Alesia Cohen Weiss


The man I’d always known as my father said some startling things on his deathbed. You know, Alesia, he remarked during those final weeks, your mom is not who she seems to be.

Mark my words, he said another time, once I’m gone, your mother will marry again in less than six months. And the last of these pronouncements was the most cryptic of all: She is not telling you everything you need to know.

The year was 1993. I was thirty years old. I had no idea what to think of all this, but then again, at the time, I didn’t think much of it at all. As a military nurse, I’d abided with many dying patients. I was familiar with the way various cancers could eventually reach the brain. I knew many people often spent their final days in something like a dream state. I was aware of the confusion that could set in, as well as the personality changes. So when my father became angry toward the end – a rage that seemed to target my mother in particular – I assumed it was a manifestation of the cancer.

Looking back, I can see there were clues that I chose to disregard. Along with my dad’s baffling declarations, I had a lifelong intuition – one I dared not investigate in any real depth – that all was not as it seemed within my family. From as far back as I can remember, something about my relationship with my father felt “off” to me, but I had neither the time nor the inclination to explore this discomfort.

It took two more decades for me to be waylaid by the truth. After a DNA test I took in 2014 for the purpose of tracing my family’s genealogy, I had reason to revisit those deathbed messages. My results revealed that the man I believed was my half-brother bore no relation to me at all. We had no genetic material in common.

My ethnicity estimate yielded another shocking piece of information: after half a century as a practicing Christian, I learned I was half Jewish.

When I called my mother to confront her, she all but hung up on me. It took many subsequent conversations and four years of dogged detective work to identify my late father as a prominent defense attorney in Kentucky during the mid-twentieth century.

To say these revelations were life-altering would be an understatement. I experienced the emotions common to so many MPEs: shock, loss, profound disorientation, a shaken sense of identity. I discovered new and far-flung family members, some of whom were not open to a relationship with me but many others who were warm and welcoming. I embarked on a new spiritual exploration, inspired by my Jewish roots. And I grappled with the historical violence perpetrated by my German ancestors on one side of my family tree upon the Jewish ones on the other side.

My MPE journey also led me to the many-faceted, deeply rewarding work I do today: assisting others at an earlier stage of their own discovery, helping other seekers find their long-lost relatives, and spearheading various legislative efforts on behalf of MPEs everywhere, advocating for our right to know our own genetic identity.