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Navigating DNA-Testing Challenges in Connecting with Family

Adoption experts warn against posting personal information on social media in order to connect with family matches made through DNA tests, to avoid the risk of identity theft. (Nogas1974/Wikimedia Commons)
Adoption experts warn against posting personal information on social media in order to connect with family matches made through DNA tests, to avoid the risk of identity theft. (Nogas1974/Wikimedia Commons)
January 23, 2019

OMAHA, Neb. - DNA tests that promise to fill in missing branches of a person's family tree also could open up a Pandora's box of family secrets.

Kim Schenkelberg, a post-adoption specialist for the Nebraska Children's Home Society, said it isn't uncommon for people who were adopted, for example, to be curious about their genetic roots, including family medical histories. But before launching a search, she said, it's important to prepare for different potential outcomes, because the process can be deeply emotional, "which is why it's really important to work with someone that has experience, and maybe the credentialing in the mental-health services, to help walk somebody through doing a search."

Nebraska Children's Home Society offers a host of post-adoption services, including help with reconnecting family members. Schenkelberg said it also can help navigate online services, such as Ancestry.com, if folks elect to go that route.

Schenkelberg added that if a DNA match reveals a family connection, it isn't a good idea to automatically start asking aunts or uncles who placed a child for adoption. Instead, she said, it's important to think carefully about how to reach out, and to understand that a relationship might not be possible.

"What are my expectations in reconnecting with a birth-family member," she said, "and how am I going to convey those, so that we're both on the same page, and set up healthy boundaries that we're both comfortable with."

She said posting personal information - such as name, birthdate and location - on the internet might seem like an efficient way to crowd-source your search. However, Schenkelberg warned, especially with new facial-recognition software, there are serious risks for identity theft.

"Social media is really at the forefront of what people are using for communication," she said. "It's important to think about unintended consequences, or how we really want to use those media channels."

For more guidance on finding, reaching out and connecting with family members, look online at NCHS.org.

Eric Galatas, Public News Service - NE