In her 30 years of searching, Perline Porter had to chase down rumors, uncover lies and overcome false assumptions, but in the end she discovered the truth.
“I finally know where I came from,” said Perline, a 58-year-old retired computer tech. “I found my biological father and family.”
The searching – dizzying in its twists and turns– finally ended last year when Perline found her half-brother using 23andMe. Her decade’s long search and ultimate success in finding her lost biological family became the fodder of her book “My DNA Search for My Roots.”
The pages of her story track the years of disappointment Perline endured during her search. Through it all she never lost hope, a hope fueled by a feeling that ever since she was young she knew there was something about her that set her apart from her family.
“When I was around 10 years old I suspected something was different,” she said.
Her older brother and sister used to tease her saying she had a different father. On her own, she also found evidence that all the stories she’d heard about who her father was didn’t add up.
At the same time, Perline felt proud of who she thought was her dad, a man named Harry Holbert. But she looked nothing like her two older siblings who were fathered by Harry.
Perline had a tough childhood. Her mother drank, and she grew up in an alcoholic dysfunctional family. At 16, Perline got pregnant and married her boyfriend. She lived with his family and worked in the kitchen of a rest home.
When Perline was 17, her mother, in a drunken stupor, finally told her the truth about Harry. He wasn’t her father he had died before she was born. Her mother said Perline’s father was a man named Buck Casper, a close friend of Harry’s but it turned out to be a false lead that took decades to unravel and it wasn’t the only one. Perline learned that her mother had somehow changed the name of her father on her birth certificate.
As she searched through the years, Perline got very good at tracking down names and addresses and using public records. She also went back into her mother’s history. Harry ran a bar in Kelso, in California’s Mojave Desert where they lived. Kelso was a train depot not far from Barstow. Perline realized that although she was born in Utah, she must have been conceived it Kelso, so she knew that learning more about her mother’s time in Kelso might help her find her biological father.
Over the years she got close to who she thought was her biological family only to learn she was wrong. All that experience taught her something too. Much is said about being able to track public records and people to learn the truth. But Perline asks: “What about when people and paperwork lie?”
Perline eventually turned to 23andMe to get tested because she knew that at least, “DNA doesn’t lie.”
When she tested in 2011, she got a match with a second cousin and his daughter. But she was still fixated on finding “Buck” and she ignored the match. She did find Buck, and although Buck was not well, his son tested. Perline was sure they were related, but it turned out what her mother told her was not true, Buck was not her father.
That’s when she went back to her second cousin match on 23andMe.Using the help of genetic genealogists, Kathryn Johnston and CeCe Moore, Perline zeroed her search for her father to three brothers John Collins, Edward Woodrow (Woody) Collins and Hugh Collins. Because of their ages, Perline thought for sure it was “Woody” or “Hugh.” She didn’t consider John Sr., who would have been 17 at the time of her conception. Her mom had been 25 at the time, was a widow with two small children.
It turned out Perline was wrong. As she was contacting relatives of the brothers, they all seemed to be saying the same thing – the younger brother John Sr. was the lady’s man. They thought he was her father.
Eventually, Perline contacted John’s son, John Jr.
He wanted to know more about who she was and because Perline had already met relatives of his through 23andMe, she recommended he contact them about her. Eventually, he did and decided that Perline wasn’t trying to scam him and he agreed to test with 23andMe. Perline traveled to California and met John Jr. She immediately noticed their similarities in John Jr., and her and saw pictures of John Sr. that resembled her two sons.
“I was totally amazed at how much he looked like my two boys,” she said.
They were able to confirm the connection using 23andMe.
John saw in Perline his father’s mannerisms and even the way she told a story or liked to drop one-liners. It all seemed uncannily similar to his dad.
“It is truly amazing how you can inherit traits from your father without even knowing who he is,” John said in a newspaper article about their reunion.
He also introduced Perline to her half-sister Carey, and they all got together in person in Fallon, Nevada.
For her part, Perline marvels at ultimately finding who her father was. There were many times that she was so discouraged that she wanted to abandon her search. Indeed she’d sometimes stop and focus on her life, but she never gave up entirely, she said. She was driven to find out the truth about herself.
“When you don’t know who your other half is, you’re just missing something,” she said.
23andMe provides genetic testing services for informational purposes; your results may or may not help you to search for or identify relatives or family members.