How do you tell your 79 year old father that the man he called Dad, the
Anzac veteran who he had looked up to all his life, was not his biological
That was the question that confronted me when a father’s day gift of an Ancestry
DNA test came back showing unexpected results. I’d taken an Ancestry DNA test
myself some time earlier and my father was so interested in the ethnic breakdown
[I was 59% Irish] that I thought it would be an ideal gift. Little did I know I was
opening up Pandora’s box.
Family and friends said I shouldn’t tell him; that it would be unfair to burden him
with such a thing at his stage of life. One even suggested that it might give him a
heart attack or a stroke. But as a dedicated family historian I knew that this story
had to be told. It was my father’s truth, his heritage, his story. It belonged to him
more than any of his descendants.
So how did this discovery come about? The man who I came to discover was Dad's
biological father was long dead and couldn’t take the test himself so the match I
discovered was for first to second cousin who shared a common grandfather. Many
people may have put this match in the too hard basket not recognizing the family
names. But the surname Quinn was familiar to me and I had already looked at this
family line because they shared history with my own family, the Hicksons. The two
families, the Hicksons and the Quinns, had even shared a house for over ten years.
My grandparents had cared for the Quinns' intellectually disabled daughter for a
further 10 years after her parents had died. Growing up I had heard stories of the
Quinns and I had several photos of my grandmother and my father with the
Quinns including my father’s christening photo showing the two families together.
Now I realized that not only was Thomas Patrick Quinn my father’s godfather but
he was also his father.
My father was born in 1937, when my grandparents had been married for over 18
years and my grandmother was 37 and my grandfather 43. They had adopted a
son, Geoffrey, earlier in their marriage but had never expected to have a child of
their own. My father was dark haired and the contrast with his fair haired parents
was striking. Yet a photo of him with Thomas Quinn on the occasion of his first
communion, where the dark haired Mr Quinn is standing behind my father with his
hands on his shoulders looked somehow fitting. There were also photos of my
grandmother and the Quinns taken at a ball, and the look in her eyes and the way
she is standing so close to Thomas Quinn, closer than even his own wife, made me
wonder if there wasn’t something more to their friendship.
So I had looked into the Quinn family a little bit and knew the names of Thomas
Quinn’s parents. When these same names turned up in the DNA match to my
father and myself, those vague suspicions were finally confirmed. But what was I to
do with this new knowledge?
I discussed it with a few select family members whose reaction went from laughter
to utter shock. No one was of the opinion I should say anything to Dad. I
contacted the Quinn researcher, John, who had come up as the match. He was a
fellow family historian descended from one of Thomas Quinn’s siblings, and had
been researching the Quinn line for over 30 years. He was as surprised as I was
but said I should tell my father as he had a right to know.
Finally I asked myself that if it was me, would I want to know? And the answer was
I knew that Thomas Quinn wasn’t someone completely unknown to my father. He
knew the Quinns, grew up in the same house with them and he had fond memories
of both Thomas and his wife Aimee – they were Nan and Pop Quinn to him. Perhaps
it wouldn’t be such a shock to find out the truth.
I prepared all the information I had on the Quinn family including their history that
John had shared with me. I picked a quiet afternoon with just Dad and myself and
I told him. He was surprised but also quite excited by the news. Although he had
never suspected Thomas Quinn was his father, he told me he had wondered if
perhaps his mother and Thomas Quinn had an affair at some time. My father
didn't have a stroke or heart attack, he didn’t have an identity crisis and he wasn’t
plunged into depression. He embraced his new identity and shared his memories of
the Quinns. He wondered if his two families had shared the secret of his paternity
as there was never any discord in the household. The Quinns had lost their only
son on the Burma railway in WW2 and their only remaining child, Mary, had an
intellectual disability. Perhaps my father filled their lives again as only a child can
do. When Aimee Quinn had a stroke and was bedridden for 3 months before she
died, it was my grandmother who nursed her at home, caring for her until the end.
And when the Quinns passed away my grandparents took on the role of caring for
Mary their daughter, something that again highlights the closeness of these two
So expect the unexpected when you look at your Ancestry DNA results. Look
outside the box when checking your matches and be ready to embrace any
unexpected discoveries. DNA matching really does open up new frontiers in family
I don’t know if there is a record for the oldest person to find out their biological
father, but I have to wonder if my father is right up there at the top
You can read about the Quinn Family HERE:
Below: Thomas Patrick [aka Patrick] Quinn with Jane Alice [aka Jean]
Hickson nee Thomas and their son Barry Ernest Patrick Hickson