At-home DNA test kits are helping people understand their roots, but they're also uncovering shocking, decades-old family secrets.
Enfield resident Ryan Simpson said he bought a DNA test kit when it was on sale.
"Everybody was doing it," Simpson said. "(I) was not expecting to find anything other am I really Irish? Or am I really German? Or something like that."
But the test results were more than he bargained for. Simpson said he did not know any of the people who came up as DNA matches, so he started asking his parents some questions.
"They clearly knew I was onto something because my father was pretty much like, 'OK, I gotta tell you something,'" Simpson said.
His parents told Simpson they used a sperm donor to help them get pregnant when they were struggling to have him, their second child.
"To be perfectly honest, never thought I wasn't related to my father genetically," Simpson said. "We do look related."
Simpson, who is 38, said his first reaction was raw emotion and confusion about why his parents never told him.
Discoveries like Simpson's are not as shocking to Dr. Mary Casey Jacob, an emeritus professor at UConn Health and at the Center for Advanced Reproductive Services in Farmington. Jacob, a psychologist, advises her patients to tell their children the truth about how they were conceived.
"Kids smell secrets like dogs smell fear and they're terrible at finding out what those secrets are, but they're excellent at knowing, 'my parents never looked me in the eye when I asked certain kinds of questions,'" she said.
Clinics may promise anonymity for recipients and donors. But with the popularity of at-home DNA tests and facial recognition software, stories like Simpson's are becoming more common.
"I went through a three or four week of crazy and I was like, now I'm questioning my whole existence, you know? For a minute it undid 38 years of who I thought I was," Simpson said. "And then I was like, wait a minute. I'm still me. I'm still whoever I was."
Simpson's story doesn't stop there. He discovered he has a half-sister, Loretta Evans, who is from Connecticut, but now lives in New Jersey.
"It was weird. We could have grown up together," Simpson said. "When I met her I was like OMG, we have to be related. She's sarcastic, she's snappy."
Simpson said he and Evans talk regularly.
"I think people should be honest with their children and not keep those secrets from them," Evans said.
Simpson and Evans hope parents learn from their story. They are now trying to track down details about the medical history of their donor.
Jacob said while the truth may not be easy, there are ways to talk to your kids without necessarily bringing up the birds and the bees.
"Genetics matter. We don't want to pretend they don't. But they don't determine who loves you, who cares for you, who will stay up until you get home when you stay out way past curfew. That has nothing to do with genetics, but you need to be giving these messages out early on," she said.
Simpson said his dad will always be his dad. But that spur-of-the-moment DNA test surprised him with even more family.
Not all DNA discoveries play out as positively as Simpson's.
We reached out to DNA test giants AncestryDNA and 23andMe for their take on customer's surprising findings.
A spokesperson for "AncestryDNA" said almost everyone who takes one of their tests finds something surprising. They say they have a group of dedicated, highly experienced representatives who are available to speak to customers with complex discoveries.
23andMe said they do too. They said they specifically warn customers that taking the test can result in “unexpected, and sometimes life-changing, results…"