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Adoption and DNA

DNA tests have played an increasingly important role in the lives of adopted people. In the past decade, as testing has become more financially accessible and our ability to understand and use the results has increased, more people are taking the tests and using them to fill in gaps in their family tree.

Deoxyribonucleic Acid (DNA) testing is the most accurate paternity and family relationship testing method currently available. DNA is a molecule that carries the genetic information for each person. Every person has unique DNA information or DNA ‘fingerprint’. We all inherit on average half of our DNA from our biological father and half from our biological mother. DNA testing tries to discover the fifty per cent match between the child’s and the parent’s DNA profiles to prove or disprove the blood relationship. DNA parentage testing is considered to be 99.9 per cent accurate. A DNA test can be obtained from saliva or blood sample.

For adopted people DNA testing can knock down genealogical brick walls, but it also requires a sensitivity to the complexities of adoption and issues that may arise.    

Ethnicity plays an important role in the formation of human identity. For adopted people,

the lack of information about their ethnic heritage can hinder their ability to enjoy and

celebrate their cultural identity and thereby establishing a personal identity. It can also

play an important role in determining the likelihood and severity of diseases.

Fathers were not required to consent to past adoptions and it has been estimated that

fewer than five per cent of original birth certificates for past adoptions record a father’s

name. A father’s name was sometimes obtained during an interview process with a

social worker at the time and for various reasons the name recorded may not have

been accurate. In some circumstances the father was also not made aware the mother

was pregnant or that an adoption happened.

In some cases, where a father has a common name and no middle name is given, it may be difficult to establish which person is the father. A DNA test can match the genetic “fingerprint” of a person to their true father, or validate that the person is not their true father, if both parties are willing to participate in the testing. While it is possible to match DNA with a mother, DNA maternity tests are rare. DNA tests can also be performed with a sibling or immediate relative to match family members when a parent has died. If the person is deceased, samples may be obtained posthumously if available (e.g. previous blood tests held by a lab) with permission from the next of kin.

A lot of sensitivity is required throughout the process of trying to obtain a DNA test from someone. Requests for DNA tests can sometimes be interpreted as being intrusive or mistrusting. If a mother has disclosed the name of the father she may feel she is not being trusted. Requesting DNA tests sooner rather than later in the reunion relationship is advised. DNA tests give peace of mind when someone is unsure about the information provided. It is also important to know that whilst a DNA test may be able to establish biological paternity for adopted people, it in no way creates legal paternity.

We’ll be discussing two types of DNA tests – a laboratory DNA test and a genealogical test.

A laboratory DNA test uses blood or saliva samples and can establish paternity. They are often called a ‘peace of mind’ test. These tests specifically answer if the people who provide samples are related. These starts at around $270 (for a 2 person test).

Paternity DNA tests that are admissible in the family court or to change details on a birth

certificate start at around $600. Check with your local Births, Deaths and Marriages to see if

this is required to add or change a father’s name on an original birth certificate. Usually if the

birth certificate has no father listed (a blank space appears) a father’s name can be added

without a DNA test with the mother’s agreement. If the word “unknown” is recorded or another

man’s name, a legal DNA test may be required to change this information.

Discussion needs to take place as to whether the DNA test costs will be met by one party or

both parties. The costs are usually met by the one requesting the test or the one needing

peace of mind about the blood relation.

A genealogical DNA test uses only saliva and looks at a person’s DNA and compares it to a DNA database obtained from specific locations. Results give information about genetic connection and personal ancestry and can be useful in developing and confirming a family tree. In general, these tests compare the results of an individual to others from the same lineage or to current and historic ethnic groups. For example, a person can order a DNA test from 23andMe, Family Tree DNA and for about $100-150 per person. You may also upload your results to GEDmatch to widen your possible connections. The power of these websites is that many people have shared their genealogical information which may potentially increase the likelihood of finding connections. There has been varying reports about the accuracy of these tests and their ethnicity estimates. They are dependent on the populations they have taken DNA samples from.  However when other methods of searching have not succeeded, some people have used genealogical DNA testing to successfully find relatives including parents.

























Confirming that a family member is the father (or mother) of the person can bring a lot of

assurances to both parties. This can also come as a shock to a father who has not been

told about the pregnancy. Anger can result when this information has been deliberately

withheld from him. It can be embarrassing for a father if he has moved on to marry and

have further children. It can also come as a shock to fathers when they find out they are

not the father of a child.

One case occurred when a father was reunited with an adult son. The father consented to the adoption with his girlfriend. During the reunion they developed a connection and their families met one another. After the reunion they undertook a paternity DNA test which revealed that he was not the father and he felt devastated as he had believed he had been the father of the child for 27 years. This can trigger huge amounts of grief, not only for a child that was lost but for a relationship that was formed on false grounds. It can also lead to the adoptee feeling disappointed as they thought they found their father but had not and now must keep on searching.

There is a lot to consider when using DNA in an adoption-related situation, but the most important thing is to find support during the process and in the aftermath of DNA testing. Sometimes tests raise as many questions as they answer and a third party as a sounding board can help you during the process.

There are a lot of NATA accredited DNA testing labs that you can find on the internet and in the white pages. For support and information about DNA testing, call Jigsaw Qld on 1800 21 03 13 (Qld only) or (07) 3358 6666 or email 

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