Dec 15, 2015 - Ancestry

Eyes Wide Open


John, standing, with his sister Kathy and their half-brother Brian, who they found through 23andMe.

Brothers from different mothers, John and Brian came together because of 23andMe.

For John, 68, finding a half-brother was the last thing he expected.

“I was shocked,” he said.

John used 23andMe because he’s interested in science. Since his days in high school biology class, John has always been curious about genetics. He wasn’t looking for family.

“Imagine my surprise when I found a half-brother,” he said.

Actually his results initially listed Brian as a predicted grandson – half siblings share about 20 percent of their DNA, the same percentage shared by a grandfather and grandson. There is also an 18-year difference in age between the two, so John had some tense moments trying to figure out his relationship with Brian.

But when Brian first contacted him by email, the message jarred loose a memory for John. He – and the rest of his immediate family – all knew that his Dad, who ran a photo studio in a coal-mining town in West Virginia, had had an affair with a woman who worked for him and that the woman got pregnant.

“We knew there was a child out there but that’s it,” said John, who eventually took over the family business.

John and Brian's father.

John and Brian’s father.

Brian knew none of this.

He actually had no information at all about his biological family apart from some basic non-identifying facts about his mother – her religion and age for example.

Brian, a 49 year-old CPA living in Florida, often wondered about where he came from, but when he tested with 23andMe back in 2014 it was just to get some very basic information about his ancestry. He didn’t expect to find family.

When Brian first got his results he looked through his DNA Relative matches and among the long list of distant cousins, he saw one very close match, a relative with whom he shared 20 percent of his DNA.

“That’s close,” Brian said.

He just didn’t know how close. Looking at a 23andMe video Brian figured out that he and his close match were likely half siblings. For someone who’d never knew any biological relatives, this was a big deal. So Brian sent a message to his match and waited.

When John looked through the message from Brian and some of the facts he provided, he quickly figured out that Brian was his half brother. They began exchanging messages.

“I was a little leery about how he’d handle it,” said Brian. “It had to be shocking for him.”

Brian’s sister, who is also an adoptee, encouraged him to go forward with meeting John and his wife Jennie along with John’s sister Kathy and her husband Paul.

Brian didn’t just worry about how his existence would impact John and his family; he was also concerned about whether he’d be accepted. John and his family are religious and relatively conservative. His wife has a doctorate in theology and is a Christian counselor.

Brian was raised in a not very religious Jewish household, and he’s gay. He didn’t know what to expect.

“Over the years I imagined many different scenarios, so I went in with my eyes wide open,” Brian said.

John and his family welcomed him with open arms.

“I could not have asked for a nicer experience,” said Brian. “They were cordial, polite and respectful.”

John felt the same.

“It meant a lot to meet him,” said John. “I’m extremely impressed with Brian, his maturity and intelligence. He’s a good caring person.”

John also offered something to Brian that was invaluable, a vast collection of photos and even film of their biological father. Their father had run a photo studio business and was always taking pictures and filming.

Brian got to see his biological father at all these different stages of his life and even see how he moved, his mannerism and how he talked.

“It was more than I could have asked for,” Brian said.

Sharing that gave John his own sense of joy, he said.

Their father had a lot of flaws, John said, but everyone liked him. He had a big personality and John tried to share some of that with Brian.

“It meant a lot to me because it meant a lot to Brian,” John said.

Related Stories

Stay in the know.

Receive the latest from your DNA community.