The protagonist has been happily living with his or her family until one day, out of the blue, they learn that the people who raised them are not in fact their biological parents, either by adoption or by infidelity. There begins the gene hunt, to find their genetic parents. Expect lots of Freudian Excuses, You're Not My Father and "are my adoptive parents my real parents" Wangst. Often the result of Parental Abandonment or Raised by Wolves. There are a few different ways this can play out: firstly, they find their genetic parents and discover happiness (this only works if the old parents are distant or abusive). Secondly, they can find their genetic parents, only to find they are more distant or jerky than their adoptive ones, or are utterly indifferent to their existence, or outright don't want anything to do with them (expect lots of Prodigal Son-style making up at the end). Thirdly, they can locate their biological parents, only to realize that they'd rather not confront them and risk disrupting everyone's lives. Or, they may simply search for their biological parents out of nothing but curiosity, firmly believing that the people who raised them have always been (and will be) their true parents. Finally, they can fail altogether to find their parents (a real Downer Ending will have the character give up just before they would have found their parents). Can lead to Luke, I Am Your Father, Luke, You Are My Father, Family Relationship Switcheroo, Tell Me About My Father, or Mysterious Parent situations. If this happens in a Sitcom, be wary when Status Quo Is God. Named for, but unrelated to, the character of Gene Hunt on Life On Mars. Should not be confused with Stalker with a Test Tube, an entirely different form of gene hunting. Or with using someone's DNA to find them, as is done in the CSI franchise. Has nothing to do with the Gene Hunt Interrogation Technique (or so we hope).
open/close all folders
- DC Comics: Damage. Thanks to genetic engineering, he was genetically the child of the entire JSA. His birth father was the Atom (Al Pratt).
- This is the backstory of Izzy Sinclair, from the Doctor Who Magazine comic. In the end, she doesn't find her birth parents, but she does reconcile with her adoptive parents (making this a Type 3 with a happy ending).
- A Death in the Family is kickstarted when Jason Todd learns that the people who raised him weren't his biological parents, and that his biological mother may still be alive. He eventually finds her though it would have been better if he hadn't.
- The Ben Stiller film Flirting With Disaster.
- The entire premise of Joe Dirt, minus the part where he was adopted. Result: His blood relatives are jackasses, but the friends he's collected along his search end up a loving family for him.
- The title character in Astrid Lindgren's Mio, My Mio.
- The driving plot of the movie Twins has the main character leaving his island to search for his family, finding a brother, maybe a father, and finally a mother in the process.
- Secrets and Lies is all about somebody looking for her birth mother, though she knew she was adopted all along, the death of her adoptive mother triggers the search.
- October Baby.
- Flinx and his search for his genetic father in Alan Dean Foster's Humanx Commonwealth book series. It's played for quite a bit of Wangst and at least two Are You My Father moments, before being concluded in a fairly brutal fashion in the penultimate book, when he discovers that he doesn't technically have one thanks to the wonders of genetic engineering.
- Taran's search for his father in Taran Wanderer, the penultimate book of the Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander. He never finds out, and realizes that it's not that important anyway.
- Lyra Belacqua in His Dark Materials was always told that her parents were the Count and Countess Belacqua, who had died in an airship accident; she later discovers that they were actually her aunt and uncle, and her real parents are (this is despoilered halfway through the first book) Lord Asriel and Marisa Coulter. Lyra reacts both ways to the news: while her mother's identity comes as a nasty shock, she couldn't be happier to learn of her father and delights in hearing how he murdered her mother's legal spouse when Lyra was a newborn in order to protect her when the husband decided to try and off the baby.
- The young adult novel The Girl on the Milk Carton is about a teen girl that sees a picture of a missing girl on her milk carton and realizes it's her. She spends the rest of the book wrestling with the knowledge that her parents aren't her true parents, that she might have even been kidnapped by them, and that she has another set of parents that are looking for her desperately.
- Inverted in Fingersmith: Mrs. Sucksby tries to exchange her adoptive daughter for her biological daughter who's been raised by a rich family (she thinks the girl will love her just by virtue of being her biological daughter — she's wrong).
- In Warrior Cats, Jayfeather, Lionblaze, and Hollyleaf are listening when Ashfur is trying to kill them out of jealousy that Squirrelflight chose Brambleclaw over him. Squirrelflight tells Ashfur that the three aren't her kits. Hollyleaf thinks Leafpool might know who their real parents are, since she was there are the time of their birth. Leafpool reveals that she is their real mother, which is against the warrior code since she is a medicine cat and medicine cats aren't allowed to have mates.
- Claire Bennet from Heroes. Toyed with, in that she does this not out of any sense of insecurity or Wangst, but because she wants an explanation for her immortality. Eventually she finds her biological parents, and her dad turns out to a be congressman and Aloof Big Brother to the man who saved her life: Nathan Petrelli, destined to become President. Nice.
- Rather amusingly done in Curb Your Enthusiasm, where Larry finds his apparent birth parents who are Christian (he is Jewish). After getting over the initial shock, he decides that he likes them, and consequentially loses all of his stereotypically "Jewish" tendencies (as well as becoming a nice nice person). After he finds out that they weren't his parents, and the people who raised him were, he reverts back to his old personality.
- Somewhat subverted on Veronica Mars: after it's hinted that Veronica may not be Keith's child, she gets DNA results and then discards them without reading. Her father also got DNA results, but read his. Congratulations, V, your dad's still your dad!
- Also done with Trina Echolls. The degree to how well that ended is up for debate.
- Chuck does this in season 2 of Pushing Daisies. Inverted with Emerson Codd, who tries to publish a book to lead his lost daughter to him.
- "Are you my mummy? Are you my mummy?" Of course. It's not quite clear why this little boy is looking for his mummy, but the gene hunting does save humanity from zombification.
- Given the onscreen explanation of why the little boy was zombified by the nanogenes, it seems pretty clear that he was looking for his Mummy because that is what the little boy was doing when he was hit by the bomb.
- Family Ties: In one episode Alex's friend Skippy goes through this, and is hurt when he goes to meet his birth mother and discovers she doesn't want to have a relationship. Alex finally says, essentially, "Look, the people who changed your diapers and have raised you all this time? Those are your real parents," and Skippy decides he's right.
- One episode of Dharma and Greg has an old friend of Dharma visit and spend a lot of time with Larry. It turns out that the friend has determined Larry may be her biological father, and though she doesn't want to bring this up and disrupt his life she wants to bond with him just in case. Dharma eventually discovers proof that Larry couldn't be the father, but chooses not to reveal it when the friend says Larry was her favorite out of all the potential candidates.
- The Korean Drama Winter Sonata: Joon Sang is a high schooler checking school records for who his father might be.
- On True Blood Sam was adopted and then abandoned when his adoptive family found out that he was a shapeshifter. When he finds his biological parents and his younger brother Tommy, they turn out to be trailer trash who support themselves by having Tommy shapeshift into a dog and fight in illegal dogfights. When his parents abuse his hospitality he throws them out and wants nothing to do with them. He tries to build a relationship with Tommy but the kid is so messed up things quickly take a dark turn.
- On Boy Meets World, Shawn gets a letter from his Missing Mom in which she reveals that she is not his real mother. He proceeds to try to track his real mother, and is unsuccessful in doing so. His dead father later appears to him in a vision and says that his biological mom was a stripper who took off after giving birth to him, though it's unclear if this vision was real or all in Shawn's head.
- In an early episode of Highlander: The Series, orphaned Richie Ryan does this, to no success—the man claiming to be his father is a con man, and the woman he'd always believed to be his birth mother turned out to have been fostering him. This turns out to be foreshadowing, as Richie is later revealed to be an Immortal, all of whom are foundlings.
- Gilmore Girls has a girl come into Luke's diner saying that she's doing a DNA test for her science fair to find out who her father is.
- On CSI: New York, the son Mac's late wife gave up for adoption as a teenager comes searching for her, only to learn that she'd died on 9/11. Although his Gene Hunting was a failure, Mac sympathizes with his could-have-been-stepson, and strikes up a friendship to tell him about his late mother.
- Chico And The Man has a Japanese young man come and claim Ed Brown as his father, stemming from a tryst after WW2, and how he elaborates on how he and his mother plan to move to LA to spend their lives with him. Turns out Ed's not the bio-father, it had been an Army buddy of his. Chico saves the day by falsely claiming that Ed's also his father and had been caring for him as well, letting the Japanese decide it's wiser for them to go back to Japan.
- In one episode of NCIS, Abby learns that she's adopted - and that her biological family lives within easy travel distance of the Navy Yard. She meets the brother she never knew she had, but doesn't tell him they're related for a while, almost half a season.
- In Single Father, Lucy always knew Dave wasn't her real father but it wasn't until her mother died that she felt compelled to find him. The "hunt" is cut shot, however, when Dave discovers that Rita always knew who the father was, having asked him specifically to help her have a baby (she told her family it was a one-night stand) and had kept in contact with him.
- The plot of Once Upon a Time kicks off when Henry seeks and finds his biological mother, Emma.
- Agents Of Shield: Skye got involved with Rising Tide (and agreed to join SHIELD) partly so she could search various databases for clues about her parents. She knows only that she was dropped off at an orphanage by a SHIELD agent. The episode "Seeds" answers some questions about her origin, but raises a lot of new ones.
- In the second season, she finds out about her father, and quickly wishes she didn't.
- Played With in Forever. Abe starts researching his family tree after he discovers his biological parents' names. He's quick to point out to Henry, however, that it doesn't change the fact that he sees Henry as his real father. He has known Henry and Abigail adopted him for at least 50 years by this point; it's not a wangsty "Who am I?" search but rather simple curiosity. Further played with when Abe's search reveals that he and Henry actually are related: Henry's uncle from 200 years ago is one of Abe's ancestors.
- Mamma Mia!: Sophie, who has lived fatherless her whole life, finds an old journal of her mother's detailing three lovers she had around the time of Sophie's conception. So she invites the three men over, and instantly develops a rapport with one of them. Which one is her father? No one ever knows.
- The creators have stated that Bill is the father.
- Inverted, somewhat, in Final Fantasy IV: Orphan hero Cecil knows he's adopted, after a fashion, but his concern about his real parents is quite low-key. However, though he's not hunting genes, the genes are hunting him.
- In Super Mario RPG, Mallow's primary motivation for joining the party is to find his real parents after finding out that he (a living cloud creature) is not a tadpole.
- The heroine of Star Ocean: The Second Story has this as her main motivation to journey with the hero. She's known for some time that she was adopted, and retains a close relationship with her adopted mother, but she still wants to know where she came from and why she was abandoned.
- The Simpsons episode "Homer's Paternity Coot", where Homer tries to track down a man who he suspects of being his real father.
- Family Guy: Peter goes to Ireland to find his real father.
- And when Stewie hunts down someone he believes to be his real father who turns out to be himself.
- Fran was adopted by a Chinese couple in American Dad!. After Stan gets annoyed by their lack of assimilation, insistence on tradition, and refusal to treat him as "the man of the house" in his own home (they were pretty obnoxious and rude to him), he goes on a search for her real parents who it turns out gave up their baby rather than downgrade to Coach seats on a flight.
- Rocko's Modern Life once parodied this in the episode where Heffer found out he was adopted. Heffer is a steer who was raised by wolves. Ultimately, Heffer has a dream where his father informs him that he was abandoned at birth for being too much of a sissy. And that his mother's a car seat somewhere.
- CatDog went looking for their parents, and believed they found their relatives in a little town in the mountains where cats and dogs get along. They're wrong, and also discover that the peace between cats and dogs is apparently really, really fragile. They eventually find out their real parents were a female yeti and a frog with a very long nose. Considering this probably isn't the strangest thing they've ever seen, they're very accepting.
- They weren't even their biological parents. They were found outside their cave as babies and they took them in. Cat and dog are annoyed that they still don't know where they came from, but they knew who cared for them when they were young and that was good enough for them.
- Moses in the movie The Prince of Egypt is shocked to find out he's not really a prince, but a Jew.
- He knew full well where he came from in The Bible. He killed an Egyptian out of ethnic/nationalistic pride due to not wanting to see his own attacked by an Egyptian wrongly. The Prince of Egypt merely tidies the story up for young viewers, by making that whole murder thing an accident. The idea that he didn't know who he was actually comes from the film The Ten Commandments.
- Po's arc in Kung Fu Panda 2 is driven in part by this, especially since he has faint memories of his original parents abandoning him. But he eventually comes to terms with both the fact that they loved him so much they died for him, and that his adoptive father loves him no less. Cue Crowning Moment of Heartwarming marathon.
- Leela's personal plot in early Futurama episodes is this, though played with. As she believes she's an alien, she's looking for her entire race, not just her parents, and she doesn't have adoptive parents, she was raised in the orphanarim from childhood. She believes she finds the only other cyclops, but he turns out to be a shape shifting alien who only wants her to take care of one of his castles. She eventually discovers that she's not an alien, but a sewer mutant who looks mostly normal. Her parents left her on the orphanarium's doorstep because they wanted her to have a normal life and watched over her from the shadows her entire life. She visits them often in later episodes and tries to go back and have a life with them after being returned to a teen, but returns to normal.
- The plot of the Alvin and the Chipmunks special "A Chipmunk Reunion" revolves around the triplets looking for their mother. The brothers want to know what their birthday is so they run away to look for their mother. When they meet their mom Alvin is upset, not believing that he loved her since he abandoned her, until she explains that it was a terrible winter when they were born. They couldn't survive the journey so she left them with David. She was gonna take them back in the spring but they were happy with Dave so she left them.