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Lost & Found: An Adventure in Ancestry

Jan 29, 2020 11:34AM

A short while ago I received some information connected to having tested my DNA in 2016 with ancestry.com. Firstly, it confirmed much of where I suspected my family is from—Ireland, England, Scotland, Italy, and Germany—and showed other connections of people I know or remember as being “family.” 

Most interesting, though, was my cousin alerting me to a high-level hit in the system that read: “close relative, first cousin.” Intriguing, to say the least. My parents had a total of four siblings, and I know all of my family, including cousins. Well, at least I thought I did.

Fortunately, this person left me a message. She told me she was adopted shortly after birth and didn’t know her biological father but knew his name, address, and workplace at the time she was born. The names were “redacted”; however, there are ways to see the redacted information if you really try.

So, here I was reading this information on a Tuesday afternoon in my office. Her father’s address at the time of her birth was 411 Adams Street, Linden, New Jersey. It stated that he worked at The American Insurance Company in Newark. Now, this information was close to being 60 years old and the truth is, it’s difficult to find someone without a date of birth or death.

Enter DNA. When your DNA matches others on the site it places them into your family tree. I have scores of people in mine now, most of whom I do not know. However, this particular connection was at the highest hierarchical level. I then looked at the DNA match analysis. Our shared DNA was 1916cm across 47 segments versus a first cousin, whose shared DNA with me was 910cm across 38 segments. (In genetic genealogy, a centimorgan or map uni is a unit of recombinant frequency, which is used to measure genetic distance.) This, combined with her birth father’s information—which was a house I grew up in—could only mean one thing.

This was my sister.  

Needless to say, the following week was filled with emotion and wonder. Growing up an “only child,” I always wished I had a sibling and six decades later I found out I did. I have a sister named Melissa. 

My wife and I decided to take a trip to meet Melissa and her wife. I was excited and nervous. We met at a small Italian restaurant for lunch and when Melissa first stepped out of the car, I welled up from the emotion of it all.

While I didn’t see a resemblance between us, I wondered as did my wife: is it nature or nurture? The four of us sat down to have lunch and talked about our families, what we do for a living, where we grew up—to which I was a little taken aback. Turns out we both grew up in central New Jersey, a mere 10 miles from one another.

The most interesting moment of the day, however, came in the middle of lunch. I’m looking at my sister when an overwhelming sense of emotion hit me and brought tears to my eyes. Why? Because as clear as day, I saw my father’s face in Melissa’s, and it’s almost surreal. It’s a moment I’ll never forget. While all the DNA proof was there in black and white, at that moment I truly realized this woman really was my sister. 

After meeting Melissa and her lovely wife, Karen (who, thankfully, pushed Melissa to search for her birth parent and test her DNA), and thereafter having them over to our home in California, the nature or nurture question was answered. My wife, Melissa’s wife, and our children will tell you, it’s definitely nature. We’re alike in many ways and that’s the true wonder of it all. Most noticeable is our sense of humor. We began needling each other almost from the start.

I feel blessed to have found Melissa after all this time. A year later, and I still sit here in awe. When I was a child, I dreamed of having a brother or sister. Dreams can and do come true.  


By Terry Carroll