Several years ago, my parents told me they were getting each other DNA tests. My dad joked, “Maybe your mom will have .00002% Southeast Asian in her, who knows!”
If anyone knew though, it would be my mom.
I remember growing up entertaining my mom’s keen interest in our genealogy. I would come into her office, finding love letters from my great-great-grandfather to my great-great-grandmother scattered across my mom’s desk. I’d sit on the floor, helping sift through piled-up black and white photos of relatives. My family even took a trip to tiny villages in eastern Germany to take photos of our relative’s graves during my summer vacation in middle school.
My mom belonged to Ancestry.com before it was cool. She was pen pals with distant relatives most people would never even knew they had. She knew her lineage, and she knew it well.
The circumstances that my mom grew up in were odd, though. She was twelve years younger than her closest sibling; born just under a year before her first niece. Instead of growing up playing with her brothers and sisters, my mom played hide and seek with her nieces and nephews.
But no one batted an eye at my forty-year-old grandmother getting pregnant — at least that we know of. I mean, accidents happen (yes, I just called my mom an accident, knowing good and well she will read this). I’m sure my devout Catholic grandparents were thrilled to have a new addition to their family, regardless of the timing.
So when my mom finally received the email that her just-for-fun DNA test findings were in, she felt confident she’d know the results. As she began to make sense of what was in front of her eyes, it became glaringly obvious: my mom was only half right about her ancestry.
A bit of deep confusion ensued. My mom spent years researching her lineage — she knew what the general mix of her ethnicity should be. Her parents descended from German immigrants and had a bit of eastern European mixed in. But the screen showed Southern Italian? Greek?
Things just didn’t add up.
Unfortunately, my mom’s parents passed away before I was even born so there was no asking what was up straight from the source. To make things even harder, my mom only has one sibling that’s still alive. She quickly had my uncle do a DNA test, her only hope of clearing the air on this ancestry mishap.
The results came back from my uncle’s DNA test; they confirmed that my mom and her brother only shared one parent.
At the age of 53, I can imagine this might be a hard pill to swallow. The father my mom was raised by wasn’t actually her father. She was lied to and kept in the dark. Or worse, both my mom and grandfather were hoodwinked.
My mom is a logical woman but with no one to make sense of the facts, she was left feeling lost. As she began to cope with the reality of her paternal origins, an email alerted her that an account on the DNA site matched with her genes at almost 25%. This meant one of two things: the mysterious woman was my mom’s aunt or her half-sister.
Bless my mom’s kind, loving heart. I never once felt a twinge of betrayal in her attitude towards this familial lie. She actually seemed to be engulfed in excitement at the prospect of finding out who her mystery father was. In fact, my mom was like a kid in a candy store because there was even a chance she had more siblings.
The woman that owned the account my mom’s DNA matched with was another unsuspecting woman, in her 50s, that took a DNA test just for fun. Turned out this woman lived in Canada but was born and raised in the same small town my mother grew up in.
Since online scams are very real these days and the accuracy of these quick DNA kits is questionable, my mom and the woman sent in their DNA to a legitimate paternity testing center.
The results came back: they were indeed half-sisters, sharing a father. Which meant her additional sister and brother were also my mom’s half siblings.
I can only imagine how my new family felt; probably a mix of confusion, excitement, and a lot of betrayal. It turned out that my mom and one of her new sisters were a mere seven months apart in age. That must’ve been a bit of a sting.
Once the dust settled, and my mom started hearing stories of the man that is actually her father — who passed away over two decades earlier . Turns out, he worked at the same small Italian restaurant that my grandma (to no surprise) worked at as well. The dots were connected and it all started to make a lot of sense.
Our new family admitted that they weren’t surprised, their father (my new grandpaps) was questionable when it came to other women. Even the age difference between their mom and father was something that couldn’t be ignored. My grandfather was actually much younger than their mother, and coincidentally my grandmother as well. I guess you could say my grandpa was quite the cougar chaser, before it was cool to joke about.
A year after this whole revelation went down, my mom traveled to Michigan for their first family union ever. She was thrilled and relieved that her siblings welcomed her into the family with open arms. When I see pictures of the four of them together, it’s pretty wild to see these strangers that have an uncanny resemblance to my mom. They all relish whenever they come across personality traits that they share. I guess nature does play a pretty significant role.
I even took my turn in meeting my new aunts and uncle. Last year I traveled up to Canada for Christmas, where everyone gathered to meet one another. My parents and I even drove through the town my mom grew up in. She pointed out the building that used to be the Italian restaurant my grandma — and newly discovered grandpa — worked at. Of course, my dad couldn’t help but remark that my mom was most likely conceived there. Gross, but probably true.
The new clan of siblings talk like they’ve always known each other — like there wasn’t that half a century period where they had no idea each other existed. They talk via a group chat — as I would imagine any small tribe of siblings would.
My mom recounts this surprise as a blessing. “My father will always be the man that raised me,” she explains. Because in the end, my mom’s family didn’t crumble, it merely expanded.