War Baby

In the early 1990s when he was on the cusp of turning 50, Paul Dodds didn’t have a midlife crisis, he had a midlife surprise.

Paul learned that the man he thought was his father wasn’t.Paul Dodds - Young Man

“It kind of made sense because although he was always there, he never bothered with me or my brother (he wasn’t his father either),” said Paul, about his brother who is two years older.

Although he’d never been very close to his dad, it never occurred to him that there might be a reason for that because as he said, “I never knew anything different.”

But the revelation propelled Paul on a two-decade long search to find his biological father, a quest that only ended after 23andMe helped him find a half sister and his father’s name. Now he wants to tell people about it.

“I would like to pass on the good things that have happened to me through 23andMe,” Paul said.

His story starts in Wales just after the end of the Second World War. Although he didn’t know it Paul, it turns out, was one of tens of thousands so-called “War Babies,” the offspring of liaisons between American servicemen stationed overseas during the war.

The photo of the man Paul wrongly thought was his father.

The photo of the man Paul wrongly thought was his father.

After he was born, Paul’s mother married a sailor with the UK Merchant Navy named Len. But unbeknownst to Paul — or Paul’s older brother — Len couldn’t have children. The family lived in Cardiff. In 1968 Paul immigrated to Canada where his father had moved after leaving his mom.

“He met me at the train and spent a day with me then that was about it, said Paul, who worked as a steel fabricator.

More than 20 years later, doctors contacted Paul about his dad, who had died from a very rare cancer. The doctors wanted to know a little bit more about his father’s life and the family’s health history. As Paul scrambled to find out whether it ran in the family, he got a jolt when talking to one of his uncles in England.

“I called my uncle in Newcastle, and when I started asking questions, he immediately said, ‘Paul, Len is not your father,’” he said. “That is how I found out.”

So Paul started looking for the identity of his biological father. He also learned that he and his brother were really half siblings so he started searching for his brother’s father as well.

“Part of the reason it became so important to find him is because it was deliberately hidden from me,” he said.

His mother gave him false leads, at on point telling Paul that his father had died when the ship he was on sunk. At other times she was simply evasive. He wasn’t sure why, perhaps she didn’t know herself, Paul said.

But there were two bits of information that his mother gave him that turned out to be true. His mom once told Paul he had “Jewish blood.” She’d also told Paul that his biological father had known his stepfather during the war, when his stepfather had been in the British merchant navy.

But at the time none of that information helped Paul. Instead he spent years chasing down false leads, and that went on even after his mother died. Soon after she passed away, one of Paul’s daughter’s found an old photograph of a man in a U.S. Army uniform.

Paul believed at the time that the man in the photo might have been his father, so he spent years figuring out the unit the man served with by looking at the insignias and ribbons on the uniform. He then tried to cross reference that with units stationed in the area at the time of his conception. Then he winnowed down names until he thought he had the right man. There had been writing on the back of the photo, which he had analyzed. But all of that painstaking work, which included searching military records in Britain and the United States, all came to naught.

It wasn’t until last year that Paul finally got a break when he tested with 23andMe. First he got a DNA Relative match with a first cousin, who helped him track down a woman, who they believed was his half sister. She recently tested with 23andMe.

Both Paul and his half-sister were ecstatic about finding the connection.

Paul learned his father, Leon Rossien, had been a merchant marine who served on the USS Cristobal, a troop ship. Leon was in port around VE Day in May of 1945. Paul believes he may have been conceived during the celebrations around the end of the war.

His sister filled him in on his father’s life. After the war, his biological father had been a jeweler. His father, who died in 1999 not long after Paul started looking for him, also liked to bet on horses and was married four times. Paul learned he had two other half-sisters, who passed away.

“I’ve seen some photos of him and there’s some resemblances,” said Paul. “The same long chin and eyebrows.”

He hasn’t yet met his half-sister in person, but they’ve spoken several times on the phone.

“She’s excited by this,” he said.

As for Paul he has felt a whole range of emotions.

“All these things have fallen into place at last,” he said. “Good things are happening. Thank you 23 and me.”