Minnesota man forms support group for people who uncover family secrets through DNA testing
OTSEGO, Minn. (FOX 9) - Consumer DNA tests like 23andMe and Ancestry can unlock secrets, like your genetic makeup or predisposition towards certain diseases, but sometimes the tests can uncover something that's life-changing.
That was the case for Jim Waydula, whose DNA test altered his life in ways he couldn't have imagined.
"It was kind of a cartwheel and a somersault at the same time," he says. "When you first find out something like this, it's shocking."
As a history buff, Waydula has been fascinated with documenting his family tree for the last 15 years. But he got the surprise of his life when he found out one of the roots of that tree wasn't who he originally thought.
He says, "To find out half your life, yourself, isn't what it was. You think you are part of a certain family and you are not."
Waydula says his wife got him a DNA test kit from Ancestry.com for his birthday three years ago. But he was shocked when the results showed he was more than half Scandanavian -- because his research had shown none in his family history.
"Trying to wrap my mind around it," he recalls. "If mom had a secret or if the rest was wrong.... But I was matching known cousins on my mom's side. So, I was trying to formulate how half a test could be wrong."
Waydula says it turns out the man on his birth certificate was not his biological father. Since his mother died when he was teenager, new relatives uncovered by the DNA test kit eventually led him to his birth father -- which he was able to confirm through another DNA test.
"He had just turned 19 and was a guitar player at a party at a bar," he says. "My mom was there and her marriage was dissolving. Just leave it at that."
"I don't think there are words to describe it," he continues. "Relief and being born again and realizing I have a whole new half of my life. I have to learn about."
Waydula says the discovery answered some life-long questions, like where he got his musical ability, because both he and his birth father play the guitar. But he says, for others, unlocking a family secret can lead to a less than desirable result. "It's an adventure. It can be positive. It can be negative. People have to be prepared for it."
Waydula joined a Facebook group for people in similar situations and started his own support group at a nearby church. He says, by some estimates, 10 to 20 percent of consumers who use DNA ancestry tests get an “NPE” or "not parent expected" result.