It was 2011 when I first got interested in genealogy.
I don’t know what prompted this interest, but all I remember is that I suddenly became obsessed with making my family tree. As a Black American with a lineage that traces back to enslaved people in the United States, my hope was that using a site like Ancestry.com would help fill in the gaps that inevitably appeared after I finished interviewing my living ancestors.
Those early days on the site were really fun. I connected with other folks equally interested in their lineage and I was able to expand the limbs of my family tree further than I imagined possible.
About a year or so later, Ancestry.com launched their AncestryDNA testing that allowed users to send a DNA sample to Ancestry. The company advertised:
“…one simple DNA test can give you incredible new details about your unique ethnic origins, connect you with relatives and help you make new kinds of family history discoveries.”
I NEEDED to take that DNA test.
So sometime in 2013, even though the test was expensive for a young woman underemployed and fresh out of college, I bought an AncestryDNA test for $99 and waited anxiously for the results.
After Ancestry finished processing my test, I would periodically get messages from distant cousins (something like 7th or 8th cousins that shared a sliver of DNA) reaching out asking to compare family trees and find common ancestors.
Seeing how fun this new hobby was, my father, mother, sister, and brother all ordered DNA tests as well to join in the fun!
As the Ancestry portal got more detailed and sophisticated it became easier to find and identify relatives and the site would conveniently put them in order according to how close they were – with parents and siblings at the top, and distant relatives at the bottom.
Eventually, life got busy and I spent less and less time on Ancestry.com.
Occasionally, a friend or coworker might ask me about my family tree or my ethnicity results and I would log in for a moment to show them. It became a fun, casual hobby to return to when the mood struck.
A mysterious message
It had been years – maybe 4 or 5 – since I received a message on Ancestry.com. After an early flurry of messaging, the messages slowed to a trickle until they eventually stopped.
So when I got an alert that I recently received a new message, I was a bit surprised. When I eventually opened it after a few days I saw the following note:
“We have a very close DNA match. I never met my father…and you could possibly be related to him.”
Looking at this man’s profile I saw that he was right – he was listed almost all the way at the top of my DNA matches and shared…25% of my DNA.
Looking at this man’s profile picture he looked exactly like a young version of my father.
The wheels started to turn – very, very slowly.
I was piecing together what this likely meant, but I was afraid to jump to the logical conclusion.
Seeing this stranger’s face next to my dad’s face in the Ancestry portal – seeing the similarities, the facial features. I was shook.
Like clockwork, while I was stilled logged in, he sends another message. A lengthier one, with more detail:
“I would like to say a little about me and my story. First I’m [Name], born [Birthdate] in [City]. My mother’s name is [Name]. Growing up my mother never really gave me a true story on who my father was…”
He continued telling me a bit about the story he was led to believe and the revelation that he didn’t actually know who his father was. He continued later on in the note:
“On a whim last month I decided to do this DNA kit. Just got back the results this past Friday and it shows that 50 percent of my DNA comes from [My father’s name] that makes him my father. Which was a major shock.”
He ended the note by expressing that he was trying to find out more about his story and wanted to reach out to each of us.
Writing a New Chapter
The next 48 hours following this news was a whirlwind. I cried a lot of tears. Not out of anger, but out of confusion. How did this happen? Why did I never know about this?
I’m still trying to get all of the answers to those questions.
But in the meantime, I decided to open this door.
I spent a day researching everything I could about this person.
I bought a very detailed background check.
And then another.
No criminal history, no financial issues or liens, no red flags or problems whatsoever.
I found out where he lived – a very nice, upscale apartment in a bustling city.
I found his FaceBook and then his LinkedIn, revealing a thriving, impressive career.
I put my detective on and I was relieved and pleasantly surprised by everything I found.
So I messaged him back letting him know I would be happy to talk to him.
And he immediately responded.
His response was extremely polite but also very enthusiastic.
We made a plan to meet on Zoom the next day.
And we did:
Have you ever looked into the face of a stranger and seen your own features etched into their skin? The resemblance to my father and his side of the family was eery but also comforting.
Talking to my half brother was a delight. He was kind, cordial, professional, and extremely appreciative. We talked for about 40 minutes before we both had to return to our respective jobs.
We ended the call with big smiles and the intention to continue this newfound siblinghood.
Throughout this whirlwind journey I’ve had my amazingly supportive and wise husband in my corner as well as my army of friends cheering me on and encouraging me as I forge this new friendship with my brother.
My hope is that I can at least help my brother heal the deep wounds from not knowing his father or family.
But I know I also need to heal as well.
We are all told stories. Stories about our family. Stories about how we came to be. And my story, as I understand it, has changed.
While the result of that is ultimately positive (I have a new older brother that I had no idea existed!), this is still a change.
Change is difficult.
But I’m ready.
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