My Ancestry Story

I decided a few weeks ago that today would be the day that I shared something that at first a very small circle of those close to me knew. Over the last couple of months, that circle has grown. For a number of reasons, I’ve sheltered telling this story. First, it was to protect others but sadly because I felt a sense of personal shame as well. No more, today I’m sharing my story. First, it’s a way for me to continue to process through my emotions but also to stir up a conversation about something that I’m quickly learning is not unique to me.

At 53 years old, I learned that the man I thought was my father, the man who I stood by his bedside as he breathed his last breath, the man whose relationship with has been a lifelong challenge for me to come to grips with was not my birth father after all.

My birth father was someone I barely knew. I’ve gone back as far as my memory will go and the last memory I have of my birth father was him sitting at the kitchen table in the Bronx teaching me to write my name.  I assume I was around 5 years old but I don’t really know.

It’s not that I stopped thinking about this man, ever.  I remember thinking about him in my 20’s. It’s when I first started to wonder if this man could be my father. It’s not just that I don’t really look at all like the man I thought was my father or my two older brothers but something about him and the interest he seemed to show in me made me wonder.  With the birth of the internet and online records, I learned that he was almost 50 when I was born. This quieted but never removed my suspicion.

Fast forward to 2011. Someone I work with was talking about a new DNA test (23 and Me) that would tell you what your DNA says about diseases and conditions you are more or less likely to be concerned about.  I love science and technology so that sounded cool to me. I spit in a tube and received a report on line. If they also reported ancestry at the time I never noticed.

About a year ago I logged in to my account to do some more research about a health concern. I was greeted by an ancestry page that said one of my parents was Italian.  Ummm, no they are not.  They were German and Eastern European thank you very much. But what if I was right all those years ago and the man I wondered was my father really was. Was he even Italian?

I spent months and hundreds of dollars in an attempt to learn the truth. I tested my DNA with 3 different companies who maintain their own database of other people who share your DNA. I uploaded my DNA to a common database. I utilized multiple genealogy sites and even hired someone who specializes in Italian birth and marriage records from Italy to piece together a family tree of the man I suspected could be my father. I DNA tested my mother and older sister,  I left no stone unturned in my search for the truth.  What if the DNA company mixed up my results in the mail, no that didn’t happen, my mother, shows as my mother. What if the man I thought was my father really had Italian in him, nope my older sister’s DNA showed that she was a half sister with a genealogy consistent for what we knew about him.

OK, so the man I grew up believing was my father was clearly not.  But could I be sure the man I thought was, really was? Could I prove it?  Many of asked me, Did you ask your mother?. Well yes, I did and she said, “I had a feeling” – but you need to understand my 91-year-old mother suffers from dementia. I needed something more than a conversation with her.

That proof eventually came from three girls who I think are in their 20’s. One in New York, one in Arkansas and one in Virginia.  Many people have seen the commercials of DNA testing companies that show a percentage breakdown of what nationality you are. While that’s interesting it’s not entirely accurate. What is accurate is the records of people who share your DNA.  To make it as simple as possible you are able to tell how close you are related to someone by how much DNA you share with them.  These 3 girls all had shared DNA with me that I could trace to the siblings of the man who really was my father.  Since I connected those three there have been about 6 others that the DNA sites show as cousins that I can connect to my father.

Sadly, my half brother or his four children (my nieces and nephews) do not want anything to do with me. I said all along that I can’t control how they would react.  While this is not easy news for them to process I would hope they would at least engage in a conversation to learn how and why I believe we are related. However, I did reach someone who is a first cousin who I’ll be meeting for the first time in a few weeks.  We have spoken on the phone and the stories of her favorite Uncle, my birth father brings joy to me.

Twenty years ago, September 3, 1997, the man I barely knew, whose DNA I share passed away a month before his 84th birthday.  All my research and knowledge of facts about his life will never replace the emptiness I feel about not really knowing him.

I’m forever grateful to Kim, Aly, and Angelea who helped me connect the dots to my father. Your willingness to answer personal questions about your family was invaluable.

I’ve experienced so many emotions, too many to describe. Simply put it’s painful. For the most part, I’ve been supported, encouraged and loved through this really tough time of my life. A simple thank you is not nearly enough to express my gratitude towards my partner in this crazy life but thank you, Traci.

So if you are still reading, you might be saying Wow, but here’s the thing.  I’m not alone. Earlier this week the most emailed story from the NY Times was about how as more people take DNA tests, truths are being uncovered.  In the small circle of acquaintances, I have shared this with I learned of three other people that have a similar story, their father was not who they thought it was. There is a group on Facebook where stories like this play out every single day, it’s more common than you think.

If I can help anyone navigate what your test may mean or how you can understand your connection to distant relatives, I’d be happy to share what I’ve learned.

My ask is this: Have your DNA tested either through Ancestry.com or 23 and Me.  If someone reaches out to you because they share your DNA, please answer them. While your relationship with them may not be impactful to you it could be significant to them.  If you find out something shocking about your past or you have relatives you never thought you did, embrace it.  Don’t ever ask someone who is searching “What difference does it make”. I promise you it makes a big difference.

If this ever makes it to the family of my birth father, I understand more than you know how jolting this can be. We share more than just a common ancestor or our DNA.

And finally to the man who passed away 20 years ago, Benny Ranallo, a man whose father and mother left a small village in Italy in the late 1800’s to start a new life in New York. I look forward to the hope of eternity because we have some catching up to do.

 

12 thoughts on “My Ancestry Story

  1. Very touching! Spoken straight from the heart! I grew up not aware the people who raised me weren’t my parents. At age 49, I was given information that they indeed were not my parents, however, I was not adopted. A monumental search ensued….DNA at that time very expensive. I came up with virtually no information as friends of that family knew nothing. Fast forward 15 years, a post made by my daughter intrigued a ‘family’ member which led to my meeting my Mother, 93 & 5 of 6 siblings. I was 1 of 7…..oh my! We looked so alike and there were so many similarities. I had missed so much! That was 2.years ago and I’m still learning about who I am in the family where I rightfully belong! DNA was done & there is no question! So happy you found your family. Oh and the family I grew up with are not happy and don’t believe me even though my story hit the papers. I can’t do anything about that! Thanks for listening!

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  2. I’m in the same boat as you. I was 54 when I found out. Sadly, neither the sister I was raised to believe was my sister, nor the three half-siblings I found are willing to have a relationship. My sister, because I dared to say our dad wasn’t my biological father, and my half-siblings because they would actually have to stop thinking of their father as ‘perfect’. Thank you for sharing your story.

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    1. I forgot to mention that my bio father never knew I existed. I’m sure of that. I’m also sure that both my mom and dad did know that I wasn’t my dad’s child. They were all living in a small town in Mississippi in July 1959 when I was conceived. By October, my dad had rejoined the military and they were living in Alaska–just about as far away from Mississippi as you can physically get. Once I found the truth, it made sense of my entire childhood.

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  3. My what journey –i was trying to find my new habbys children -we married 5 yrs ago when i was 70 and hubby 65 – i jioned ancestry and got a shock when i find that hubbys dad had 2 brothers and 3 sisters–hubbys dad left his family hubbys only sister and him when they were 3-5yrs old–and they both said they had no other reatives alive-and to discover that u had a extended real family members at 69 yrs was a huge shock–then to dicover –u have 1st cousins alive and so on–then a bigger shock u have a half sister in aussy–who nearly crashed her car on receiving a call from her daughter–that someone from scotland was trying to trace her–through facebook- from this sister came over in april 2017 to meet her only brother–and when we said about hubbys other sister—half sister said but she knew abput me and the other family members—when she came to our dads funeral in1998—she had kept that secret for 21yrs denighing hubby of his family–we have now discovered that she knows where hubbys kids are for over 30 yrs —.so onto aussy visit half sister braught a dna kite for hubby to do–did so-and it comes back no matches–despite the same co doing dna test on hubbys dad when he was alive-‘the co is myftdna texas usa not correct glad u went on and found your roots and hope u are enjoying your new family as we are huggss x

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  4. What an amazing account ,,,beautifully put together and a joy to read ,,,im confident that you will learn more to your advantage as you plod on with your quest ,,as im sure you will find Quality relations if not Quantity ,,,but very well done xx

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  5. Thank you so much for your story. I’m 65 and just found out 5 months ago that my father wasn’t my real father through ancestry. com. My mother was from Arkansa and I believe my b/f might be from the New York area. I’m believing this because I have a second cousin that pops up who I believe is Italian. The problem is she hasn’t been on ancestry for way over a year, and hasn’t returned any messages I have sent her. Hopefully one day I will be able to find a tiny bit of info. that I’m hoping will make me feel more complete.

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  6. Paul, you have also been adopted by a forever Father, who has blessed you with mercy, grace, wisdom and truth. He has gifted you and Traci to each other and given you two such a precious family. Many blessings on your quest. Hugs to all.
    Dave Keeney
    (P.S. – I never thought you weren’t Italian.)

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  7. Paul, congratulations on finding out some answers. The path that adoptees have to travel to find basic information that others have just because they’re not adopted, is a twisted one. I found my birth family, I thought, 31 years ago, then when I did my DNA, I realized who I thought was my birth father couldn’t possibly be. I’ve reached out to two different families, each of two “search angels” gave me a different name, but neither wanted to go forward. I’m trying to work through the trees and see if I can pin it down. Good luck to all other adoptees.

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  8. WOW!,,,so awesome! I’m trying to find a father for a niece ( born to my half-sister) in 1948. No one in the family knew of her unless the deceased ones did. She was adopted out after birth and was living one State away from all of her birth relatives, including 3 half-siblings born to her birth mother after she married. They are now connected and though her DNA father is a mystery, I’m managing her DNA matches on Ancestry, it is very overwhelming.
    I sure could use some one on one help to sort it all out.
    I am a senior now and my father died when I was 5 and we knew nothing of his father, grandfather, etc. and it took me 30 yrs to get what little history I have discovered to find names back to my GGrandparents and now can’t find how or why they showed up in KY (where they came from) in 1836. Records may be permantly lost and no one alive to do DNA except some cousins that know less than I do.
    Anyway, I just wanted to say, I thoroughly enjoyed reading your story and thank you so much for sharing it!

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  9. Hello Paul.

    First, I want you to know that I just shared your story on my blog to give others hopes and the knowledge that they are not alone in their struggles-that others struggle too and survive and continue their journey of discovery-adoptes and non-adoptees alike..
    I was especially empathetic with you brief description of being rebuffed/rejected when approaching a member of your father’s family. This is very common amongst adoptees in search. The rebuff can some from many reasons-real or imagined, and too often even proof does nothing to sway their resolve that you or I are not who we say we are.
    I still, after 2 trips to meet cousins and the wife of a paternal uncle, am not accepted by them. I’ve produced documents which prove my claims and now five DNA reports which prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that I am the person they insist I cannot be. The reason: My father who with my mother abandoned me and my younger sister over 6 decades ago, and to cover this up, he told every one that we both had been incinerated in some fire. Worse, no one questioned his story for years.
    Another cousin from my mother’s family with great certainty said that I was not his cousin, not a member of the family. I assured him that he was very mistaken and listed how we were cousins and named his father -a brother to my grandfather. He still resisted the idea. I let it go because he was not about to change his mind and there was no point to pursue the subject. Imagine my delight when a few months ago I received notice from one of the five dna companies who have analyzed my dna that had a new first-second cousin match who was this very same man …! I quietly sent him an email with the results, and simply said “Hello, cousin!” He has not responded. But what his cMs do for me is to prove that my mother is my mother and share her Magyar heritage.
    As for estimates of so-called ethnicities that is misleading and an artificial construct. What those percentages show is how your DNA has traveled -migrated through the modern eras, not that you are Berber, Arab, Sicilian, Magyar, Cherokee, Bantu or Inuit/ Nanuque. It will suggest that you are alike certain populations (geo-political).
    Ancient DNA (mtDNA and Y-DNA) show where our earliest parents are and the migrations out of Africa, and our Haplogroups which bind us daughter to mother to grandmothers far back in time (or sons to fathers to grandfathers far back in time) and for some of us a Neanderthal or Denisovan or two or three to add to our diversity.
    To all, I suggest that you begin a family tree, if not for yourself, for your descendants. You never know who may be lurking in the tree- a victim of the Salem Witch Trials, an ancient Hungarian King, an Empress of France, a Queen of England, a warrior Queen of North Africa, or an Irish elf.
    To all who search for whatever reason I wish you that pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, if only in the twinkling eyes of your children and grandchildren. Keep on keepin’ on and never let the naysayers get you down!

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