool, whatever. But then it kind of sets in and it hits you. And you realize that you don't know who you are at all. You look in the mirror, you don't know whose face you see. You are half. And half your medical history is wrong, it's blank,” Loy said.
Finding answers also came with pain – and not just for themselves.
Loy said his parents - his dad especially - still struggle with the truth.
“My birth certificate father, we have not talked about it. He’s continued with the original path, he has not admitted any of it happened,” heh said.
Weiss’s mother was forced to face a decades-old affair.
“Was it difficult for your mom to hear you'd found out?” Sun asked.
“It was horrible for her. She was so ashamed. I had to say it again and again and again, 'Mom, you don't need to be ashamed about this. There's no reason. Because if you're ashamed mom, you're ashamed of me,'” Weiss said.
Deyerin eventually found her birth father but says that family has rejected her.
“There's a lot of shame and there's shame from the parents, shame from the kids, shame from the relatives,” she said.
But they've each also found incredible joy.
Loy is meeting his biological dad soon.
Wraite just met a half-sister and other family.
Weiss has met many of her cousins.
Deyerin has met cousins as well.
Plus, they've all discovered the truth.
“Would you do it again?” Sun asked.
“Absolutely. I think most of us, there's something in the background, you just know something is just not quite right. You're missing something. And the pieces just fall into place once you can figure it out. And it helps to make you whole,” Deyerin said.
“Even if you might have to reevaluate who you are - it's worth it?” Sun asked.
“All it's going to give you is the truth. You are who you are. And I don't want to live a lie,” Loy said.
That is what brings them together - sharing online and in support meetings.
The DNA home test kits are uncovering family secrets buried in the 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s – times when women had fewer rights, and hiding the truth could mean protecting your child.
“I think that it's a phenomenon now, but I hope that in the future going forward it won’t be as much of a phenomenon because people are more open,” Deyerin said.
“I think the more we talk about it, the more comfortable people are. And we're not alone - that's the biggest thing,” she said.
23andMe does have trained staff to help people through cases where DNA tests come back with unexpected results.
There will also be an in-person DNA NPE meetup Saturday, June 20, 10 a.m. - 3 p.m. in Seattle’s Phinney Ridge neighborhood, for people looking for support or who are just interested.
To register, contact Weiss at firstname.lastname@example.org
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