Question of the Week: What surprises did you find from DNA testing?

+21 votes

500px-Question_of_the_Week-12.pngWhat surprises did you find from DNA testing?

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in The Tree House by Eowyn Walker G2G Astronaut (1.8m points)
I have a LOT of relatives, alive & dead. I also found out I have a 3rd cousin, but shes adopted so we are researching her to see how we have become cousins. I also found out my grandparents were not fom small families but had 8 or 9 siblings! Surprise!
1) In 23andme provided me close matches to a those from a specific village in Jakubany, Slovakia, a small town of about 2,000.  The only information I found prior was 'Austria Hungary' on family records.  Through the I found the cousin that helped compile and publish the records.  Ron helped me to determine a lineage of over 300 years in this one town.

2)  My father's extensive Family Tree YDNA tests got us involved in a project that matched our DNA to a Roman era individual 200-400AD found buried in a Roman era cemetery in York, England.

This FT project helped to explain the geographic anomoly of a DNA plume found reaching into eastern Asia / Russia represented in from the DNA of my siblings, myself and cousins from 4 generations with DNA tests. This is apparently due to the ancient Yamnaya culture. See

3) Multiple levels of testing of my mtDNA gives me matches that are 99% from Norway.  I am trying to learn if this is from Norweigans immigrating to Lithuania where my mother's mother's family is from or if Lithuania was invaded by Norway.  The Swedes did invade Lithuania in the 1630's.

4) I learned that each of these tests give me different results because they may be different tests (YDNA, metDNA or autosomal) each has a different database and uses different algorithms.  Each has been an eye opener and provided me deeper insight into my family roots.

5)  I now better understand the results of family members having inherited different DNA from the same parents.  How one or two siblings or 1st or 4th or 5th cousins may have a DNA match to a family line back 5 or 6 or so generations while the others may not.  The DNA has helped to prove the genealogy and vice versa.  Really interesting stuff.
My Mother in Law had a half sister no one had any idea about.

My Father has a possible half sister he had no idea about, and still doesn't...  

My mom's GGGrand Father wasn't a civil war hero. He was a murdering rapist in the Indian wars of the western USA.

Surprise, Surprise, Surprise
That I have a mysterious half first cousin on my mom's side. He was adopted. Hmmmmm. ???? Mama would roll in her grave. LOL!
At age 53, I learned that my daddy was not my father. And, just how deeply my mother loathes me.
I tested on FTDNA in 2006 doing a 67 marker test. Since then, the only match I have is my 2nd cousin. I also tested a few years ago for snp's, same results, 1 match same person.

80 Answers

+12 votes
Best answer
My deep colonial Rhode Island roots aren't nearly as deep as I thought.  Irish Famine migration, not Puritan Great Migration!
by Lisa Hazard G2G6 Pilot (186k points)
selected by PE Rosner
Hi,my Grtggggggg Uncle settled/founded Rhode Island,one was Governor,and my 13th?  (I haven't got my tree in front of me,could be 14th). My two grtgggggg Uncles,Sir William Lovelace and his brother Sir Richard Lovelace settled Hatten Island,they built the Lovelace Tavern, they were Governors of New York, Sir William the father was with other family members ,the Wroths and the Sandys,Talbots, and others, were the founders  of the East India Company..His Daughter,Lady Anne Lovelace married Rev John Gorsuch,and these are my GrtgggggggGrandparents,William and his wife,Lady Elizabeth Aucher, are also 13th great Grandparents to Prince Charles,and Elizabeth was half 13th Grt Grandmother to Princess Diana,and 9th Great Grandmother to President Lincoln....
Very cool!  My great grandfather's adoptive father's family goes back to one of the founders of Newport, among other people.  Lots of colonial Rhode Island roots, just no genetic connection to them.  His biological father appears to have been an Irish hack driver from Providence.
+14 votes
My mother, my sister and I have now all done a DNA test. We each have a slightly different ethnicity that is unique to us and is not shared by the others. The three of us are of European and British/Celtic/Irish ancestry

My mother has Ashkenazi Jewish and Central Asian ancestry

My sister has Native American ancestry

I have Middle Eastern ancestry.

These are all in small amounts - less than 4% - but we have no idea where these come from!!  LOL

I cannot wait to find out....
by Robynne Lozier G2G6 Pilot (958k points)
could that have been any more unique between the three of you. My daughter and I just had this conversation this morning. She'll love to hear it.
You are expected to get about 6.25% of your DNA from each of your  g-g-grandparents. So if exactly one is Native American, you could easily see that showing at about 4% in your DNA.

That said, unless you have some knowledge that a g-g-grandparent has one of these ethnicities, the trace amounts are most likely “noise” arising from imprecision in the models used to estimate ethnicity and in small portions of your DNA that just resemble, by chance, portions possessed by some people with those ethnicities.

Trace ethnicities (under 5%) are notoriously unreliable and should be ignored unless there is good genealogical research to suggest an ancestor of that ethnicity.
If one looks at my tree, I have all 16 of my g-g-grandparents listed. NONE of them were from the Middle east, Asia or America.

However 3 of those g-g-grandparents do have UNKNOWN parents themselves so it may still be a possibility.

In general, I have to agree that these ethnicities are probably just "noise"
It is not surprising that they have different ethnicities since having identical family trees does not translate into having identical genetic ethnicity. The ethnicity tests could be totally accurate and precise and you would still see this.

I see it clearly in my own DNA, with my 1/8 Swiss tree being overrepresented by about a factor of 2 in my DNA. I don't attribute this necessarily to problems with the ethnicity test models but rather with me happening, by chance, to get more DNA from my Swiss g-grandmother, at the expense of some other g-grandparents providing less than 1/8 of my DNA.
I found out I have Italian & Sardinian and absolutely no idea where they came from!
+14 votes
My DNA matched with somebody who was told that his grandmother was somebody else … now he found out that is is true that his grandmother belonged to my family ! I am happy for that person
by Mia Fournier G2G6 (6.7k points)
+12 votes
I was surprised just by the fact that sisters have different DNA. Originally, my sister and I chipped in for the cost of the testing with my sister supplying the sample (control freak). She discussed her results with the Ancestry people and they informed her that we each need to test because our results will be different. I said I would also test just to prove I was more Italian than she (I was joking, but I am). As far as our actual results, there are no surprises. Everything seems to pretty well match the paper trail. I have some "new" cousins who were surprised though.

One found that her father was not her sperm donor.

Another, who's father was adopted, found that he descended from a famous enslaved person (there is a whole following and even a play made about her life).

My husband was surprised that he was neither German, nor Jewish. He, and his family, assumed that because Moises was a family name that they were descended from Jews from Germany (there were Jews from Germany that emigrated to his native Colombia). He is actually 1/3 Native American, 1/3 Spanish (European, as in from Spain), and 1/3 Indigenous South American.
by Lucy Selvaggio-Diaz G2G6 Pilot (559k points)

It's true! Even full-siblings will have slightly different ethnicity results, due to the recombination. You and your sister are both 50% mom and 50% dad, but unless you're identical twins, you didn't necessarily inherit the same 50% from each of them. So if one's mom is (for example) 5% Ashkenazi Jewish, one sibling might inherit 3% of that and the other only 1%.

Identical twins will have different ethnicity results.
+12 votes
Surprises? I've got a few.

1. I found out that my great-grandfather had a daughter out of wedlock. Her descendants are DNA matches.

2. I found connections to some cousins I knew about. Some I didn't.

3. Even though my estimates match my tree, I found a few surprises like Turkey and the Middle East in there. It's on my dad's and my great-aunt's estimates, too. I suppose it makes sense give the history of southern Italy.

4. I match a ton of people whose ancestors were at my parents' wedding. Not surprising. Just really cool to see right out of the gate.

5. I found that my 2x great-grandparents had many more siblings than I thought I did.

That's all I can think of right now. =D
by Chris Ferraiolo G2G6 Pilot (478k points)
+13 votes
None, so far, but I’ve got hopes!
by Pip Sheppard G2G Astronaut (2.2m points)
Isn't it disappointing when you shake the family tree and no nuts fall out?
I was (am) the nut, Rob!
Pip, the results are in. You are descended from the house of Martok. Here's your bat'leth. You are to join them in their blood feud with the house of Duras. Qa'pla!

Don't worry, man. You'll find surprises some day. Then they'll ask for your money! ....Or a liver!

(Eww. That's gross. Should have quit while I was ahead.)
Hahahaha!!!!!! Touché!
+12 votes
I discovered that one of my great-grandmothers had a previously-unknown child born after she separated from my great-grandfather in the early 1940's (that she was pregnant at the time was unexpected, considering that she was 47 years old), and that one of my great-aunts had a child out of wedlock in the 1940's before she married.
by C Handy G2G6 Pilot (136k points)

Caitlin Mcnamara (widow of the famous poet Dylan Thomas) had a child born when she was 49.

+15 votes
I have been surprised at the nearness of my husband’s DNA ethnicity estimate and mine.

He is 66% England, Wales and Northern Europe, 34% Ireland and Scotland.

 I am 63% England, Wales and Northern Europe, 37%   Ireland and Scotland.

He has a dark suntanned look that both my children have inherited. When I look so very pale, and without makeup I think I look ready for a headstone.
by Alexis Nelson G2G6 Pilot (466k points)
+23 votes
I had to re-do half my tree when I did the DNA test. It's been an interesting journey for sure. I am very grateful to the Adoption Angels and Emma MacBeth in particular. Life-changing experience.
by Anon Anon G2G6 Pilot (246k points)
Susie -

Me, too - had to redo half of my tree. I know exactly how you feel. Well, maybe not exactly because it turns out that my mom is quite the character! But I definitely know a lot about how you're feeling. I haven't worked with the Adoption Angels - but only because my new sister had already figured out who I was! Life-changing is putting it mildly. Would I do it again, knowing what I now know - yes. It's been HARD, but the additions to the family are worth every minute of it.
Thanks, Jana. Feel free to message me anytime you'd like to do. It's good to connect with someone who knows what it's like.
I feel for both of you!

You should start your own support group - perhaps call it the "DNA Survivors"

good idea! I know there are more of us out there!smiley

and it is HARD to go through this - especially when you find out disturbing things about parents!

+17 votes

I have not had any surprises personally.  All my parents, grandparents, etc. for several generations are just who I thought they were.


But I continue to be amazed at how the results can be life-changing, and how many people just don't have any idea what they might be getting themselves in for.


Last week I attended a class in which DNA was discussed and a woman announced to the class that she was really mad at Ancestry because they had screwed up her sister's DNA test, saying that her sister was her half-sister, and that she and her sister only matched by around 1600 cM.  Maybe I should have kept my mouth shut, but I did suggest to her that the results probably were not wrong, and suggested some ways to evaluate the results.


About two years ago a very strong match to my mother showed up on Ancestry.  I contacted him to ask if he knew how we were related because he did not have a tree.  He responded right away that he did not know who his father was.  It did not take me long to see what neither he nor his half-sister had comprehended.  I helped put them in touch, feeling rather traumatized by the knowledge of how I might be disrupting people's lives.  But it had a happy ending.  The sister was pleased to meet her half-brother, and the man found the family he had never known, and told me many times how grateful he was.


I have intervened in a few more cases since then.  So far nothing bad has happened, other than me being worried.  Just today a man told me he had had a long telephone conversation with an aunt he had never known.  Due to major dysfunction in the family's past, neither of them had known their relatives.  I love happy endings!  I really believe that once someone takes a DNA test, the truth will out, and sometimes I have the skills to help them along, and so I do.

by Julie Kelts G2G6 Pilot (476k points)
Me too.  I have  89% southern England predominantly Hampshire, Dorset, Devon.  7% Wales and Scotland .  The rest is Northern Europe.   I had a Grandfather Thomas George Clarke but only know his name on my Mother and Aunt’s birth certificates.  No marriage lines appears he was a bigamist, discovered later on. No knowledge of his place, date of birth etc.  So I have a line missing.  It looks like he also probably came from  the south too.
+12 votes

It was exactly like my father said it would be - no surprises. No extra siblings either. Now my husband's was very interesting! A few unknowns popped up:) He is even related to Alexander Hamilton way down the line! 

by Mary Alvarado G2G5 (5.8k points)
Alexander Hamilton? Really? That is so cool!!!
+10 votes
My sister did a 23 and me DNA test. She said she would send me one sometime soon. When I looked at hers. I was surprised to see that we are part Finnish. I was surprised as well to find Tongan, and some New Zealand in there too
by Paul Kreutz G2G6 Mach 7 (76.4k points)
+18 votes

Judging from the threads posted on a genetic genealogy forum I frequent...

"This test says this person I've never heard of is my half-sibling, is this a scam?" For some reason, people jump on unexpected DNA matches being a "scam" with the quickness. It's amazing to me that people bought into Enron, nodding the entire time with dollar signs dancing in their eyes, but yeah, AncestryDNA just has it out for your family for some reason.

"I found unexpected DNA matches, there must be an NPE in this person's ancestry." The NPE is always in the other person's tree, hmmm? Sure. /sips tea

"I have 15 half-sibling matches, they told me they're donor-conceived but I asked my parents and my dad said he never donated sperm. What do??" You were also donor-conceived and your parents are lying to you.

"I'm matching with a relative but we have some crazy high cM percentage [ex: 63% of DNA shared instead of the normal 50% with a parent], what is going on?" I really hate to be the bearer of bad news, but this is usually an indication of incest.

And my personal favorite...

"I don't match my dad at all, but this test is bunk because my mom is a very religious Mormon and she'd NEVER cheat on my dad!!" Complete with tearful followup shortly thereafter when she confronted her mom and her mom spilled the truth.

by Jessica Key G2G6 Pilot (210k points)
+12 votes
My sister & I only share 39.1% of our DNA.

A 1st cousin had a child none of us knew about.

My paternal grandmother's paternal grandfather changed his name when he arrived in Australia & we have managed to track down who he really was.

We have several matches where our MRCAs were born in the 1750s.
by Vivian Egan G2G6 Mach 7 (78.3k points)

Hi, Vivian. Just a FWIW, but 39.1% is actually just a little over the average sharing amount between full siblings. So you're golden!  smiley

+13 votes
I found NPEs on pretty much every branch of mine and my wife's family tree, at every single generation. It's been fascinating that it's really added to our identity in certain ways but really changed nothing in most ways.  

Ethnicity testing also revealed that my wife was Jewish, great-grandmother on the maternal line, which she did not know. DNA cousin-matching then helped figure out how that all happened and why no one knew.

I discovered my African-American ancestry, which I quickly traced back to free blacks in North Carolina and early colonial America.

And so much more. DNA has been remarkable.
by Davis Simpson G2G6 Mach 2 (22.0k points)
+10 votes
The first surprise I found was that my 3rd great-grandfather was the biological father of a daughter born prior to his first marriage. He may not have known of her existence.

The closest to home surprise was that my Grandpop had a half-brother who was put into a Catholic orphanage. His mother (my great-grandmother) was an unmarried divorcee and from the records I could find, she tried to keep her son. The father totally abandoned them and provided no support. I have no idea if the Church forced her to give him up. I was told by the archivist that it was a situation he'd never seen before - most illegitimate children were born at the Catholic hospital and adopted right from birth.  Her son however, was baptized and it appears didn't go into the orphanage until later. It may even be possible that he was raised a short time with my Grandpop (they were 22 months apart in age)!
by Jana Shea G2G6 Mach 2 (29.0k points)
+11 votes

Nothing of real interest yet, turns out my mum is my mum, she used to tease me that maybe I was swapped at the hospital with the other little girl born same day. 

Mum's ethnicity came back 2% Ashkenazi Jewish

Where as mine came back 2.8% Italian. I have more Irish than Mum does. 

I did read somewhere that it's possible those low percentages are simply 'white/background noise'. Please don't ask me to explain it LOL but I get where the article was going with the idea. 

However due to not knowing my father, I did find some one who is from my father's side but I've had no reply from them after more than a week. However its only coming up as possible 1st cousins twice removed - 4th cousins. 

I'm not very educated at Gedmatch & Family Finder yet, but I have ruled out those on Gedmatch that match both my mum & my dna results. 

Unfortunately Mum passed away before my DNA results came in so I'm trying to teach myself a few things.  

by Kylie Glynn G2G6 (6.1k points)
Kylie, the FTDNA pool is not as big as some of the others, although GEDmatch extends it some.  If you want to go farther, I recommend uploading to MyHeritage, and taking an AncestryDNA test.  Both have very large databases of prospective matches (although both come with lots of junk mail, subscription requests to be ignored!).
Thanks Rob, we actually had my dna done by My Heritage first.

And just recently sent off my Ancestry DNA kit, now to play the waiting game again!

And yes already seeing the Ancestry spam. Btw do you know if you have to subscribe to Ancestry to see your DNA results?  I didn't think of it until I sent it off. Silly I know.
No, full access to your DNA and matches comes with the DNA test and results.  If I remember right, you can even enter some tree info, but with limited access to sources and other trees and hints.  They'll dangle some hints and info in front of you, in hopes of enticing you to subscribe, very much like MyHeritage does.  I'm not sure they let you look at the trees of your DNA matches though.
Thanks again Rob :)

Thankfully mum had paid for a year on My Heritage not too long before she passed away.

My daughter currently has 6 months subscription with ancestry (half price when we did her DNA) so hopefully we can use the information we both find and use her account for searching etc.

Really appreciate the replies Rob, thanks :)
+8 votes
I am a 4% match with someone who I had no idea how I was related to. Her (deceased) mother was adopted (born 1921) and she did not know the mom's birth parents. Assuming she was a second cousin, I realized that one of her mother's birth parents had to be my father's or mother's aunts or uncles. By a process of elimination, I reduced it down to 2 possibilites, one aunt or one uncle on my mom's side.  I found out that my match could write to the adoption agency in Kansas City Missouri and get the name of the birth mother. She did that and it proved that our relative in common was my mom's uncle.  Subsequent DNA matches on 23 and Me and MyHeritage confirmed this relationship.

So do I qualify as an adoption angel?
by Mark Burch G2G6 Pilot (144k points)
edited by Mark Burch
Nice work!  You were an 'adoption angel' for her!
+8 votes
My biggest surprise was that my half sister is a step sister. It was quite an unpleasant shock to her. However, since that time she has connected with her bio family, which has been a good thing. Second learning my great grandfather was born out of wedlock which essentially changes the family surname that I have been researching. People tend to keep secrets. With todays technology that has become more difficult.
by Dee Bekman G2G4 (4.7k points)
+7 votes
We found an unexpected close relative.
by Joan Durso G2G1 (1.1k points)

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