That all changed recently. Upon reaching her 50th birthday and mourning the loss of her mother, Wendy realized she wanted to know who her father was, what he may have passed on to her, and what it might mean for her now.
“When I turned 50, I wanted to know those details,” she said. “Then I got 23andMe as a gift, and I’ve learned so much. It’s been the gift that keeps on giving. All of this stems out of doing 23andMe.”
What she learned changed her, her two sisters and her brother. Wendy and her siblings grew up in the Pacific Northwest knowing that their dad wasn’t their biological father. Their mom was always pretty frank about it, letting them know that they each had different fathers, but never telling them who those men were.
“We all look different,” said Wendy. Their mom, who’d been a nurse, shared a few details of her rough years when as a teenager she had her kids, but it wasn't much. The details were a few names that meant very little, as well as some dates and cities, but it wasn’t enough to identify their fathers. And over time, Wendy and her siblings just stopped asking. They didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. And, according to Wendy, they were fine with not knowing, or at least they thought they were.
“When you don’t know, it’s always in the back of your head, but we’d tried to forget about it,” she said.
And in a way Wendy, her two sisters and her brother did forget about it. But then two things happened – Wendy turned 50; and her mother died. Suddenly Wendy felt she had permission to start her search. In early 2016, a friend gave Wendy a 23andMe kit as a gift. Wendy sent her sample back to the lab and waited. Her results came in and that’s when things started happening, really fast. She connected right away with someone who was listed as a close cousin.
“I recognized the last name,” said Wendy. “It was one of the last names of the men my mom dated when I was young.”
She thought that it was more than just a coincidence, and her cousin must be related to the man her mother once dated and that he, “must be my dad.”
Her other surprise was that her younger sister Elena was not her half sister, as she’d been lead to believe, but her full sister. They share the same biological father. Through her cousin found on 23andMe, Wendy and her sister were able to find the man they believed was their biological father. He was still alive, so they reached out and he immediately wanted to meet. They eventually were able to confirm he was their father, their mother’s former high school boyfriend. Wendy immediately realized how much this search and information could help the rest of her family.
“It was so fast and as soon as I found my father, I said, ‘we’re all going to get a kit, and we’re all going to find out who our fathers were,’” Wendy said.
One by one over a few months, Wendy’s other sister, Tamara, and her brother Paul, tested with 23andMe. They each found cousins who were able to help them in their search. One of their cousins, well-versed in using genetic genealogy, helped Wendy quickly sort through matches and identify the most likely candidates. And they used the bits of information they had from their mother like dates, names, and cities to narrow the search. And then they found who they had been looking for. Wendy’s oldest sister’s biological father turned out to be a former race car driver, and their brother’s father was their mom’s former square dancing teacher. They were all still alive and Wendy and her siblings, who range in age from 49 to 55, each got to meet their fathers. They all welcomed the news. Wendy and her siblings got a chance to meet their extended families and other half siblings for the first time.
“The best part about this is that even though our mom is gone, we’re gaining a whole new family, some of whom were even looking for us and all seem happy to know us,” Wendy said. “It’s kind of cool that even though we lost a parent we gained a new one.”