I've gotten some questions about how to approach an unexpected DNA match and try to open up the lines for communication. I've posted some draft language here for you to get a sense of what I've written or advised other people to write in the past.
Primary information to include when you reach out:
explain who you are
explain what you are seeking
leave your contact information
Considerations when you reach out:
be concise - you can always follow up with more details later
be warm in your communications but also authentic to your personality
acknowledge the other person’s potential emotional reaction and create a sense of safety and space/time for them to have that reaction
communicate a balance of urgency and patience that fits your situation - if you need family medical history immediately, say so, but if it is a general desire and need for that history, be willing to give the other party more time
consider explaining what you are not seeking - this openness and courtesy can be a means of reassuring the recipient of your intentions and encouraging them to respond
leave multiple ways for them to reach back out to you, such as email, postal mail, phone and text (make it as easy and comfortable for them as possible)
*A special note to third-parties involved in a DNA search: If you are a third party involved in helping in a search (a search angel, for example), try to stay out of the middle of communication between genetic relatives as much as possible. Instead, support direct communication between the person you are helping and their genetic relative who has been identified. In some situations, third party communication may be the best or only alternative, but seek out the input from experienced communication facilitators and groups like DNA Detectives if this seems like your only option.
There are exceptions to this rule, though, and sometimes a call, email, or letter coming from a third party can be helpful. Consider the situation, for example, in which the seeking person wants to remain anonymous to the person they are reaching out to but has a pressing need for medical information. Some people searching only want the family history information, not a relationship.
In these situations, make sure it isn’t fear driving the request to have you be the go-between. It’s better to address and support the fears and help the seeking person feel in control and empowered. Ways you can still help with communication are by helping to draft up the words to say when they make the phone call or send an email. You can also encourage them to join an online DNA search support group for this type of support and advice as well.
Draft Language for Reaching out to a DNA Match:
Copyright Watershed DNA, LLC 2018
Letter/message to your DNA match from you:
Hello, I see we are DNA matches. Would you be willing to share your tree? Names in my tree besides (one name) include (list names you think relate to your shared family ties). Are those in your family tree as well?
Hello, I see we are listed as relatively close DNA family. I think I have an idea for how we might be related, and it might be a sensitive topic for family. Would you be open to communicating with me about how we are related?
Hello, I am searching for information related to my biological family and I think you might be able to help. Would you consider helping me in my search? I’m primarily seeking family medical history and do not have any desire to disrupt a family or relationships. I’m willing to be discreet and hope you will be willing to help me.
I have received a bit of a shock about my biological family after having done this DNA test. This is new information to me and I am trying to figure out and clarify who I am related to. Do you have any information or a family tree you would be willing to share with me to help me in my search for answers?
Longer letter/message to your DNA match:
(message through a DNA account messaging system)
Hello, my name is Brianne, and I'm the professional administrator for this particular match "match name." I am interested in speaking with you if you would be amenable to that, as I believe I may know where the connection between my client and your family comes in. (I believe you are also showing up as a match to my client on MyHeritage as well.) I would appreciate you keeping our discussions in confidence, as there is a possibility of someone in your family not knowing about a child they have fathered. The search for family history answers for this individual is mostly related to a search for medical information -- no desire to cause disruption and no expectation of a relationship. If you don't feel comfortable discussing this with me, perhaps someone else in your family would, and that would be fine as well. Thank you in advance for your consideration!
(mailed via priority mail with delivery confirmation/tracking, on company letterhead)
If I have located the wrong (Name) and you have received this letter in error, I hope you will respond right away and let me know.
My name is Brianne Kirkpatrick, and I am a genetic counselor with Watershed DNA, a private practice specializing in counseling for genealogical and medical DNA testing.
I’m reaching out for information from you. I am working with a client in (location) that is in search of information - mainly family medical history - from her biological father. DNA information on some of your relatives, together with online family trees including the last names (list last names in the family tree) -- combined with non-identifying information my client was originally given about her biological father -- have pointed a path to you.
My client would like to communicate via myself as intermediary to ask whether would you be willing to communicate? This letter may come as a surprise or shock, but I want to reassure you my client is interested primarily in family medical history. She is open to additional communication beyond that, if you have interest now or at a later time, but it is not a requirement.
She does not have any intention or interest in disrupting your life or family, she only seeks information that she feels will make a difference to herself and her children.
I am happy to continue to be an intermediary at this point, to communicate back what you wish and in a way that feels comfortable to you.
I sent an email to an email address I found for you online, but it has been three weeks without a response. I am sending this letter to a PO box and physical address listed as your most recent addresses. It is my desire to try to locate you using these methods before reaching out to other people to see if there is updated contact information for you not available via an Internet search.
My phone number for calling/texting is (phone). You also may reply to this email/letter. Contact information is located below my signature.
If there are any questions I can answer for you, I’d be happy to. It would be great if you are able to respond within the next month, however if you need more time to process this, you can send me a quick acknowledgment that you have received and read this letter from me.
The various ways to reach me:
Email: email address
Website contact tool: (website address)
Here is a link to some additional tips from the website dnaadoption.com. It offers suggestions for adoptees reaching out to birth family for the first time, but this advice could be helpful for other situations involving DNA matches as well.
This is advice provided on the Concerned United Birthparents website which includes consideration of the timing of a phone call or contact.
Here’s a great post by Amy Johnson Crow covering some reasons the DNA match you reach out to is not responding.
[This post was updated on 10.22.18 to provide more guidance on what to consider including in communications, as well as the addition of the link to tips at dnaadoption.com and Amy Johnson Crow’s post and on 3.8.19 with the United Concerned Birthparents link.]