Rebecca was welcomed into the world by Joseph and Jennifer Cartellono in November 1994. She was the couple’s only beloved child. Growing up, she was always interested in learning about her family heritage, which was Italian on her father’s side. The older she got, the more curious she got. Rebecca decided to get her parents a DNA test as a Christmas present, that way they could all learn more about their roots together.
She was excited for them to examine their shared heritage, but Rebecca didn’t know the trouble her well-intentioned gift would create. When she gave her parents their presents, their discovery would tear her world apart. The family uncovered a dark and shocking secret about their only child.
It’s fair to say, that throughout the last decade, at-home DNA testing kits have become incredibly popular. It turned into a huge phenomenon and sparked public interest in family history. Suddenly, everyone wants to know about their long-lost relatives.
In fact, in 2014, genealogy became the second most popular hobby in the United States. It’s just so easy and convenient to do it at home. The concept of tracing a person’s heritage is now a billion-dollar industry, bringing families together and, in some cases, tearing them apart.
The genetic testing kits that we are familiar with today first hit the market back in 2007. That year, 23andMe debuted its saliva-based DNA test. Then, in 2012, Ancestry followed, launching their own DNA service, becoming one of the most popular family history companies in the world since then.
As of 2019, Ancestry has accumulated more than ten million individuals in their database. That really makes it a high possibility to find previously unknown relatives. It’s not uncommon for adopted kids to meet their birth families, or even for long-lost twins to reunite.
So, how do these tests work? As you would assume, the user needs to provide a DNA sample. The typical ways to get a sample is by spitting in a cup, doing a cheek swab, using mouthwash, or even chewing gum.
The customers give the complete kit to a provider, which analyzes the DNA and gives a pretty accurate estimate of that person’s ethnicity. The results can give you fascinating insights into your background, but, of course, there are also some risks to the process.
As DNA genealogy testing continues to rise in popularity, the more common horror stories become. Some people were given incorrect information for example, while others found things out that changed their lives forever.
Again, these tests usually bring people together, but sometimes, dark family secrets come to light. So while the equipment they use to analyze your DNA is generally sound, it’s the discoveries themselves that may come as a shock. If there is one thing to learn from DNA testing it is that many people have a secret past.
Here is a crazy example: One man claimed that he was dating his half-sister unknowingly. Yikes! Reportedly, the couple had already known that they were both born through IVF and sperm donation, so they decided to take the test with the hopes of discovering more about their paternal heritage.
The anonymous Reddit user didn’t think much about it. He just thought it would be fun and interesting to see where he came from. But where he came from was a complete shock. His girlfriend bought them both DNA kits for Christmas.
The Reddit user said that when the couple got their DNA results back, they came to the devastating discovery that they were half-siblings. Their mom shared the same sperm donor making them share the same father. Can you imagine the astonishment?
It seemed so unlikely that both of them were conceived using sperm from the same donor. When he shared the news in 2019, he revealed his bewilderment at the situation, writing: “I have to express what my mental state is now. To put it in simple words: I feel traumatized.”
The man in question was dealing with a lot. He posted what seemed to be his DNA test results, and admitted that he was torn between loving his girlfriend and the notion that they’d been unwittingly committing incest. His world was thrown upside down.
As you can probably imagine, the discovery left both of them stunned. Like, what are the chances?! How could this possibly happen? This discovery left the man and his girlfriend desperately seeking further answers and praying that maybe the results were wrong. However, the results were correct.
If you look on the Internet, it’s not uncommon to find these crazy stories. There are countless instances when people find out the truth about their family history. Many times, the truth comes with heartbreak.
In 2018, The Guardian told a story of a woman who is known only as Michèle who reportedly discovered that the man who raised her as his daughter wasn’t her biological father. The discovery was a shock for the father as well. They were both devastated at the fact that they were living a lie.
Michèle was extremely interested in her background and heritage when she decided to send her DNA off to get analyzed. She thought she might discover that she is part Jewish or something, but what she ended up finding out hadn’t even cross her mind.
She was able to trace back her father’s bloodline all the way to the 1600s. But when the results came back, they were both shocked and confused. The test showed that she was half Italian which made no sense. Puzzled, she went to her dear old mom for some answers.
Michèle’s mother denied everything. Although there was DNA evidence, she claimed to know absolutely nothing about her daughter’s Italian ancestry. Michèle knew that her father wasn’t Italian so what exactly was going on? Her mom must have known something, but she wouldn’t say a word.
Luckily another family member seemed to have a little more insight. The Ancestry database showed that Michèle had first cousins with an Italian last name in their hometown of Syracuse, New York. Michèle aunt was somehow able to link her niece to the strangers as well.
In fact, Michèle’s aunt actually remembered something astounding. Back when Michèle’s mom was about 18 years old, her prom date happened to have the exact same last name as the cousins in Syracuse. Unfortunately, the man had passed away already, but everything pointed to him being her biological father.
Could this mean something? Or was it a crazy coincidence? How could she be certain? And if this man was in fact her father, then she would never get the chance to meet him. Thousands of thoughts ran through her mind. It’s a hard thing for any person to accept.
Genealogist, Debbie Kennett explained that as sad as it is, Michèle’s situation isn’t uncommon at all. She discussed DNA testing with The Guardian and admitted that these tests can open up a “can of worms” for many people.
Think about how many cheating secrets people planned to take to their grave? With advanced technology like this, the truth comes out. Kennett added, “There have been a lot of secrets covered up in the past, and they are starting to come out.”
Kennett continued and revealed what happens in those types of cases. “When people get these unexpected findings, they tend to distrust the science at first… but even close matches can only reveal so much in isolation. The DNA on its own doesn’t give the science, you need the contextual family information as well.”
It’s only normal that people immediately want to deny the shocking truth, but once it sinks in, their life is forever changed. When someone finds out that they have pretty much been living a lie, it is not an easy thing to deal with.
Because of cases like this, Catherine St. Clair launched the NPE Friends Facebook Group in 2017. It stands for “Not Parent Expected.” The community is a place for people who got shocking DNA results. Particularly, if their test reveals that their mom or dad isn’t who they thought they were.
It’s kind of a support group, to show people that they aren’t alone, and other people understand their pain. St. Clair started the group when she came to the life-changing discovery that the man who raised her was not her biological father.
As the epitome of “daddy’s little girl,” I can’t even comprehend how shattering it would be to find out that the man who raised me and loved me didn’t actually bring me into the world. Of course, if you are adopted or learn about your heritage at a young age, it’s easy to grasp. But finding out as an adult is a whole different story.
St. Clair shared how she felt when she discovered the truth about her paternity. In 2018, she told The New York Post, “You feel completely alone and isolated. It’s like having an infection that’s deep under your skin that keeps festering. And it’s painful, and it’s getting worse and worse. Only after it’s exposed to air can it start to heal.”
So, as we can see, many people who have taken these at-home DNA tests found out more than they bargained for. Instead of learning the cool background or culture they may be apart of, their world comes crumbling down.
As it turns out, the Cartellones ended up as a part of this unfortunate group when they innocently took a DNA test. When they got back their individual genealogy kits, the tight-knit family realized that they weren’t as picture-perfect as they appeared. Everything changed when they discovered that they had been living a lie.
Trying to learn more about her family lineage was supposed to be a fun activity for Rebecca. But it wasn’t fun where the results came back. When Rebecca, Joseph, and Jennifer’s tests came back, it was clear that something was amiss.
The findings showed that Rebecca was definitely her mother’s daughter, but there was less of a link when it came to her father. In fact, it looked like Rebecca and Joseph had no genetic makeup in common at all. They believed that there must be some kind of mistake.
Sadly, it wasn’t a mistake; the results were 100% accurate. In August 2019, during an interview with Good Morning America, Joseph explained what subsequently transpired. The heartbroken father said:
“When we looked at the results, what we immediately noticed was that there were no traces of Italian DNA in [Rebecca’s result] at all… And her DNA matched my wife’s pretty closely.” As he was comprehending what he was looking at, his life would never be the same. The shock quickly turned it to complete devastation.
Naturally, Joseph’s instinctive reaction was that something was wrong; there was no way this DNA test was accurate. He was so certain that he went as far as to call the DNA kit’s manufacturer. The company explained the process they used.
After understanding the exact procedure that the DNA samples underwent, the truth finally started to hit him. Joseph was beginning to understand that there was a huge chance that Rebecca wasn’t related to him at all. Naturally, this raised a bunch of other questions.
So, now, it was time to get to the bottom of the mystery. Joseph was determined to figure out exactly what was going on. Joseph and Rebecca decided to take a paternity test together. But when they got the results back, their greatest fear unfolded in front of them.
The test determined that Joseph and Rebecca were not biologically connected at all. Joseph expressed to Good Morning America how stunned he was: “My disbelief turned quickly to shock and then ultimately to anger that this could possibly be the case.”
This newfound discovery made Joseph doubt everything. In an attempt to get answers Joseph had to go all the way back to 1993. That was the year that he and Jennifer met with the Greater Cincinnati Institute for Reproductive Health.
The couple was having trouble conceiving so they went to seek help. After looking at all of their options, Joseph and Jennifer decided that they wanted to try in vitro fertilization or IVF. It seemed like the safest way to go, and it had helped many other couples start a family.
As you may already know, IVF is when an egg is fertilized with sperm in a lab environment and is then implanted inside a women’s uterus. It’s a common procedure that many people go through for all kinds of reasons. It’s especially common when a woman wants to become a mother without a dad in the picture. She can get a sperm donor and get pregnant using IVF.
But, in Jennifer’s case, her husband Joseph was in the picture. When the Cartellones agreed to use IVF, they were assured that Joseph’s sperm would be used to fertilize Jennifer’s eggs. So, what went wrong?
In light of Rebecca’s DNA results, it was clear that the sperm used in the UVF process was someone else’s. It was the only explanation. How else would it be possible for her to not be related to her dad? And where is his sperm? Who is her real dad? So many questions.
Naturally, the Cartellone family felt betrayed. They trusted their doctors who weren’t as careful as they should have been. In August 2019, the family spoke at a news conference, Joseph said: “This has been extremely difficult for my family,” which is totally understandable.
He went on to explain, “I never would have imagined the Christmas gift of a home DNA kit would unveil this kind of abuse of our trust. For our daughter Rebeca, it’s even tougher. She’s experiencing significant emotional stress and confusion concerning her own identity.”
Although he was concerned about Rebecca’s well-being, it was clear that the results also had a massive impact on the man who assumed he was Rebecca’s father. Of course, the man who raised her is her dad, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t shock him to find out she wasn’t genetically his.
Speaking candidly, Joseph went on. “It’s hard to explain the shock and agony when you find out that someone you love and care for – your own daughter – is not genetically related to you… There’s a mix of anger, pain, and confusion that comes along with having to accept this and having to break the news to our family.
I mean, he and his wife wanted a family. They were having trouble conceiving so they went to seek help and put all their trust in the medical staff who conducted their IVF process. Suddenly, one day, you find out the doctors made a major mistake.
Joseph also explained what this discovery was like for his wife. When speaking about Jennifer’s reaction, Joseph said, “she has to deal with the fact that this clinic… fertilized her eggs with a complete stranger’s sperm and placed them in her body…
She’s profoundly disappointed that she can no longer give birth to a child with both of our genetics… And that’s exactly why we sought the help of doctors in the first place.” Just because Rebecca genetically belonged to Jennifer, it didn’t make it any easier for the devastated mother.
So, after the family made this startling, heartbreaking discovery, Joseph and Jennifer filed a civil lawsuit against The Christ Hospital Health Network, Ovation Fertility Cincinnati, the hospital that helped them conceive, now called the Institute for Reproductive Health.
In the lawsuit, the couple accused the lab that helped them conceive their child of using another man’s sperm. They had the DNA results as proof for their careless and detrimental mistake. They probably never would have found out if it weren’t for these kits. Which makes you wonder, how often does this happen?
Peiffer Wolf Carr & Kane is the law firm representing the family, and they specialize in fertility clinics’ alleged misconduct. The fact that there is an entire law firm dedicated to the misconduct of fertility clinics already raises concerns.
Managing shareholder Joseph C. Pheiffer spoke about the family’s case at the Cartellone’s press conference. He explained that the whole situation “is a massive betrayal of trust and an unthinkable break of trust.” Yeah. Just reading about this is giving me trust issues. It could happen to anyone.
Only one of five people could be Rebecca’s biological father, according to the firm. Allegedly, a doctor at The Christ Hospital was one of these individuals. Crucially, The Christ Hospital was linked to the Greater Cincinnati Institute for Reproductive Health, where Joseph and Jennifer had undergone IVF.
While speaking on Rebecca’s possible paternity, the family lawyer, Adam Wolf, told The Daily Mail, “The defense should go through their records and find whose sperm they used to create the embryo… We have no idea if this was intentional or a horrifically negligent accident. We’ve asked, but we’ve been met with radio silence.”