MILLIONS OF PEOPLE have succumbed to the temptation to submit swabs to AncestryDNA®, 23andMe or MyHeritage™ expecting to discover a distant connection to royalty or celebrity. Some just wanted to fill in a few holes in their family’s tree.

But what if the kit results reveal secrets that affect not just your own family, but the secrets of strangers as well? Should one person’s right to know take precedence over another’s life narrative? The search for identity may answer one question, but expose information that others won’t appreciate.

What if your test results expose your relation to someone else that isn’t thrilled to know you share a background? You might relish the thought of being a genetic sleuth, but what are the ethics of these new technologies? Studies are looking into it.

The tests can have implications for others and can expose secrets hidden for decades including infidelity, infertility or cases of adoption. You could find out that you have brothers, sisters, half siblings or a branch of the family tree that you would not want others to know about.

Searches can have dramatic implications when people who were promised anonymity are outed. For some, discovering family secrets is a guilty pleasure. In other cases, those family secrets are better kept a mystery.

You could find long-lost relatives or anonymous birth parents. Some people are eager, even grateful, to make connections; others don’t want to be found because of privacy concerns and painful adoption history. Some sleuths are not always prepared for what they find.

In the pre-database world, family trees could only be accessed by combing through historical records, family Bibles and interviews with elder family members. Today, it is estimated, DNA databases now hold the information of more than 25 million people.

A lot of people are taking advantage of DNA testing. For some it is a source of innocent fun. For others, it can lead to bitter disappointment.



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THE ADVICE you get sometimes can be a little confusing. Take the following, for example.

“Look before you leap” is tempered by “He who hesitates is lost.”

“Two heads are better than one” is contradicted with “Too many cooks spoil the broth.”

“Absence makes the heart grow fonder” is a little different than “Out of sight, out of mind.”

“You can’t teach an old dog new tricks” is the opposite of “A man is never too old to learn.”

Some people are told “All things come to him who waits” while others are warned “Time and tide wait for no man.”

“Fine feathers make fine birds” is good advice, but “You can’t judge a book by its cover.”

In some cases “Two’s company, three’s a crowd.” In other situations we’re told “The more the merrier.”

If the best things in life are free, why are the next best things so expensive?

John Gierach is credited with saying “Your stature as a fisherman isn’t determined by how big a trout you can catch, but by how small a trout you can catch without being disappointed.”

A UW-Madison professor was visiting Eagle River recently when his eighth-grade daughter asked him for the definition of serendipity. He said it means seeking one thing and finding something delightful instead. As an example, he gave going to the library for a book and getting a date with the librarian.

“This time in history reminds us that we are continually faced by great opportunities brilliantly disguised as unsolvable problems,” said Shirley Zieve.