‘I ruined my family’: a Christmas present that changed three lives forever

Christmas 2021 was a eventful year for Shelby and her family, but not for the reasons she had hoped. Or possibly dear.

A seemingly innocuous gift to her mother, Susan (a fake name used for anonymity), revealed a five-decade-old secret that changed her family forever.

An AncestryDNA test would reveal that Susan’s father was not actually her biological father, taking her on an emotional journey to find the truth.

However, Shelby and her mom are not the only those whose lives were transformed for genetic genealogy kit.

news week spoke to three women whose lives were turned upside down by a Christmas DNA test, for better or worse.

Three women whose DNA kits changed lives
Shelby, Bethany and Baelee had their lives drastically changed because of a DNA kit at Christmas.
Tik Tok

What is a DNA kit?

DNA tests to establish paternity first used in the 1960sbut the tests were only 80 percent accurate and couldn’t distinguish between close relatives.

More accurate tests were developed in the 1970s, with the first crime solved using DNA evidence in 1986.

Consumer genetic testing really started to take off in 2017, with more than 12 million people submitting their DNA to genealogy sites. to learn more about your family history—including 1 in 25 Americans.

By 2019, this number had risen to 26 million.

“I don’t think people understand what they are getting into when they buy a DNA kit”

It was during the boom of 2017 that Shelby bought her mom an AncestryDNA kit.

shelby side profile
Shelby thought she had found the perfect Christmas present for her mother, but the AncestryDNA kit revealed a family secret hidden for more than 50 years.

“I was thinking ‘I’m daughter of the year’ and this is a great gift idea,” she said. news week. “She was so excited to get it too.”

Susan submitted her DNA in early 2018, but when the results came back three weeks later, she was shocked to discover that she is 50 percent Italian.

“There was no Italian in our family,” Shelby said. “She thought it must be a mistake.”

When Susan entered her maiden name into the database and there were no biological matches, she began to get nervous. Shelby began conducting research online, looking at people who appeared as family matches in the AncestryDNA database.

They narrowed down her mother’s biological father to a man, who used to be her grandmother’s and grandfather’s landlord in the mid-1960s.

“Apparently this man used to show up quite a bit during my mother’s childhood,” he said. “He would come and work on cars with my grandfather.”

When Susan called her mother to discuss the results, she denied it, but called back a few weeks later to explain the situation.

“My grandmother said it wasn’t consensual,” Shelby said. “It’s not that we don’t believe him, but we’re only going to get one side of the story.”

Screenshots from Shelby's TikTok about AncestryDNA
Shelby shared her mother’s story on TikTok, which went viral, receiving more than 18,000 views.

Unfortunately, Susan wasn’t able to ask her birth father any questions, as he died in 2014. Her children didn’t want to talk to Susan, but luckily, a first cousin reached out to help fill in some gaps.

“She’s the sweetest lady in the whole wide world,” Shelby said. “She calls her all the time and they talk on the phone.”

Susan’s biological father was married with three children. Susan will always wonder what traits she inherited from her father, especially since she doesn’t look much like her siblings and has a very different personality.

The results made her question her identity, but after attending therapy, Susan decided to train as a trauma coach and use her experience to help others in similar situations.

Shelby shared her story in a video on TikTok in 2020, along with the caption “How I ruined my family in one day.”

The clip went viral, receiving more than 18,000 views. He doesn’t regret buying the DNA kit for his mother, but he wishes there was more information about the possible results.

“I’m not the one who lied about anything, but I wish I’d given it more thought,” she said.

“I don’t think people understand what they’re getting into, especially with so many people buying them as gifts.”

“My dad wasn’t entirely surprised, but even though he hurt him, I’m so happy to have gained a sister.”

Until the age of 32, Baelee believed that she was an only child. That was until she gave her dad (Steve, a fake name used for anonymity) a genealogy kit for Christmas 2020 so she could complete his family tree on 23andMe.

Baelee and her sister Lauren
Baelee (right) was 32 years old when she found out her sister Lauren existed.

When the mother-of-two received the results a month later, she was shocked to discover that Steve, 70, was not her biological father.

“My birth dad never knew I existed. He and my mom had a brief fling in the ’80s and then he moved back to Arizona,” Baelee said. news week.

She had no DNA results on 23andMe, as did a DNA kit from Ancestry, in which she was matched to her biological father.

After looking it up Facebook, she realized that she looked a lot like her 25-year-old daughter Lauren. Since then, the couple have become close, with Lauren flying to California to visit Baelee and her two children on a regular basis.

“We talk on the phone all the time and I honestly feel like she’s one of my best friends,” she said.

“We think alike and have a connection that I’ve always wanted.”

When Baelee first confronted her mother, she denied it, but eventually came clean and gave her the information she needed to find her birth father. However, telling Steve was difficult. “I recently broke the news to my father, who was hurt and not entirely surprised considering his tumultuous marriage,” she said.

Baelee has since met her biological father, 65, and describes him as a “very nice and welcoming man.” However, the news is still raw and she doesn’t feel ready to enter into a relationship with him.

He also discovered that he has two other biological sisters, in addition to Lauren, and a brother. She hasn’t met them yet, but she hopes to meet her sister Chelsea in the new year.

Baelee and her sister Lauren
Two years later, Baelee and Lauren are best friends.

Although the experience was traumatic, Baelee would do it all over again to have Lauren in her life.

“It’s been a roller coaster, but in the end I got a sister that I always wanted,” she said.

“I hate being lied to for 32 years, [but] I’m glad I didn’t find out until I was older. I’m in a good place to properly deal with the situation.”

“I never had a dad growing up, but I found out I had seven more kids”

Unlike Shelby and Baelee, 22-year-old Bethany Bolton grew up without a father figure, biological or otherwise. Raised by a single mother in Surrey, in the south of the UK, Bolton was a teenager when she started asking about her biological father.

Bethany Bolton
Bethany Bolton was 22 when she sent in the Ancestry DNA kit her sister bought her as a Christmas present.
Bethany Bolton

“All I had in my life was my mother, and that’s all I needed,” she said.

“But when I turned 13, I decided I wanted to know more about him.

“When I reached out to my mom, she told me everything that happened in their relationship.”

Although Bolton has always been close to his mother, it was clear that his father would never be a healthy presence in his life. However, over the years, Bolton wondered if he had changed his attitude and decided to start looking for him.

Her sister gave her an AncestryDNA kit as a Christmas present in 2021 to help her track it down.

Sadly, she was never able to meet the man she believes to be her biological father. The results led to a match with a relative of his, so Bolton reached out, only to find out that he had passed away.

“I decided to try to keep an open mind, as this was just a possibility,” he said.

“She had seven more children, but unfortunately the woman never contacted me about them again.”

After joining a DNA group on Facebook, a search angel confirmed that the man was most likely Bolton’s biological father. Search angels, like MyHeritage pro bono projecthelp reunite people with their families through research and testing—including adoptees.

She said those who knew the man don’t want to talk about him or “reopen old wounds.”

“I decided from the moment I started my journey, that if my father didn’t want me in his life, then I would respect his decision,” she said.

“Now, even if it’s not him, I have to respect the decisions of these people not to allow me to meet my brothers.

“While I may not have gotten to know my father, I like to think that at the end of his life, he was a different man. A good person.”

If you have a family dilemma, please let us know at life@newsweek.com. We can ask experts for advice and your story could appear in Newsweek.

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