The memory is fleeting but Josh Schultz remembers speaking to his father once.
It was a phone call, and Josh was just a boy. He can’t conjure up everything his dad said, or what his voice was like. He just knows they talked.
“I do remember my father said he was mailing me a Christmas present,” Josh said. “I waited years to no avail.”
It was the only contact he ever had with his father.
When Josh was about 10 he was told his father had been killed in New York, shot three times. His father had been involved in criminal activity, and that was part of the reason Josh’s mom had left him.
“I was so young I don’t think I even realized what it meant,” said Josh, who is now 36 and works in IT.
Raised by his mom, Josh never had contact with his father’s side of the family. Because he and his mother moved and so too did his father’s family, it made it almost impossible for him to find them once he started looking as an adult.
“I searched for years,” he said. “I used various different methods but I would always hit a brick wall.”
Mostly using public records searches and the small bits of information his mother knew about his dad and his dad’s family. At one point Josh was able to track down his father’s death certificate. Along with the cause of death — shot in the head and neck — the death certificate stated that no one claimed the body or his father’s belongings.
“It was just another brick wall,” he said.
In 2014, Josh used 23andMe for the first time. He wanted to learn more about his ancestry.
“You know my main curiosity was where my roots came from,” he said. “I had all these question marks. I didn’t really know anything about my father’s family. I was just curious about where my genes came from.”
But almost right away he started seeing close relative matches that he didn’t recognize. He connected with one of the second cousins he found through 23andMe’s DNA Relatives tool. The two began exchanging family information and quickly Josh’s second cousin connected him to an aunt living in Texas and then to his father’s brother, who lived no more than half an hour away in South Florida.
They spoke first on the phone and then in person. They look alike and were able to share family stories. Josh learned a little more about his father and his father’s family. At one point Josh’s uncle made it to Josh’s daughter’s first birthday.
“It’s not just meeting him, but he’s got kids too so I’ve got cousins now,” Josh said. “The family resemblance is kind of funny.”
Looking at how much he’s been able to learn about himself and his family has prompted Josh to encourage others to try 23andMe, not just those searching for family like him, but others who could help contribute to new genetic discoveries.
“I would love to see as many people sign up for the service as possible,” he said. “I think it’d be wonderful to compare more genomes and isolate the causes of diseases.”