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After the initial shock of her test results, Plebuch wondered if her mother might have had an affair. So, she and her sister, Gerry Collins Wiggins, both ordered kits from DNA testing company 23and Me.The affair scenario seemed unlikely — certainly out of character for her mom, and besides, all seven Collins children had their father’s hooded eyes. “My father, he was in the Army and he was all over the world, and it was just one of those fears that you have when you don’t know,” she says. If the findings were right, it meant one of Plebuch’s parents was at least partly Jewish. They had a gut sense that it was unlikely to be their mother, who came from a large family, filled with cousins Plebuch and her siblings all knew well.“We see it every day,” says Ce Ce Moore, a genetic genealogist and consultant for the PBS series “Finding Your Roots.” She runs a 54,000-person Facebook group, DNA Detectives, that helps people unravel their genetic ancestries.“You find out that a lot of things are not as they seem, and a lot of families are much more complex than you assume.” Alice Plebuch found herself in this place in the summer of 2012.Over the past five years, as the price of DNA testing kits has dropped and their quality has improved, the phenomenon of “recreational genomics” has taken off.
But DNA testing can also yield uncomfortable surprises.The son of Irish immigrants, Jim Collins had been raised in an orphanage from a young age, and his extended family tree was murky.After a few weeks during which her saliva was analyzed, she got an email in the summer of 2012 with a link to her results. About half of Plebuch’s DNA results presented the mixed British Isles bloodline she expected.However, its customer base has more than doubled since 2014, and now contains more than 2 million people — and as more people get involved with recreational genomics, bloodline surprises are certain to become a more common experience.The 2020s may turn out to be the decade that killed family secrets, for better and for worse.