Watch CBS News

Seen At 11: DNA Tests Kits Help Adoptees Track Down Biological Family Members

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- At-home DNA tests have exploded in popularity, but could they reveal more about your family than you ever imaged or even wanted to know?

"DNA has changed, absolutely. There can be no more secrets," Zara Phillips tells CBS2's Dick Brennan.

Nobody knows this better than Phillips, who took a DNA test two years ago. A year later, she was contacted by a sister that she never knew she had.

"I was hyperventilating," she says.

Genealogy is said to be the second most popular hobby in the United States, and it's been spurred on by a number of new at-home DNA kits. But for some, the popular pastime has a completely different purpose than exploring their family tree.

"I hold a lot of hope that I will be able to find my biological father through this," April Dinwoodie says.

For those like Dinwoodie, who was given up for adoption in the 1970s, it may be the only way to help find her family.

"In many states, almost half don't allow adoptive people access to their legal birth certificates," she says.

That includes New York.

"That's a very old and outdated policy," says Joyce Bahr, an adoptee advocate.

She says she was forced to give up her son in the 1960s.

"What we'd like to see end is the secrecy and lies in adoption," Bahr says.

But some lawmakers disagree.

Ironically, DNA kits are starting to rip the lid off these records.

"Anonymity today is a thing of the past with these tools," Dinwoodie says.

She's now with the Donaldson Adoption Institute and says not only can you compare you genetic makeup to that of millions of other people in the databases, you can also send a message to anyone who is match. But it may not always be met with an open mind or open arms.

"Rejection – it can be major, it can be extremely painful for some people," Bahr says.

In Phillip's case, the DNA test was a last-ditch effort to locate her biological father, who she believed was in Europe. It came as a shock, to not only learn about her sister, but that her dad was actually living just a few miles from her in New Jersey.

"I never even dreamed that this was going to be possible for me," she says.

Phillips is now writing a book about her experience that will be published next year.

Because the experience can often be very emotional and difficult to navigate, experts recommend working with a counselor or middleman who can help facilitate a reunion.

Adoption agencies can provide counseling for families. For more information, contact The Donaldson Adoption Institute.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.