As told to Shannon Shelton Miller
I'd heard about DNA test kits for close to 10 years before a sale finally prompted me to buy one in early 2019. I figured it was time to learn more about my heritage and close a chapter in my life.
I'd never known my father. My mother suffered from drug addiction and schizophrenia, and my grandmother raised me to adulthood. I didn't know the story behind my parents' relationship, other than that they met in Hollywood in the 1980s, and she returned home pregnant to south central Los Angeles. All she told her family was that my father's name was Carlos.
Because of that, my family started telling me I was half-Mexican or half-Puerto Rican. All I hoped to find out from the DNA test was where I came from.
I held onto the kit for seven months before I finally took the test. Two and a half weeks later, I was driving on the freeway when I saw the email that my results were in. I pulled over immediately.
I clicked a tab that allowed me to see my ethnic makeup. My mother is Black, so I knew what to expect in terms of my African ancestry, but I was shocked when I also saw connections to Eastern European countries like Russia, Moldova and Romania.
That was just the beginning. I was also able to see if I matched others who had taken that specific DNA test. I clicked to see if I had any matches, and there was a name — Alex — on the very first line. Our shared DNA percentage was so high, the results declared Alex to be my parent.
I couldn't even catch my breath.
My husband and I later looked him up on social media and found a profile that matched the name.
"This is him. He looks just like you," my husband said.
I decided to contact his daughter on Facebook first. She blocked me because she thought I was a bot, but I found her on Instagram and sent another message. I implored her not to block me, and this time included the screenshot from the test.
She responded a few hours later and after I shared my background with her, she promised to call her aunt — my father's sister. Her aunt reached out to me the next day and also wanted to know who I was and where I came from. I told my story again and sent them all pictures of me. Everyone said I looked just like him.
Finally, they connected me to my father, who messaged me on Facebook. We didn't actually speak by phone until two weeks later because he was still in shock that he had a 39-year-old daughter. When we talked, he admitted he didn't remember my mother and was very apologetic, saying he never knew he had a child. If he had, he absolutely would have been there for me, and he was sorry he wasn't.
He and his family all embraced me. My aunt started sending me pictures of my grandmother, who's in her 80s and still living. She also filled me in on their family history, and I spoke a lot with my sister.
Although I was thrilled to find all of them, I started going through an identity crisis. My mother died on my 15th birthday and my grandmother died 10 years ago. All my life I'd wondered why my father didn't want me, but I was at peace with knowing I'd never find him. I had closed that book on my upbringing because I'd built the family I always wanted with my husband and children. We had a beautiful home in Dallas, and I had a great job.
I only took the DNA test to know more about what region I came from. I just knew I was part-Hispanic, and I wanted to know if I might be Cuban, Puerto Rican or maybe even Venezuelan. I had even traveled to Puerto Rico to learn more about the culture and attempt to get in touch with my roots.
Being connected to a whole different part of the world floored me.
My father was a Romanian immigrant, and it turned out that I was half-Romanian. I didn't know what to do with that information. Where did I go from there? I felt like a volcano had erupted, and I wasn't prepared. I started going to therapy to work out my feelings of having everything I knew turned upside down while still being thankful for being able to fill a void I'd had all my life.
As the holidays approached, my husband and I decided to take our children to L.A. to visit family and go to Disneyland. My father happened to ask about my holiday plans, and when I told him I'd be in L.A., he said he was also planning a road trip from his home in Las Vegas around the same time.
"How would you like to meet?" he asked.
The day we were scheduled to meet for the first time, I was probably the most nervous I'd ever been in my life. I didn't know what to expect. What if he didn't show up? What if he backed off?
But I didn't have to worry — he arrived at the restaurant an hour early. We were both crying when we spotted each other and hugged. I asked him so many questions and got to know him better.
All my life, I'd felt I didn't fit in. I never felt connected with anyone on my mom's side, but I discovered I shared a lot of my father's qualities and traits. I'd always wondered who I looked like and if anyone else out there looked like me. When I met my father, I finally found someone who did.
When I took the test, I wasn't looking for anything more than basic genetic information. Finding my father was a bigger bonus than I ever imagined.