MOTHER. TEACHER. INSPIRER.
I’ve been interested in family history and our origins for as long as I can remember. I used to spend every summer with my grandparents on both sides in the South and I would pepper my grandmothers with questions about where we were from. My deep curiosity was met with very little interest. There were no special recipes from “Oma” or any heirlooms brought to the New World from any trips over the Atlantic Ocean and no stories about Ellis Island. As far as they were concerned, we were from “Tennessee” and we were “American”: End of Story.
My cousins sometimes teased me that I didn’t look much like my brother and I started to wonder as well why I didn’t look much like the people in my family. I often felt like an outsider when visiting my father’s family, but I couldn’t quite put a finger on why I felt that way. My parents got divorced when I was 12 and for some reason, I asked my mother if my dad was really my father. I remember quite clearly asking her a few times and the last time I asked she told me that she had had a “short term relationship” before she married my dad, but she was “pretty sure” that my dad was in fact my father. I wasn’t completely satisfied with the answer, but I pushed the idea aside and just went on with life.
I studied languages in college, and I participated in an exchange program in France. I was keenly interested in travel and becoming a high school French teacher. My year abroad was a very exciting time and I thoroughly enjoyed getting to learn French even more intensely. Perhaps even more fun though was getting to know the other exchange students. We used to spend hours swapping slang with each other and commenting on how different our versions of English could be. A favorite activity with our fellow French students was getting them to guess our nationalities or ethnicity. Interestingly enough, I was asked, “Are you English?” and all I could say was “maybe!”. It was amusing but it got me to wonder more about my family’s roots. Where we were originally from? When did our ancestors first arrive in the US?
When my year in France was over, I was not ready for my travels to end. One of the Irish boys on our program had become my boyfriend and he needed to go back to Ireland. I really wanted to spend more time abroad some way or somehow, whether it was by working or backpacking. I was completely and utterly bitten by the travel bug! After I finished my student teaching, I was able to get a job in Japan working as an assistant language teacher for three years. Luckily for me, my boyfriend came and joined me there. At the end of my three-year stint, the relationship with him dissolved, but I was left with a strong affection for the Irish.
I returned home yet again and met my soon-to-be husband. We traveled a lot, got married and even moved back to Japan for another 18 months. We started a family and I stayed at home for a while. It was those early days with little ones at home that I became keenly interested in DNA and ancient origins. At the time, National Geographic was doing a special “Deep Ancestry” project and they were looking for participants. I signed up and gleefully learned that my earliest female ancestor had come from the South of France. How cool is that?
I jumped on the chance to buy a DNA kit from Ancestry in 2012. I was so intrigued with learning more about my family’s roots. My mom had been told there was some “Indian blood” and my dad didn’t know his own father, so there was still this gnawing feeling of curiosity and just wanting to know more. I honestly did not put much thought into the DNA matches that I would have. I was simply looking for ethnicity.
I was quite shocked with my initial results. It said that I was 93% “British Iles”, 4% Scandinavian with the rest as “possibly Russian”. I could not believe how homogenous my results were! There was no Native American and my mom was in absolute disbelief. She ended up taking the test herself and talked her aunt into taking one as well. As far as we can tell, the “Indian blood” is just a family myth.
I didn’t really spend much time on the DNA Matches page. It was “early days” and the closest relative were third cousins and beyond. There were very few names that I recognized. I was happy and puzzled with my ethnicity percentages, but they weren’t far off from what my research had revealed so far. There wasn’t anything to be all that concerned about at the time.
My dad really didn’t show much interest in the results at all. In fact, I’m pretty sure that when I told him how “British” I was, he said, “Oh yeah?” and then moved onto a completely different topic. He has yet to talk or ask me at all about the results that I received. I should have seen this as a sign of things to come.
Five years went by and my ethnicity predictions changed somewhat to separate out Irish from English. I still didn’t see many relatives that I recognized in my matches, but I just didn’t know enough to understand what I was seeing. In the meantime, I had talked my husband into taking a test as well as several friends. I just thought it was “good fun”. I’d gotten my ethnicity results and I was pleased to finally have an answer to that particular mystery in my life. I would spend time on Ancestry every now and then, but I didn’t have much time or interest in doing much more at that point.
That all changed early one morning. At about 5 in the morning, I received an instant message from someone on Facebook that I didn’t know. She was a “search angel” and she was trying to connect a possible cousin of mine to her father. This cousin, that I shall call Tracy, had grown up knowing she had a different biological father, but didn’t know much at all about him. Tracy had decided that for her 50th birthday she would take a DNA test and try to find her father once and for all. The search angel could see that my mom and I came up as 2nd cousins and maybe I might know where to find him?
I got rather excited about the chance to help someone find their dad and I agreed to do whatever I could to help out. He had the same last name as my mom did growing up but that side of her family was not close to each other. There were a series of “falling outs” and the search angel had already reached out to a few other cousins and was immediately treated with suspicion. Several of them even though she was some sort of scammer. In explaining all of this to me, the search angel asked me to go to my Matches page so I could see that Tracy and I were indeed cousins. So, I opened my Ancestry account to check it out. I scrolled down quickly and discovered Tracy there but as I scrolled back up the page, I saw my mother’s name and then a man I didn’t know… listed as my father!
I instantly froze and just stared at the page. What was I reading? How could this be? Who was this man? The name seemed vaguely familiar, but my initial reaction was complete shock. A few four letters words escaped my mouth and I just sat stunned. Instead of calling my mom right away, I sat with this information for a bit. Then I took a screenshot and emailed it to my mom and I asked her “Is there something you want to tell me?”.
While I waited for a response, my search angel had found my biological father on Facebook. She had me take a look at his profile picture and the moment I saw it; I knew that he was my father. I cannot properly describe the bizarre feelings I had. I was just blown away. Here I was, looking at someone that looked so much like me and yet was a complete mystery! My husband was also shocked and urged me to call my mom on the phone, but I really wanted to wait and see what she would say, especially if she saw the information in the exact same way that I had seen it.
She wrote back several agonizing hours later to tell me she would have a look into finding the father for our “new” cousin and the information from Ancestry was “a mistake”. By this point, I was certain the information was, in fact, correct. I thought about calling Ancestry and trying to figure it out, but the search angel assured me they very rarely made mistakes. She also pointed out I already had Facebook friends in common with this man! My mother’s best friend’s daughter had befriended me, and I was fairly certain that this just could NOT be a mistake.
My mind raced all night long. At about 6:30 the next morning, my mother called me which was very unusual. She told me that she hadn’t slept hardly at all that night and that she needed to tell me the truth: this man was in fact my father, but she hadn’t known. She felt very bad about it all and wanted me to know that he was a “good man” and that he would be just as surprised as the rest of us that I was his daughter. She was still in contact with him via Christmas cards or the odd e-mail, but she hadn’t talked to him in a while. She also told me that he was happily married and had been for over 40 years, had two sons, and that he now lived in Australia. She then said, “oh, and by the way, he’s Irish”!
Irish? Oh, how weird! I had become increasingly interested in all things Irish over the past few years after dating the Irishman. I had even married an Irish American and we had given all three of my kids Irish/Celtic names at my insistence. My biological father was Irish??
All this information was a bit of a shock to the system, but not in a bad way. Suddenly things that had seemed odd growing up were starting to make sense and I was absolutely dying to know more! I peppered her with questions for at least an hour before realizing that I just needed to absorb this news. I had a lot of new information to digest. There are so many odd things in my life that just clicked once I understood the truth and so many strange coincidences or “synchronicities” that link me with my biological family.
So, what was my story? Well, my biological father and my mother had met while working in a lab in my mother’s hometown. He was a graduate student and she was a lab assistant. She had recently broken up with my birth certificate father as he was about to go to Officer’s Training. My mother was just 23 and not really interested in “settling down” just yet.
She and my biological father had a lot in common though. They enjoyed music festivals, traveling, and hanging out together. According to both of them, they had a brief but intense relationship. After a few months, my mom decided it wasn’t really working out for her, so after one last steamy night together, she broke it off. She packed up her bags and headed to another state where my dad (birth certificate father) was preparing to do his tour of duty in Vietnam.
My dad and mom decide they should get married quickly. At this point, it was less than two weeks since she’d broken up with my biological father. They had talked a bit about marriage in the past but there hadn’t been any serious discussions and now he was set to go off to war. To speed things up, they call their families on the phone and then head to the courthouse.
A few weeks later my mom feels unwell and queasy. She’s not sure what is going on, so she decides to go to the doctor and is shocked to learn that she is pregnant! She realized the timing might make it possible that I had a different father than her husband and she tells my dad this news. They are very much in love at the time but he assures my mother that he can handle this. They decide that when I was born, they would have a blood test done and figure it out. In any case, he tells my mom that no matter whose kid I am, he would raise me.
So blood tests are done when I was born and it turns out that I have AB+ blood. According to the diagram of possible blood types between parent and child, I am a match to my dad as he also has AB+ blood. With just 3% of the US population with this particular blood type, my mom and dad just assumed that I was his kid! She never told my biological father that she had any doubts about my paternity and oddly enough, she never asked him what his blood type is, so she really didn’t have all the facts at the time.
My dad did go to Vietnam shortly after I was born. My mom and I returned to her hometown to wait out his tour. When he returned, we were shipped overseas for a few years. My mom had my brother while we were there. We eventually made it to the Pacific Northwest which is where I still live today. My dad and mom split up when I was 12 and she now lives in the Southwest. My dad remarried about two years after their divorce. As for my biological father, he moved to Hawaii after finishing up his grad work. He met his wife there and they got married, moved to New Zealand, and eventually to Australia. My two half-brothers were born in Sydney.
One very important thing my mom did at the very start of all of this was tell me that she would back me up no matter what. She told me it was entirely up to me about what to do with this new information. She was concerned that I would be angry with her for not telling me the truth. In reality I was excited about getting to know new family members and a bit sad that there would be many that I could never know, like my biological grandparents. In my mind at the time, all of this information meant that I had “bonus” family, not that I didn’t belong to my original one. My mother also warned me that my biological father has been dealing with prostate cancer for quite a while. She understood that he was going to be doing chemo soon and she felt it was important that I know that he was not in the best health.
It took me a little time to sort out my feelings. In the end, I decided that I would pursue a relationship with my biological father if he was interested. I really didn’t want to rock the boat or cause any problems for anyone, but I did want to learn more about him. Thankfully he felt the same way: a bit uncomfortable and confused at first, but he really wanted to get to know me and my kids. He also wanted my half-brothers to get to know me. We decided that we would write emails and use FaceTime to communicate.
It’s been almost four years since my discovery, and it has definitely had its ups and downs. The highlights have definitely been getting to know my biological father and my new half-brothers and a new niece and nephew. My family and I got to meet my biological father and half brothers in Hawaii along with my new stepmother and her family. To be honest, I’ve been extremely blessed and touched by how accepting they have all been. The physical distance is difficult as they are in Australia and we are in the States, but we make the best of it with technology. My biological father and his wife were due to come to visit with us last May but that has been put on hold while we wait out the pandemic.
I haven’t “come out” to all of my family of origin as there were concerns from my mom and dad as to how other family members might take the news. My dad (birth certificate father) has not dealt at all well with the news which I was a bit surprised at because he knew from the start that I might not be his child. He feels that I have betrayed him. He is angry that I would want to know my biological family and even angrier that I chose to meet with them. We are no longer on speaking terms. Perhaps with time things will seem less brittle but we’ve both chosen to distance ourselves for now. I’ve been in counseling and it has definitely been helping.
Overall, I feel extremely lucky to have found out about my “bonus” family. It has not been an easy path but it’s been like the facts of my life have come full circle. I hope that others are able to find their way through their DNA surprises as well.