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“That’s a very old and outdated policy,” says Joyce Bahr, an adoptee advocate.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.

Comments (4)
  1. RD Wolff says:

    I found my 76 year old birth mother, 55 year old brother and two cousins using the big Ancestry DNA site, a simple saliva test brought forth the results in about 8 weeks, but wading ones’ way through the various DNA results can be complex, in my case my birth mom had joined Ancestry but didn’t have a test done, so nothing showed a direct match in the system. It took a volunteer “search angel” on Facebook with experience to examine the results, she made the connections between myself and a 3rd cousin- both our trees connected to one great grandfather and a short time later we connected the trees to the woman who turned out to be mom.

    The cousin and I were at first perplexed about how we were connected because she didn’t know anyone by her name in the family, turned out that due to old religious beliefs an ancestor of ours was sort of shunned and not spoken of for having been divorced!

    My “search angel” acted as a go-between and we made contact, it was THE BEST thing that ever happened, mom turned out to be the sweetest, most lovely woman you can imagine and she had searched for me, and wondered for 57 years if she had done the right thing.
    Brother turned out to live 90 minutes from my former residence, so now the two cousins, brother, mom and I have been sending daily text message greetings, photos and talked on the phone.

    We skirted the corrupt NYS sealed records system thanks to a simple DNA test!!

    Amazingly however, I discovered last week that despite everything, NYS will STILL never release my original birth certificate unless the law is changed!!

    Un-freaking believeable that even if adoptees and their birth parents all agree and want to release the adoptees original birth certificate, the state refuses to do it!

    This needs to change.

  2. Sally Brown says:

    When I began to leave a trail for the son I relinquished to adoption in NJ in 1950, I was supported by the Alameda Co, Adoptees Liberty Movement Association. Following their protocol, in 1981 I located his phone number, called, Identified myself and gave my phone number should he have any questions. A cautious conversation ensued. I’m concerned that the Donaldson Agency may view their warning to hire a professional counselor as a new method to make financial gain from the Adoption Industry. My son and I are still in contact .
    Sally brown

  3. No one ever promised me privacy or anonymity when I surrendered my daughter. Why are legislators worried about it now? Records were sealed to protect the adoptive parents, not me.

  4. Allan Harris says:

    Used Ancestry DNA and ended up finding 15 half brothers and sisters after trying for 67 years to get anything out of New York State government, Politicians and the governor should be ashamed how they have handled the adoption records. If you haven’t had any luck in your search, try DNA!!!

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