Over the past five years, as the price of DNA testing kits has dropped and their quality has improved, the phenomenon of “recreational genomics” has taken off.
According to the International Society of Genetic Genealogy, nearly 8 million people worldwide, but mostly in the United States, have tested their DNA through kits, typically costing or less, from such companies as 23and Me, and Family Tree DNA.
After the initial shock of her test results, Plebuch wondered if her mother might have had an affair. So, she and her sister, Gerry Collins Wiggins, both ordered kits from DNA testing company 23and Me.
The affair scenario seemed unlikely — certainly out of character for her mom, and besides, all seven Collins children had their father’s hooded eyes. “My father, he was in the Army and he was all over the world, and it was just one of those fears that you have when you don’t know,” she says. If the findings were right, it meant one of Plebuch’s parents was at least partly Jewish. They had a gut sense that it was unlikely to be their mother, who came from a large family, filled with cousins Plebuch and her siblings all knew well.
His parents had come to the United States from Ireland, and that history was central to Jim’s sense of himself.
To solve the mystery of her identity, she needed more help than any DNA testing company could offer.
After all, genetic testing gives you the what, but not the why.
In 2014, 23and Me estimated that 7,000 users of its service had discovered unexpected paternity or previously unknown siblings — a relatively small fraction of overall users.
The company no longer provides data on surprise results.