A few months ago, a woman took a DNA test to learn more about her family and her ethnic heritage. She never could have imagine the type of information she would actually received as a result.

According to Slate’s “Dear Prudence” section, the woman discovered that she shared “a significant amount of DNA with a person who lives across the country.” It was enough DNA to suggest that the person was a close relative.


Unclear of what to make of the realization, she received a message from that potential relative. The message explained that the writer’s grandmother gave a child up for adoption decades ago, meaning one of her parents had a half-sibling they never knew about.

The woman continued:

The person who contacted me said that they contacted my grandmother in the past to see if she wanted to communicate; she said no, and they didn’t ask again. They then asked if I would like to communicate, but if I do not, they will not contact me again. I am interested in meeting a new cousin, but it is obvious that my still-living grandmother does not want me or my siblings to know about this part of her life. I have no idea if my father or uncle know about their half-sibling, or if my grandfather knows about his wife’s previous child.

Although she refers to the person as her half-cousin, they would actually be her half-aunt or uncle.

The woman asked “Dear Prudence” how to handle the situation. Should she respect her grandmother’s wishes, or should she reach out to her long-lost cousin and potentially ruin the entire dynamic of her family?

Mallory Ortberg, the woman who created Dear Prudence, responded by saying that her situation is a tricky one to handle, but offered this advice:

If part of you is anxious about potential fallout, ask yourself what you’re hoping to get out of this connection. Is it simply to satisfy a mutual sense of curiosity and wish one another well? You don’t sound like part of you wants to bring this cousin to the next family reunion and force everyone to deal with old trauma. You don’t have to share the fact that you’ve occasionally emailed this person with the rest of your family if you think it would be too painful.

However, Prudence knows how that could be overwhelming for the woman, suggesting that, if secret communication is too much to handle, then a simple note explaining why she can’t talk to the person isn’t the wrong way to go either:

Of course, if the idea of keeping even limited contact with your cousin private from the rest of your family sounds overwhelming or impossible, then you may want to write back and say you’re glad to hear from them, but you’re not able to start talking right now. I don’t think either option is a bad one—it depends on your particular family dynamic, and whether you feel comfortable at the idea of getting to know a brand-new cousin without sharing the details with your other relatives.

Prudence prefaced her advice by explaining that the reason her grandmother chose not to communicate with the person in the first place is probably because it brings up unwanted, difficult memories.

Nonetheless, Prudence added that because the woman and the long-lost relative are family in their own right, she doesn’t believe the two of them having a conversation would “necessarily [violate her] grandmother’s trust or her choice.”

Leave a comment

We are excited to announce Dearly has joined forces with Mama’s Uncut. Helping Mom’s across the United States answer questions on life’s big challenges.