DNA test unveils ‘disgusting’ WWII family secret
Interest in DNA testing has more than doubled in the past year as Australians turn in droves to cheap, home tests to discover their family history.
Genealogy company Ancestry, which sells DNA tests for as little as $129, has banked more than 15 million samples from around the world since 2015, up from just 7 million in early 2018.
Head of International Programming, Brad Argent said Australians were helping to fuel the market in a surge he never anticipated.
"(Interest) appears to be growing and growing increasingly," he said.
"It's not a steady, slow interest it's a rapid interest."
Speaking to News Corp Australia before the nearly sold-out DNA Down Under conference, Mr Argent said the event was proof of the trend with hundreds of hobbyists packing out venues around the country.
Improvements in technology and a rise of consumer interest have now cemented the home testing kits a popular gift, but they can have a dark side.
New South Wales man, Richard Dutkiewicz, 73, took a test he was given by his wife Carol for a bit of fun, but instead discovered his father - who he was told died in World War II - had gone on to have another family.
"It was just so disgusting that they never sort of told me," Mr Dutkiewicz said of his mother's decision to take the secret to her grave.
"I lost a lot of faith in human nature that day."
From his home in Malua Bay, on the south coast, Mr Dutkiewicz matched through Ancestry with a woman named Christina Woodring in California who he later discovered was his half-sister.
The pair met for the first time in February in a reunion Mr Dutkiewicz said was indescribable.
The kit is simple to use and involves spitting into a tube, which is sent to a lab where more than 700,000 genetic markers are tested.
Users have the option to access the full package and be matched through the company's website with relatives who have also taken the test, or just receive a report which estimates their ethnic origins.
Mr Argent said paternal DNA shocks were rare but had a massive impact on everyone involved and needed to be navigated carefully.
"The vast majority opt in to family match, most people want to find something out," he said.
"Some people are just interested in ethnicity stuff.
"My advice to anybody out there thinking 'I'd like to use this as a way to unlock some of these secrets' is, it's definitely possible but make sure you're prepared for it."
For Vicki Small, of Bathurst, NSW, the tests helped her discover who her biological-father was after growing up as an adoptee.
After decades of sifting through files and coming up against brick walls, it was home a DNA test that allowed Mrs Small, now in her 60s, to finally confirm his name and connect with two of her half-sisters.
Now she helps other people search for their biological parents through her organisation, Australian DNA Hub.
"I am forever indebted to the science community to developing the DNA testing method," she said.
"There's nothing worse than not knowing who you are."
There is one way to keep the past in the past and avoid shock DNA results according to Mr Argent - read the fine print.
He stressed Ancestry had an opt-in method for family matches and allowed users to delete their data at any time, but recommended people always be careful when uploading their genetic data to third-party websites.
"We live in a just click accept society," Mr Argent said.
"This isn't just like putting in your credit card details, this is you."
HOW ANCESTRY TESTS DNA
- The user provides a sample of their DNA by spitting in a tube and then mails it off.
- A lab in the US analyses more than 700,000 markers in the DNA several times to get an average result.
- A report is provided to the user with an estimated breakdown of their ethnic background.
- If they have opted into family matching, they will be told if they are related to other people who have done the test who have agreed to be matched.
- A 'confidence match' percentage indicates how closely two people are related.