An Incidental Discovery: Finding my Dad with my DNA

I have my maternal grandmother to thank for inspiring my desire to learn more about my Native American heritage. That desire led me on a journey of discovery that surpassed my wildest dreams.

I was born in the early '70s. My Mom was very young, and I never knew my Dad. When I was a teenager I was given the name of a man, I was told that he knew about me, that he was in the military, and he had never emerged to be a part of my life. My grandparents, and my uncles helped my mom to raise me, and I honestly grew up in what I would say was a normal childhood. I'm very close to all of my Mom's family, and I don't recall it being a big deal about my Dad. Once in a while I would allow myself to daydream about what my Dad would be like, but never felt much like chasing down someone that had walked away. 

Fast forward to a few years ago when commercial DNA testing became both popular, and affordable. I was intrigued; at this point I had been researching my family for some time and had not yet made any solid conclusions about our Native American heritage, and of course, since I did not know my Dad there was that half of my ethnicity I had no idea about. With all of that said, I must admit that the thought of actually doing the test was slightly intimidating because of the chance that there would be close family from my Dad's side on my match list. I researched all the options, and then spent some time contemplating if it was worth the risk.

By mid- May of 2016 my curiosity finally got the best of me. I took the plunge, and ordered the autosomal DNA test offered by Ancestry™. I was so excited to finally get an opportunity to learn more about my ancestors. I received the kit, did the task, sent it back, and began patiently waiting for my results. When you activate the kit, it tells you that you should not expect results for 6-8 weeks. So I figured that toward the end of July I would get my results.

On June 15th, I got an email notifying me that my results were in, weeks before I expected them. I sat down at the computer with my cup of coffee and went right to my pie chart. Wow, there it was, an estimated 14% Native American. I was thrilled, finally proof; even though it does not tell me which tribe, still proof. I moved on from that estimate, and reviewed the remainder of my ethnicity. Some of it I expected, the rest was news to me; I am twelve different ethnicities! I must say the reveal was very exciting.

After temporarily satiating my curiosity with my ethnicity estimations, I moved on to my match list. What happened next was most unexpected. Right at the top of my match list was the name of my closest relative, my Dad. Here we were four days before Fathers Day, and there it was, his name right in front of my face. There really are no words I can find to describe that moment, I nearly fell out of my chair. 

First things first, the name I was looking at was not the name I had been given 30 years ago. What? Without hesitation I knew that the man, whose name I was reading, did not know about me. It had never occurred to us that perhaps it was not who we thought it was. There was something very powerful about knowing that my Dad actually had not walked away. 

I wasn't sure right away what I should do. First, I convinced myself that he would see that I was on his list, and that I should wait to hear from him. But no, that won’t work; I am too impatient. Besides, what if he never looked? So I did the next best thing that a curious girl can do, I Google him. In about five minutes I was convinced he was not an ax murderer, and that it would probably be safe to reach out via email. But wait, what do I say? Seriously, what is the best way to start that conversation?

So, I sat down, and typed up an email with a subject line of "Happy Fathers Day". I did not know your hands could tremble that much. I was terrified, and elated all at the same time. I typed a brief note telling him that we were a child/parent match, and I hit send, before I lost the courage to do it. I shut down my computer, and went to bed; I couldn’t bear looking at the computer just waiting for a response. I actually slept very well that night when I thought I may never sleep again with all those emotions.

First thing the next morning I of course went straight for the coffee, and then to my Ancestry.com account to check for a message. Sure enough, my Step-Mom had replied, and the very next day I had my first ever conversation with my Dad, forty-three years in the making.

My Step-Mom had, coincidentally, been seeking her own Native American heritage, and had ordered DNA tests for herself, and my Dad as a Christmas gift. They were certainly not expecting this outcome. Indeed, Dad did not know about me, and in fact, neither him, nor my Mom remember each other at all. It was the era of the Summer of Love, they were in San Francisco, need I say more? We all laugh about it, a lot. 

We wasted no time in making arrangements to meet each other, and about six weeks later, I visited them at their home in California. Not too long after that, he, and my step-mom visited our home in Idaho, and they were able to meet their three grandchildren, their great-granddaughter, and the rest of us. We speak several times a week, often for hours at a time, and we already have a date for our next visit in a couple of months. If I included all the details of the story, well, it would just go on forever. In short it truly is amazing, we are very blessed, and it could not be more beautiful.  

Dad, and I are so much alike it is funny, and we have so many physical similarities that I am convinced that both nature and nurture affect us equally. It really is very empowering to know exactly who you are, and where you came from. I don’t know what the odds are of things turning out the way they have, but I do know that it has changed all of our lives profoundly.

In closing, this is my personal story. Each of us has a story. The only way to find out what your own story might be is to take the next step forward. It's like a really good book that you can't put down. 

Questions? Comments? Please feel free to start a conversation. I am happy to take suggestions for future blog articles. Thanks for reading and don't forget to subscribe today so you won't miss any future posts. - A Research Guru