When the DNA Changes Your Tree

DNA offers genealogists the opportunity to solve some genealogical problems that no one ever thought could be solved. With that opportunity comes the possibility that the genealogist may learn something about their supposedly “known ancestors” is not true after all. It’s not unheard of for someone to learn that someone they thought was their grandparent or great-grandparent actually was not their biological relative.

This post is not meant to take away from the ways that non-biological parents can be extremely important in the life of a child. But when comparing and effectively analyzing DNA it is the biological parent that is “involved.”

How do you handle that realization in your public ancestor tree? Do you pull the incorrect person and replace them with the right one? Do you remove the wrong person and leave the space blank? Do you pull your public tree totally? Do you leave the tree “as is” and make no change at all?

Different people have different comfort levels with handling issues of this type–usually because living family members are involved. It’s one thing to learn you had your 4th great-grandfather wrong. The researcher may have some emotional energy invested in that distant ancestor and their ego may be bruised when they have to admit they were wrong about a distant parentage. It’s another thing entirely to learn that your grandfather was not your biological grandfather–particularly if you knew him, had him involved in your life, and had no idea he wasn’t really your biological grandparent.

Leaving the wrong name in a public tree publicizes incorrect information. -There’s even probably a genealogical standard about avoiding such behavior–for the very reason that including known wrong information in your online tree is the same thing as sharing it and publishing it. It’s not just about genealogical ethics, professional or otherwise. It can be about the living kinfolk with whom you interact on a regular basis. Changing the name of your grandparent may cause family grief and unrest with living family members. It can cause permanent discord within the family.

Something to think about.




4 thoughts on “When the DNA Changes Your Tree

    • Doing this research you want the true DNA information not the family stories and memories. This is not the 1950’s where you need to hide the skeletons in the closets.

  1. It is something to think about, yet I still believe honesty is the best policy. We had no say in what transpired before our conception. I don’t think it’s right to perpetuate the lie(s).

  2. Interesting question. What does one do about adoptions in a family? Is there someplace to say “I was adopted by”…this family, but my biological parent/parents are this?

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