I want to know who my father was. Should I take a DNA test?

Annalisa Barbieri

I am 60, and have known for years that my father was not my real father. My mother once explained that when I was conceived my father was away, so it couldn’t have been him. She had an affair with a man she won’t tell me about; also, at the time was raped by my father’s brother. I share many physical traits with my sisters, so have always assumed my uncle was my real father. My father died 25 years ago, followed by my uncle 10 years later, so I cannot get DNA samples.

It has never bothered me in the past, but, strangely, as my children and I get older, I want to know who my father was. There are so many DNA-testing kits and websites that I don’t know where to start.

That’s a lot of information for you to process: that your father wasn’t your father; that your mother was raped by her brother-in-law; that she had an affair with an unnamed man. You didn’t mention whether your mother is still alive. If she is, I wonder if you could safely rekindle the conversation about your real father with her?

As for the practicalities of DNA testing, I’ve had many letters in the past six months asking about this. Be aware that there are two types of tests: one to see if you are related (or not) to someone; and “ancestry” tests, which shed light on your ethnicity/genealogy. The two aren’t the same.

I contacted two professionals in this field. One, Penny Scott, is a partner at Cartridges Law, chair of the Family Law Committee of the Law Society and a member of its children panel; the other was Ryan Wetherell, operations manager at NorthGene Ltd, a government-accredited DNA-testing laboratory.

If you want to go down the DNA-testing route, from what you’ve told me, your best bet would be to ask your sisters to provide a sample. To do this, you must have their written consent. To take “bodily material” from someone (a hair from their hairbrush, say, or send in their toothbrush) without their consent would contravene the Human Tissue Act 2004, which covers DNA testing, and therefore would be a criminal offence.

Within DNA testing to see if you are/aren’t related to someone there are two types: one to find out who your relations are/aren’t for your own interest, and one for legal purposes (for changing a birth certificate, say, or to get someone to pay child maintenance). With the former, as long as all written permissions are obtained, you can collect the samples and deal with the labs directly. The latter is more expensive because a chain of custody has to be maintained – so the DNA sample (usually a swab from the mouth) would have to be taken by an independent third person: a GP, pharmacist, or nurse; or the DNA agency may have a collector who can do this. This ensures the sample is taken from the right person and not tampered with.

If you were able to get bodily material – from clothing or razors, say – from someone who is deceased, written consent must be given by the next of kin. It’s important to make this clear as there is a lot of misinformation about DNA tests.

Should you decide to go ahead, you can find government-certified testing laboratories at gov.uk/get-dna-test. DNA tests are up to 99.99% accurate. If your sisters agree to give a sample, it may help to submit samples from all of them.

Related: My partner and I tried a threesome. Then she kissed someone without me

Now to the emotional aspect. I feel you may need to prepare yourself for answers you aren’t expecting. What if none of your siblings share a father? What if you all do? What if only two of you do? What answer are you hoping to get? What if this test raises more questions than it answers? If your mother is alive, will you discuss the results with her? I do wonder why your mother told you what she did without offering you any resolution.

Whatever you do, I urge you to make sure you have someone to talk to: a trusted friend, a counsellor attached to your GP’s surgery, or visit the links below.

bacp.co.uk; aft.org.uk; welldoing.org.uk

Send your problem to annalisa.barbieri@mac.com. Annalisa regrets she cannot enter into personal correspondence

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