HUNTSVILLE, AL (WAFF) - Many of you enjoy genealogy. You want to answer questions like where did I come from? As we found out in this special report, tracing your roots can sometimes lead to a larger family tree!
Like many Americans, Shelley Sebastian knew part of her family story, but not all of it. Sebastian told us, “I love my mom’s side of the family, but I just wanted, I had a desire to know the other half of my family.”
So, Shelley went looking for the father she never knew. Her first attempts weren’t successful, but she didn’t give up. Shelley decided to buy an in-home DNA test. Meanwhile, a friend was also helping her by building family trees from any close matches. Shelley says the process was time consuming and often frustrating. “This man would be too old, this man would be too young, he wasn’t living in the right area at the time. We narrowed it down to two people.” Shelley felt like they were close.
Then, they found an obituary from Michigan. Something told her, she had found her biological father.
Shelley remembered it this way. “My mom had worked at a plastics manufacturing plant in Benton Harbor. And I said, this man’s obituary says he worked at a plastics manufacturing plant. I said, they probably knew each other from work.”
After finding that connection, Shelley reached out to the man’s oldest son, Steve. She left three voicemails, but he didn’t call her back. Finally, she sent him a handwritten letter. Her persistence paid off! Steve mailed off his DNA sample right before the holidays.
Shelley lights up with a smile when she remembers seeing the results for the first time. “Well, our results are in. And, he said really! What does it say? Well, it looks like Santa brought me a brother for Christmas!”
That wasn’t her only present! Shelley found out she has an uncle in Tuscumbia and two cousins in Trinity, Alabama!
Genetics experts at the University of Alabama in Huntsville expect this trend to continue. They say, the “at home” kits from companies like Ancestry and 23andMe are affordable. Their prices start as low as $49. Yet, what about efficiency? UAH professor Dr. Eric Mendenhall says, “So, these tests are incredibly accurate. 99.9 percent of the time. They’re looking at the A, G, C’s and T’s in your DNA and they call the right A, G, C and T in your DNA with incredible accuracy.”
Shelley Sebastian’s story hits close to home. Until recently, I didn’t know anything about my biological parents. My brother, Rev, and I grew up in Atlanta, Georgia after being adopted by Revis and Kathy Butler, who are wonderful, loving parents.
Since I had a great childhood, I never had a burning desire to search for my biological parents. Yet, my wife Julie and I thought it would be interesting to research my heritage. So, we sent in a sample to AncestryDNA. The results? My ethnicity is 68 percent England and Wales and 26 percent Ireland and Scotland.
Yet, in April of this year, everything changed when we noticed I had a close match with someone named Michael Baker. What did a close match mean? Mike wasn’t sure either. He admits he was skeptical at first. "I was sure it was one of those emails that I get on a regular basis from Nigeria saying I’ve just been awarded $62 million! I was sure that’s what it was. And I kind of laughed it off. I was skeptical. But then, once I recalled the story, It’s gotta be. We’re a match!”
Mike says before his father, Howard Baker, died in 2003, he told Mike that he might have a sibling in Atlanta.
Remembering that moment, he quickly called his brother George Baker. George Baker added, “And we talked about the conversation Mike had with our dad. And we said, this could be important.”
How important? My wife Julie started to tear up as she read me Mike’s next message.
Mike was careful when he said, “Here’s my cell phone. Let’s have a phone conversation. And it’s probably going to be more than five minutes. I may have some insight into who your biological father is, which was so exciting for me.”
That phone call in April led to a second DNA test. A Y chromosome test confirmed that I share a father with Mike and George Baker.
Up next? A trip to Connecticut, where Mike and I met for the first time and then visited our father’s grave site!
My whirlwind tour included quality time with Mike, George, my new half-sister Jan Dombek and their extended families!
While Shelley Sebastian and I took different paths on our family discoveries, we do share something. A simple DNA test has caused our family trees to branch out in many new and wonderful ways.
Shelley says she’ll forget telling her new brother, “I’m just so thankful to have found you. And he said I’m thankful you found me." I told Shelley, “It’s double blessings.” Shelley said, "It really is! They sent me a bracelet that says BLESSED.”
While we are hearing more and more of these heartwarming reunion stories, many of you have privacy concerns. You may not want your DNA lumped in with millions of others in a database, or sold to drug companies. Genealogy experts say it’s a good idea to research any company that offers to analyze your DNA for family connections or health information. These companies have different policies on how long they keep your genetic information and if you can delete it.