More and more people are taking home DNA tests to learn more about their heritage -- but some are finding more than they ever imagined.
Last summer, Deborah Ruffin had no idea her summer vacation and time with family would turn into a reunion of an entirely different kind. The Needham native, who now lives in Connecticut, had given a son up for adoption in 1969.
“I had no job, I had no place for him to live, and I had no money to care for him. However, I had the strong hope that this decision might make it possible for him to grow up happy, healthy and living a good life,” said Ruffin.
Through a series of events in August, Ruffin found out that her prayers had been answered. Her son had in fact grown up in a loving home. Her son, Todd Hynes, was adopted and raised by his foster mother, Beverly Camerlengo, who has served as foster parent to over 300 children.
Todd, who was raised in Massachusetts and now lives in Texas with his wife and two daughters, took a DNA test with an genetic genealogy test.
“I did AncestryDNA simply to find out my genetic makeup because my wife and I were curious about our daughters genetic makeup,” said Hynes. “We didn’t look too much into any connections after the results came back because all were third cousins and beyond.”
But a third-cousin connection reached out to Todd through the Ancestry messaging system, and after some discussion and research, Todd eventually discovered who Ruffin was by contacting her younger sister. Once the connection was made, a reunion was planned on the Cape, where Todd and his family often vacation. The families have been in touch ever since.
“This has been a wonderful and exciting experience, especially because we were able to meet Debbie and a lot of her family so soon after we connected,” said Hynes. “My family was welcomed with open arms and excitement by all.”
Reconnecting with lost family
Hynes and Ruffin are an example of the many people who are now connecting with biological family they have never before met thanks to DNA testing services. Several companies, including AncestryDNA, 23andMe, and MyHeritage offer kits that allow customers to send in saliva samples and find out detailed information about their genetic and ancestral background. Kit costs vary, and offer various levels of information, but several connect customers with others in the database who share genetic ties. More than 12 million people -- about 1 in 25 American adults -- have used an at-home DNA testing service, according to MIT Technology Review.
Kim Fairbank of Wilton, New Hampshire, had been in search of her biological father since age 21, when she was first eligible to sign up for New York’s adoption registry. First put up for adoption in Nyack, New York, in 1967, Fairbank never found a match through the registry, but a DNA sample through MyHeritage connected her with her biological father two years ago.
“I contacted him first when I looked online and saw that I had a match with someone who is either my son or my father,” explained Fairbank. “Given I knew I only had one son, it had to be my father.”
Fairbank appeared live on the TODAY with former host Megyn Kelly over the summer, where she met her father, Tavlos. Tavlos joked that he had taken a DNA test to end a debate with his wife -- they’re both Greek, and they wanted to “see who was more Greek,” he told the talk show host. He was surprised that the test led to a biological daughter -- and two grandchildren.
While the DNA services contacted by baystateparent do not have exact numbers on customers who have connected with family, a 23andMe spokesperson noted that of the customers who choose to participate in their DNA Relatives feature, 95 percent of them connect with a third cousin or closer.
AncestryDNA states on its website: “DNA testing can help you find members of your biological family. To find a relative using DNA, you both need to have taken a DNA test with the same company. This is where you have to get a bit lucky—but even if a person you’re trying to find hasn’t taken the test, a close relative of theirs may have.”
Fairbank said she has no regrets.
“I have been extremely happy with signing up for the DNA service. I knew all along that reaching out to biological family involved risk and reopening old wounds of abandonment,” she said. “However, it was a risk I was willing to take and one I was happy I did, as, at least for me, it had a happy ending. I never thought I would find close biological family and then - seemingly out of the blue - I met my father!”