NewsNational News


Using DNA to help people find their biological families

Does testing ignore privacy rights?
Posted at 8:01 AM, May 21, 2018

DENVER, Colorado — Katherin Silvas has spent a lifetime wondering where she came from. When she was a baby, she was adopted.

“You feel kind of alone,” Silvas said.

She only knows a few things about her biological mother; she was 15 years old when she had Katherin, and she is from Kentucky.

"I even went to the extent of giving my biological mother a name. I called her Cindy,” Silvas said.

She started searching and reached out to the adoption agency but they didn't have any information they could give her. That’s when she head about an option using DNA testing.

"This thing on that and quest were offering like x amount in promo DNA test for adopted or adopted related families," Silvas said.

She thought trying to track down her biological family using DNA might be the answer.

"I know how hard it is to feel alone and how hard it is to even make the decision to try and contact them," Silvas said.

The process has only just begun. She's received a test kit from MyHeritage. The company will then look for any DNA connections it may have in its system.

"I have to tell you so far we've already had thousands of people apply. You know when you say compelling, I mean heartbreaking," said Rafi Mendelsohn with MyHeritage. "We've seen and almost been surprised actually how for adoptees it's incredibly powerful and the technology is. It can be incredibly powerful for those searching for their biological family, so we're going to be sending out 15,000 kits."

DNA can connect people to anyone else who has already taken the test.

"Everyone receives matches. Whether you receive matches to your parents or siblings, it depends who's taking the test. Even if you don't as an adoptee get a match with the parent or the sibling you're looking for, we've seen so many cases where people have had a match with an uncle or even a second or third fourth cousin and it's through that match that they're able to close the loop," Mendelsohn said.

One of the biggest concerns is privacy, people who've given up a baby for adoption who did so with an understanding that it would be completely private, not knowing that DNA technology years later could ignore that.

"For someone who may have over a long period of time built up expectations for whatever reunion would look like they would be very disappointed if it didn't go the way that they had hoped," said Ryan Hanlon with the National Council for Adoption. 

He thinks it can be problematic; some people don't want to be found and when people go looking it can end in heartache.

"For those instances where an individual doesn't want to be found or doesn't want to be connected to it can be disconcerting for them," Hanlon said.

But others point to the examples of good outcomes times when people are able to reunite.

That's why Silvas is looking forward to the possibility of finding her biological family even if there's a risk she will be disappointed.

"It's a need to feel connected with anyone else on this globe besides my daughter," she said.