New podcast ‘Suddenly Family’ explores how at-home DNA testing changes lives

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Emmy Award-winning journalist Samuel Burke takes us on a journey into the unexpected and sometimes dark side of DNA testing. Illustration by JL JAVIER

For most of his life, Olongapo-born John Tompkins thought that the father who raised him was his biological one.

Growing up with a Filipina mother and an American father in San Diego, California, Tompkins’s struggles usually had to do with his mixed ethnicity. His father, who worked for the US Navy, moved their family from Olongapo to San Diego when he was four.

The story of Olongapo-born John Tompkins (center) — who thought that the father who raised him was his biological one — and Wayne Lane (second from right) from Alabama, is featured on the second episode of "Suddenly Family."

Years later after his mother’s death, an adult Tompkins was surprised to find his adoption papers while looking for insurance documents. The shocking discovery led him to take a DNA test — the results of which sparked even more questions about his biological father’s identity.

Tompkins’s story is just one of many from “Suddenly Family,” CNN Philippines' first podcast and is hosted by Samuel Burke, a three-time Emmy award-winning journalist. In seven episodes of over 20 minutes, Burke takes us on a journey into the unexpected and sometimes dark side of DNA testing. The investigative series was inspired by Burke’s experience seeking out answers about his own family.

At-home DNA testing is becoming increasingly accessible to the public, making up an almost $10 billion industry in the US. Burke says that “more than one in four people find out about a close family member they never knew they had from a DNA test.” And because of the strictly DNA-based nature of testing, these tests end up creating more questions than answers for those involved.

RELATED: Suddenly Family: The 3 DNA bombshells changed my life

In Tompkins’s case, further digging connected him to Wayne Lane, an Alabama resident who turned out to be the brother of his father. Through Lane, Tompkins discovered that he was the product of a one night stand between his mother and Chuck, a navy man on the way to Vietnam. Other episodes in the series put the spotlight on next door neighbors who turned out to be half-sisters, missing persons cases who weren’t actually missing, babies switched at birth, and more long buried family truths.

“Sudden Family” explores the emotional and psychological effects that these unexpected results have on family members, with answers to questions on family relations, identity, and ethnicity.


Listen to the podcast here.