Carolyn Hax: Should I tell my brothers that one of them has a son?

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We asked readers to channel their inner Carolyn Hax and answer this question. Some of the best responses are below.

Dear Carolyn: I’m our family historian and genealogist. I recently received an email from a young man, “T,” saying his DNA test results showed we’re related. It came as no surprise. I’ve been contacted by several distant relatives since making my results “public” on the kit-maker’s website.

T’s results are different. He’s my nephew, meaning one of my three brothers is T’s father. I checked my results and found it was true.

T has recently reconnected with his biological mother, but she won’t tell him who his father is. T was adopted at birth and access to his birth certificate is locked. T contacted me to see if I’d tell him the name of his biological father.

After thinking it over I told him no. Here’s why: Any one of my brothers could be his father. None of my brothers has mentioned having a son out of wedlock. It’s possible my brother isn’t aware of having fathered T.

I feel this situation is a private matter between T and his biological parents. T understood and accepted my answer. (Super nice young man!)

I haven’t shared this discovery with any family members. It’s only a matter of time before another family member decides to take a DNA test and discovers their connection to T. Do I break my silence and alert my three brothers or continue to mind my own business? I’m certain T’s biological father will be angry I didn’t tell him first.

Caught in the Middle: You should tell your each of your brothers individually. State the simple facts: You registered your DNA, T contacted you, the results show that he is your nephew. I suggest following that with something that gives your brothers room to adjust to the situation in their own time and in their own way. For example, “I’m having this discussion with each of you separately. I don’t want to put any of you in a difficult position, but since T contacted me, and is actively searching for his father, I didn’t want you to be unaware. He seems like a lovely person and he was respectful when I wouldn’t give him your names and contact info. However, if any of this resonates with you, and if there is any part of you who wants to communicate with T, I will be happy to share his info with you. You don’t need to say anything right now, and I will not bring this up again with you or anyone else in our family, but I’m here if you want to talk.” Then step back until one of your brothers steps forward, if ever. Given that T knows your name, it’s likely that he can find your brothers by other than genetic means and you are doing them a kindness by preparing them for the possibility of that.

Caught in the Middle: First, are there reasons not to share this information with your brothers? You could easily send an email to each stating that T exists and is looking for information about his father (which you didn’t feel comfortable providing) and offering T’s contact information. That would let your brother(s) know that you are aware of your nephew and put the ball in their court — where it belongs. Second, keep in mind that while it is true you are related to this person, the degree of relation may be wrong. According to 23andMe, I am sisters with one of my first cousins: not so, we merely share more than the average numbers of genes for cousins. It may be that this young man was fathered by a cousin of yours or other close male relative, not one of your brothers. Third, even if you are unwilling to expose your brothers, you can help your nephew understand more of his genetic inheritance by sharing any illnesses or traits that run in your family, which is quite useful for an adoptee.

Caught in the Middle: As an adopted child myself, I would recommend telling your brother(s) — but it should be private, separate conversations with each of them. It’s so very likely that the dad doesn’t know he has a son. T sounds like a good young man, and he should have an opportunity to be in contact with his father. IF your brother wants contact. Since you are the “genetic contact” it falls to you to at least give this information to your brothers, and let them decide for themselves what to do with that info. It may be much less fraught than another genetic relative getting in contact in a not-nice way. Obviously, this info will be discussed among your brothers; get it done as quickly as possible once you’ve let the first one know. Not all DNA reunions are joyful or even nice. Just keep that in mind. By the way, all of my (adopted) siblings and I have been in contact/met our (three different families) bio parents and half or full siblings, aunts, uncles, etc., and it has been a wonderful journey of discovery for us. Best of luck to you, T, and your brothers!

Caught in the Middle: I read this in a book somewhere, but keep it in my pocket to help me with questions like this: “Is it MY story to tell?” I like this because I am the only person about whom I have full knowledge enough to answer accurately, and it mercifully keeps me from deciding to “help.”

Every week, we ask readers to answer a question submitted to Carolyn Hax’s live chat or email. Read last week’s installment here. New questions are typically posted on Fridays, with a Monday deadline for submissions. Responses are anonymous unless you choose to identify yourself and are edited for length and clarity.

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