For folks starting to trace their genealogy or those with a complex family history, commercial DNA tests are a great way to delve into the past. Still, often these little boxes uncover serious surprises as the BBC Radio 4 podcast, "The Gift", reveals.

In this series for BBC Radio 4, "The Gift", journalist and broadcaster Jenny Kleeman met the men and women whose lives changed forever after they opened a box containing a DNA test. Exposing scandals, upending identities, solving mysteries and delivering life-changing news, "The Gift", investigates what happens when genealogy, technology and identity collide.

Millions of people have spat into a tube and sent a vial of DNA to a company like Ancestry and 23andMe. Even if you haven't taken a test, it's likely a fairly close relative has, leaving an equally close version of your genetic code uploaded online, waiting to be discovered. Without us realizing it, an enormous global DNA database has been created, and shocking secrets once assumed forever hidden are being forced into the light.

Over six episodes, Kleeman met people whose lives have been transformed by at-home DNA tests. These incredible stories include a man in his eighties whose birthday present DNA test helped expose a shocking scandal at the heart of Harley Street, in London, renowned for its high-end medical clinics. 

Then there's a  son whose quest to learn more about his late father solves a mystery that has baffled police for over four decades. A family learns their youngest son has no biological relation to his father, and turns detective to find the couple who had IVF at the same time as them. 

Another episode explores what happens when white supremacists discover they aren’t as white as they thought and another that follows a woman whose Christmas gift from her sister led her to get a double mastectomy.

"The Gift" also explores how much can life change when you discover you’re living with a possible ticking timebomb, such as the Alzheimer’s gene.

The podcast's creator, Kleeman said: "We’re now so casual about testing our DNA, and I’ve become fascinated by the unintended consequences of unlocking the secrets contained in our genes. I began to collect extraordinary human stories of secrets, scandals, life-changing health news and even crimes that have been revealed through at-home DNA testing.

"So many people have now taken a test that almost anyone can be found. What happens when the DNA databases reach a critical mass? And how much do our genes really make us who we are?"

Listen to the first episode of "The Gift" here:

Quite recently, IrishCentral has reported on some similar tales. In 2022, a Chicago South Side resident, Susan Burritt, wrote to the Chicago Tribune. Burritt had believed all her life that she was of Polish descent. However, having taken a DNA test she discovered she was 72% Irish.

She wrote: "So what’s the big deal here for a White Sox fan from the Southwest Side? It fits, no? Not if you were raised by second-generation Polish parents with a mother who died never mentioning you were adopted. But that worked out just fine for me."

She added in the letter "So now I’m learning to be Irish. Bought a bottle of Jameson. Tried Guinness. Read Timothy Egan’s “The Immortal Irishman.” Immersed myself in the 24-part video lecture series “The Celtic World.” Even bought raffle tickets from the Irish American Heritage Center. I have also become addicted to Innisfree perfume. Learned about the poem “The Lake Isle of Innisfree” by William Butler Yeats and found out that Innisfree is a real place! It’s an uninhabited island within Lough Gill in Ireland."

Another tale, from Chicago again, emerged in 2021, when a woman called Cindy O'Gara did an at-home DNA test and discovered that she was a distant relative of Catherine O'Leary, an Irishwoman who was blamed for starting the Great Chicago Fire.

* Listen now to the "The Gift" on BBC Sounds or wherever you get your podcasts.