I want to know why people are opting to make their DNA results public on sites like Ancestry.com, 23andMe.com and MyHeritage.com when they have no intention of responding to messages.
By making your DNA public, you are consenting to having your profile, along with your genetic make up, matched to others with whom you share DNA. It’s not like you have no choice in the matter. There is another option. You can opt to remain private, and by doing so, you don’t risk being matched with some formerly unknown and/or long-lost family member who’s been surfing these sites with baited breath, hoping to make a connection. And yet so many people are foregoing that choice and going with the public option, letting their DNA hang out there for all the world to see.
Case in point: A girl I know who was donor-conceived and who used one of these ancestry sites to learn more about her ethnic and genetic background got an exciting alert recently—you’ve got a hit, she was told. Someone else on the site whose DNA is posted publicly is likely a close family member (and likely, in the world of DNA, equates to 99.9%).
For a girl who has many, many questions about her background, this was like Christmas and Hanukah and Halloween all rolled into one. So she took time to construct a polite and respectful message, indicating she’d love to know more about this person to further determine how they were related. And sent it via the website. And she waited. And waited. And is still waiting. As the mother of a donor-conceived girl myself, it’s hard to watch. It’s been weeks now, and no response. All I can think is:
Why all the silence?
I want to reach through the internet and make contact myself, to say, “Uh, hello—I think you’re missing something here.” For any of you who’ve sent away to one of these sites and posted your DNA profile, keep the following in mind.
Whether it was a gift or something you purchased on your own, clearly you had an interest in learning more about your genetic origins. Your biology. So considering the fact that you’re already aware of the importance of genetic relatedness, how can you not understand that others find it equally (if not more) important?
There’s something incredibly cruel about silence. Silence leaves people in a state of limbo. When a person sends a message to someone they’ve matched with as close family and they hear nothing back, he or she is left with even more questions than before. Was the message ever received? Would it be wise then to send the message again? Or… if it was received, does this mean they have no interest in communicating? Or are they somewhat interested, but just crazed with other things in their own life at the moment? Either way, will sending multiple messages be welcome as a helpful reminder? Or loathed as a further intrusion? With no response and nothing to go on, there’s no way to know.
Then comes the speculating—creating scenario after scenario to explain the silence. Some scenarios may let you off the hook—perhaps they’re on vacation—and others can strike a more troubling chord—like the feeling of rejection.
Here’s the deal: If you send in your DNA and match to a close family member you don’t know, chances are they were either adopted, the product of sperm or egg donation or the result of an affair that went no where. Whatever the case, these people are real. They bleed just as you bleed, hurt just as you hurt. And, in the case of many donor-conceived individuals, they may have been waiting a lifetime to make contact with someone—anyone—on the unknown branches of their family tree.
Not everyone who sends off their DNA is going to get close family results, and even fewer will stumble upon some age-old family secret. So it’s unlikely you’ll receive a message from someone who says, “Hey, I’m donor conceived, and I just discovered through ancestry.com that you’re my half-sibling, which means you, too, are possibly the product of donor conception—a fact your parents failed to share with you. So how’s it going?” Or “What’s up Grandpa? Bet you didn’t know your son was using his family jewels and a plastic cup to make additional income a few years back!” Such stories are still relatively rare—but not for long.
So have a heart, all you DNA publicizers out there. If you’ve allowed your DNA to be posted online, understand that you may very well get a curious and eye-opening email one day from someone you don’t know. At a minimum, respond to that message. Believe it or not, hearing “Sorry, not interested,” is often easier to take than deafening silence. And really, you’ll be doing yourself a favor, as silence doesn’t speak very well of you. Whether your silence is motivated by fear, shock or lack of interest, it shows an utter disregard of others—and that’s significant because knowingly or unknowingly those others who are directly related to you, have likely experienced their fill of rejection and/or abandonment. Why add to that?
If you have no intention of replying to an email from someone who may just want to know where they come from…. hey, that’s your prerogative. But do the kind thing—make yourself private and get the hell off the site.