Many people are ordering DNA kits to give as holiday gifts to family and friends. I have done this myself and made an “oops” in giving a DNA kit as a gift to someone who wasn’t quite ready. Although it all turned out okay in the end, the experience gave me an understanding of the complexities of giving a DNA test as a gift and a desire to share some lessons I learned along the way.
- Do your research.
If you are giving an at-home DNA kit as a gift, make sure you’ve researched the options. Each company provides a slightly different offering, displays results in its own way, and gives options for sharing your data with others. Some DNA tests are ancestry- or genealogy-focused, and others offer some health or trait data. Learn these details, and don’t let the price of the test — or a TV commercial — make the decision for you.
- Make sure it’s wanted.
It’s best to give a DNA kit as a gift to someone who has already expressed interest in wanting one. There can be too much undue pressure otherwise, especially if you spring a DNA kit on someone who isn’t expecting it or hasn’t given thought to testing before. This is one situation in which “spoiling” the surprise and asking if they’d like to receive a DNA kit might be a preferable option.
- Ask questions first, then order a kit.
Understand that the DNA testing companies’ priority is for you to buy a kit now and ask questions later. But there are benefits to asking questions first. If you want to take advantage of sale pricing for an at-home DNA test, know that DNA kit sales happen regularly. Mother’s Day and Father’s Day sales are common, as are sales around the wintertime holidays.
- Understand the risks.
Realize that it is one thing to reveal your own DNA results, but another thing to encourage someone else to accept the risks and benefits. What if you gift your mother a kit, and it ends up revealing that she was adopted and never knew? What if you find out your brother was a sperm donor and has ten “offspring” looking for him? These types of family surprises have happened, so explore your own motivations for giving the gift before you put someone else at risk of discovering a big surprise.
- Have resources available.
If you’re giving a kit, ideally you’ve given thought to having education and support options available to the recipient of the DNA test. There are resources available already, like genetic counselors, genetic genealogists, blogs, websites, and even Facebook groups. I have started compiling resources for public benefit on my website (visit www.WatershedDNA.com/resources).
- Enjoy the process.
Unlike a pair of slippers or a box of chocolates, a DNA test is a gift that can keep giving forever. Use it as an opportunity to raise important conversations with family, like discussions about family health history and relationships. Find out how people are genetically related and what conditions run in the family. Consider recording these details in a central location such as TapGenes and seeking out a genetics assessment of family history in the medical setting.
A DNA test can be exciting, but it can also be life-changing. So while there’s no need to take it too seriously, also don’t take it too lightly. Make sure your choice of giving a DNA kit as a gift is right for you and the recipient.
Brianne Kirkpatrick is a genetic counselor, writer, and founder of WatershedDNA, a private DNA consulting practice specializing in consultations for adult adoptees and other customers of ancestry testing. Her work with clients who need support with ancestry testing and raw data interpretation grew from her interest and personal involvement in genetic genealogy. A resident of Virginia since 2011, Brianne has been involved in promoting education of the public and professionals at the intersection of genetic health and genealogy.