Sizing up your genes: Genetics bring results in woman’s search for family

Blue DNA helix with copyspace


More people using DNA tests to learn about themselves, family

Home DNA tests have become more popular since the FDA decided last year that the tests didn’t need approval.

The reclassification of the “direct-to-consumer” genetic tests exempted them from an FDA pre-market review, opening up potential growth for the home genomics industry. Though the home tests still aren’t as easy as testing blood sugar or other home health diagnostics, they opened the door for consumers to get genetic health reports and other information from genetic testing.

Bethany Wellbrock, who was adopted as a child, used 23andMe when searching for clues about her family. The company charges $199 per testing kit, and provides several reports with the results. The company offers services called “ancestry composition” to show what parts of the world a person’s DNA comes from, geographically. Another service called “DNA relatives” lets participants see up to 1,000 matches of people in 23andMe’s database who share identical patterns of DNA.

For its reports, 23andMe uses a threshold of seven centimorgans (a technical measurement for a length of DNA base pairs) of identical stretches of DNA to be sure of someone’s chances of being related, according to Kasia Bryc, 23andMe senior scientist in population genetics.

Sometimes these results can be a little surprising.

Although it is commonly thought people get half of their genes from their mother and half from their father, and therefore they have one-quarter of their genes from each grandparent, that’s not true, Bryc said.

“One centimorgan (in common) could be a distant cousin or no relative at all,” she said. “Because of the random shuffling from generation to generation, everyone thinks they’re a quarter a quarter related to each grandparent, but that’s not true, you can be related to one grandparent more than another. What parents pass on to you is actually a random combination of what they got from their parents.”

23andMe has more than one million customers, according to company spokesman Andy Kill. As more people join its registry and add their DNA to the database, the information will become even more comprehensive, increasing the chances participants will find relatives.

Bethany Wellbrock always wondered who she was. Even as a little girl she knew she was different, that she didn’t quite belong, and she yearned to know where she came from.

She grew up the daughter of adoptive parents, in a family she didn’t feel welcomed into. Her questions were never answered, and she was discouraged from finding her roots.

Little did she know, all it took was spitting in a tube and a little patience after all these years.

Though Wellbrock, 49, eventually obtained the court records from her adoption and her original birth certificate when state laws changed, she actually found her birth father though a home DNA test kit company called 23andme.

Wellbrock was the only fair-skinned redhead in a family of dark-complected Irish folk. Even her older adopted brother fit in better than she did, and she always wished she looked like someone.

“I can remember being very little and going to the grocery store,” she said. “Every time I saw someone with red hair, I would wonder if that’s my mom.”

She would sneak around when her parents were away from the house, looking for adoption-related paperwork and attempting to open a safe to see if there were clues inside, since her efforts to gain information openly were rebuffed.

“I remember my mom saying, ‘I don’t know why you’d want to find people that gave you away,’” Wellbrock said. “As soon as I turned 18, I was right back looking for them.”

Wellbrock was born at Lower Valley Hospital in Fruita on Jan. 29, 1967. She never went home with her mother, who was 24 years old at the time and did not list a father on the birth certificate. She broke off the relationship and signed the adoption papers before she gave birth to Wellbrock, and never told the father of her pregnancy.

Her birth mother was difficult to find, due to her common last name and that surname changing over the years. Eventually, Wellbrock did find birth mother living on the Front Range. But a DNA test gave Wellbrock a more immediate result. It yielded two extremely close matches — second cousins — who eventually led her to her birth father, who lives in the Grand Valley.

Until that point, all she knew was that he was tall, had a birth date in 1944, and worked as a truck driver after graduating from high school. But after contacting him and arranging to meet, Wellbrock learned so much more.

Her birth father, who declined to be interviewed for this story, found out he had a daughter 47 years after she was born. Wellbrock greeted him with an “It’s a Girl!” cigar when she met him on his front porch, and saw immediately that they shared the same strong jawline, the same red hair.

“Finally, I looked like someone,” she said, adding that she was lucky to have the outcome she did, and credits the DNA testing for giving her the missing clue.

“I just finally felt like I belonged somewhere,” she said. “It gave me this piece of the puzzle and I felt like I finally belonged.”


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