COMPASSIONATE. LOYAL. THOUGHTFUL.
I was always told by my mom that we had Native American ancestors from my dad Robert’s side of the family. For more than 25 years, I researched my family history on both sides and had never had found any ancestors of Native American heritage. In December 2015 a few months after my mom died, Ancestry DNA was on sale for the holidays so I decided to purchase one. It wasn’t until January that I sent it in. The results changed my world forever.
Growing up it was just me, my younger brother Ed, mom, and her men (sometimes husbands). I also had a much older brother named Paul who I knew had a different feather that lived with us from time to time. I was curious about Robert since I had never met him. I wondered what he looked like. When my grandmother died, I found a box of pictures and this prompted me in my early thirties to start looking for him. I started gathering information about him and was able to build a family tree for him and his family. I learned my mom and Robert were actually never married. I also discovered he died when I was 16 and this meant I was never going to be able to meet him.
My head was spinning, to say the least, and my emotions were all over the place. I never had a father in my life. I had asked my mom many times what had happened. My mom told me once she left Robert, she never knew where he was. She was pregnant with my younger brother when she left. Even if he’d tried looking for us, no one would’ve been able to find us as we moved all over the state of Texas when I was young and Texas is a huge state. On my 13th birthday, we moved yet again, this time to California because there was more work there; so off we went.
Years later when Ancestry went live online and I could access more information I found out Robert had a daughter named Teressa who was a year younger than me and a son Robert Jr. a few years younger than her. I reached out and contacted Teressa and she shared pictures of Robert and told me more about our father and his family. We realized my mom had an affair with Robert who was married to Teressa and Robert Jr.’s mom. Ed and I were excited to learn more about Robert and gain a sister and brother. Over the years we visited each other, sent cards, and became friends. I thought I had solved the mystery of my father.
On my birthday March 12, which also happened to be my 60th birthday, I got an email stating the results were ready from my DNA test. I logged in and my ethnicity showed I was 50% Jewish with the remainder being a mix of English and Northwest Europe, which would have been correct. The Jewish part had me totally confused. I also matched with a woman named Karen who I did not know, but we shared a large number of centimorgans (cM). I had no clue what that meant and had a lot to learn.
One day later we were talking to each other trying to figure out how we were related. I suggested we turn to Facebook to find a group to help us better understand all of this new information. I asked her a few questions like where she was born and who her parents were, thinking I would be able to figure this out on my own. What she told me changed the whole game plan.
Karen was adopted and born in New Jersey. I told her I had no family from New Jersey, that all of my family was from Texas and my dad Robert was from Arkansas. A woman who read my message on Facebook asked us to both upload our DNA to Gedmatch. I had never heard of Gedmatch before but she explained exactly what we needed to do and we did.
While at work in a meeting she sent me a text asking, “Are you sitting down?” I responded, “Yes, of course,” not thinking too much about it. She then texted “Well, I have something important to tell you about your DNA match. Karen is your half paternal sister.” “What?!” I texted back. “You have the same father.”
This left me wondering if I was actually related to Robert’s other kids, Teressa and Robert Jr. I asked Teressa if she would do a DNA test and she agreed. Guess what, it turns out we were not genetically related and Robert was not my father.
Of course, I then asked my brother I group up with, Ed, to test and he too did not match with Teressa. And, he had no Jewish DNA at all. This meant Ed was not my full brother as we were raised to believe. We didn’t know who his biological father was. He did have a few very close matches and within about 3 days I figured out who his birth father was.
I was now searching for Karen and my biological father. I connected with a 3rd cousin DNA match. Our 3rd cousin had an extensive family tree which she freely shared. She told us she thought our birth father was a man named Ben based on the information I told her. Ben had lived in Dallas, TX for many years before my birth and after my birth for a few more years. He then left Dallas and returned to New Jersey where he met Karen’s mother. When she told him she was pregnant he left her. Karen’s mom made the difficult decision to place her child for adoption. We discovered Karen’s mother had passed away.
Karen and I also learned we have an older sister named Nancy from Ben. She’s nine years older than me and was also born in Dallas. Sadly, she wants nothing to do with us. Karen and I are fine, it is her loss not getting to know her wonderful, kind, compassionate and caring sisters.
I also found Ed’s biological father Leroy who lived in Dallas also. Turns out he had six kids by three different women. That was always the joke in his family—there were likely more kids out there because Leroy was always picking up women in bars. It was easy to understand how they’d met because my mom was always picking up men in bars. That’s how she’d met Ben too. Unfortunately Leroy had passed away years ago.
I hope you have followed this roller coaster and the twists and turns from having my DNA tested just to find out if I had any Native American DNA. I am not done, there is more to my MPE journey. Three years ago two young men popped up as close DNA matches (in the 900 cM range) to me and Ed. By this time I knew what that meant: they were great grandparents, great uncles, or half uncles—the men were too young for these relationships. They could be first cousins or half nephews—both a possibility. Or my great-grandchild—they weren’t young enough for that. But, I had no idea who they were.
Guess what I learned when I spoke to them? They are brothers and their father was adopted. Turns out their father Gregory is my half-brother. My mom placed a baby for adoption that we never knew about. Gregory is just three years younger than me and was born in Dallas. The sad part is, he passed in 1985. But he gave me a beautiful niece and three nephews to love. They think I am a super cool aunt. It’s so strange to be called Aunt Carol since my older brother Paul (whose father was who he thought he was – with my mother we had to check) and younger brother Ed have no children.
If I had not wondered whether I really had any Native American ancestry, I would have never found out about my Jewish father or my Jewish grandparents. My grandparents immigrated from Russia and landed in NYC in 1914 where they would live for a few years before settling across the river in Jersey City, NJ. I never would have found Tressa or Robert Jr.—they’re still my sister and brother in my eyes. My brother Ed, who I grew up with, would have never known the truth about who his birth father was.
I often tell people I am a smart woman, but I would never have believed the ramifications from me spitting into a little tube. So here is the tangled web my birth wove for their children: my birth father Ben had three daughters from three different women (me, Karen, and Nancy), my birth certificate father Robert had two children with his wife (Terressa and Robert Jr), and my mother had four children (me, Paul, Gregory, and Ed) with four different men. Oy Vey, life can be complicated and messy but oh so beautiful.