A Christmas DNA Surprise

I know I don’t have to tell you again how much I enjoy spending Christmas with my family:  my ex-husband and our two kids.  You already know, so I won’t go on about it for long.

What I really want to talk about is the new cousin we got for Christmas, thanks to Ancestry DNA.  You know those TV shows where adoptees meet their birth parent for the first time?  This was like that, except it was real life.   Our new first cousin was a wonderful, delightful surprise.

I spent a week in Seattle with my daughter before the family converged to spend the holiday week in a cabin in the foothills of the Cascades.   The four of us are on an app called “Life 360”, so we can track each other down if needed.  Before the holiday, we were all in different corners of the country – Washington, California, Pennsylvania, and Florida:

The four of us in four corners of the country!

It isn’t too often that we’re all together, so it’s precious time for us.  We went on a couple of incredible hikes, saw many bald eagles, and our daughter’s little dog Foxy stole the show. Here are a few pictures from our Christmas:

A scene on one of our hikes
Christmas Tree 2017
Chris and Foxy in Seattle

So, on Christmas Day, I received an email from an Ancestry user, saying that she was adopted and that we were a DNA match.  I’ve had emails like this before, and usually it’s a distant match and difficult if not impossible to determine the relationship. I don’t even know why I read the email that day, much less looked at the match.

But I did, and was completely stunned when I saw that we shared 935 centimorgans, which is a match at the first cousin level.  She also matched my two other first cousins, so I knew we were related on my mother’s side.  And when I saw a photograph of her, I knew she was ours.  Here’s the match page from Ancestry:

What would you think if you saw a match this close with a stranger? Yikes!!

Deb said she was born in LA in 1964, and learned only that her mother was from Montana, was staying with her uncle in LA, and was 21 years old.  She had a physical description of her father, and knew that he had managed some parking lots in the area.  The social worker also made a note at the time that the father had not been informed about the pregnancy.

My mother had two sisters and a brother.  Since Deb’s mother was from Montana, the only possible relationship was that she was my uncle’s daughter.  And my uncle lived in LA, matched the physical description Deb had, and managed some parking lots in 1964.

Both my uncle’s and my mother’s DNA are on FamilyTreeDNA.   I got Deb on the phone and walked her through downloading her raw data from Ancestry so we could upload it to FTDNA to confirm the suspected relationship.  But we had some technical problems, so Deb called FTDNA the next morning to try to resolve them.  As it turned out, the more recent Ancestry  files aren’t compatible with FTDNA, so it wasn’t possible to upload there.

We were saved by GedMatch, which is a free website accepting raw data from most of the big testing companies.  I had already uploaded both my uncle’s and my mother’s DNA there, and Deb was able to upload hers as well.  In a matter of minutes, we did a one-to-one match with my uncle’s DNA and found that Deb shares 3,500+ cms with him.  Bingo!! No doubt about it – Deb is my uncle’s daughter and my first cousin.

There’s always the concern, rightfully so, that the birth parents won’t want anything to do with the child they put up for adoption, and Deb was very sensitive to that.  I suggested that the next step was for me to call my uncle, and she asked me if I thought her father would want to meet her.  I know my uncle, and I was certain he would be very happy to hear that he had another daughter.

And he was.  In fact, he was downright excited!  He told me he remembered Deb’s mother quite clearly.  He didn’t know her for very long and had no idea she was pregnant.  Unfortunately, he can’t remember her name, so we’re still working on that part.

He called Deb right away, and within hours, they met in person.  I heard from both of them the next day – by all accounts they clicked immediately and it was an amazing reunion.  My uncle met a daughter he never even knew he had, and my cousin met a father about whom she had known virtually nothing.  A day to go down in family history!!

My extended family is just the best.  Everyone was very accepting and welcoming to Deb –  of course, it helps that she is such a great person and makes it easy to love her.  The family has a strong Facebook presence, so now Deb has dozens of new “friends” there, and it’s been buzzing with the posting of everyone’s pictures at different ages to see all the family resemblances.

It was a very happy ending, and it made our Christmas even more exciting than usual.  And I’m so thrilled to have a new first cousin – I can’t wait to meet her this summer!

5 thoughts on “A Christmas DNA Surprise

  1. I have found some 3rd and 4th cousins through DNA and was pretty excited. I would be over the moon finding a 1st cousin! Good for you and Deb!!

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  2. Chris, that’s a CRAZY story!! Barb came to me this morning and said that she had some exciting good news for the day. She said she had a “new” first cousin that she never knew about — and so it seems, no one else did either. I’m sure it’ll be great when you have the opportunity to meet her later in the year.

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