the world. Its scientists use the raw data to estimate
the person’s ethnicity and to identify potential relatives who’ve taken an Ancestry test, a process that
can take up to eight weeks. When an email noti-fies the customer that the results are available, that
person can log on to his or her private page to see
a list of possible relatives and, if desired, to begin
constructing a family tree.
Ancestry isn’t the only company o;ering services
like these. Millions more have taken tests through
other companies, including 23andMe, whose DNA
test was named Time magazine’s Invention of the
Year in 2008. More than a decade later, the price
of that test has dropped from hundreds of dollars
to as little as $99. ;e low cost of DNA tests has
prompted an explosion in the number of people
taking them. ;e testing is a;ordable for sure, but
is it worth it?
AT FIRST, HIGHTOWER TRIED to downplay the
startling new information. “Besides having these
strangers who I was connected to, I was not con-
nected to anybody on my father’s side,” she says.
According to the company, she wasn’t related to
Darcy—or to the mysterious Gary, who turned out
to be one of Darcy’s distant cousins. “I knew noth-
ing about the accuracy of these tests. I thought it
Convinced there had been a mistake, High-
tower pushed the results to the back of her mind
and went about living her life. Retired now, she
spends much of her time on artistic pursuits. She
takes guitar lessons, sings in a choir, designs and
sews her own clothing, and hosts a monthly jam
session with friends who play everything from rock
music to blues.
Hightower, who lost her husband, Jim, to cancer
five years ago, texted her 30-year-old daughter,
Lindsey, and 33-year-old son, Jesse, and spoke to
a few friends about the test, but remained highly
skeptical of the results. Days later, she got a message through her Ancestry account from someone
claiming to be her half sister. ;e woman, Karen,
who didn’t want her real name used in this story,
had been researching how the two could be related.
Hightower told Karen that she’d been busy with
other things and hadn’t had a chance to closely
examine anything on Ancestry.com.
Leave me alone, she thought. I don’t need
another pen pal.
In the meantime, Hightower and Darcy asked a
mutual first cousin to take a test. When that woman’s results came back, Darcy was listed as a close
relative. Hightower was not.
“;at’s when I got a little emotionally wrung
out,” Hightower says. “[Before that], I thought this
was some kind of quack thing. I didn’t know how
accurate DNA testing is.”
About a month after receiving her results, High-
tower called Ancestry’s customer service number
to inform the company that it had screwed up her
test. Her reaction wasn’t uncommon. “Ancestry
recognizes that the information we provide to our
customers can be surprising and, at times, life-
changing,” Utley says. “[We work] hard to help
our customers understand that some of what they
learn about themselves might be unexpected.”
A minute later, her phone rang.
“Your father couldn’t have kids,” her cousin
ABOUT TWO YEARS AGO, a man named Kevin
Wigell took a DNA test and discovered that he’s
49 percent Jewish. ;e 61-year-old was floored.
“My father is Catholic. As far as I knew, my mother
was Methodist,” he says.
Wigell had decided to take the test after his
Opposite page: Dorie
Hightower with her
father, Edward, when
she was a teenager.
This page: Hightower’s
parents, Sorrell and
BETHESDAMAGAZINE.COM | MAY/JUNE 2019 207