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Column: A Search for Family

A few years ago, out of idle curiosity, I took a 23andMe DNA test. I was certain that I’m approximately 100% Norwegian, so it wasn’t surprising when 23andMe confirmed that I’m probably the whitest person on the planet.

There’s a box on the 23andMe website that you can tick that allows your DNA info to be shared. I have nothing to hide, so I clicked the box. Maybe it would help some unfortunate individual uncover the roots of his or her tragic pickled herring obsession.

Every so often I’ll get a message via the 23andMe website. The gist of it is usually something like, “Hi, I see that we could be 18th cousins! Would you have any info regarding an ancestor of mine named Laszlo who was born in 1847 in Bratislava?”

I politely reply to the inquiries, telling the questioner that I have no idea regarding their great-great-great-whoever’s long-forgotten perambulations.

One day a different sort of missive popped up on 23andMe. A young lady messaged that it appeared we could be second cousins. This was based on the fact that we share a significant percentage of DNA.

I showed the message to my wife. Her initial reaction was, “Geez! How many kids do you have running around out there?”

I pointed out that the young lady and I didn’t have enough DNA in common to be parent and child. Even so, my wife remained somewhat suspicious.

The mystery woman told me that her name is Tammi. She currently lives in the Pacific Northwest, but was born in 1977 in Pipestone, Minnesota, and was given up for adoption at birth. Did I know anyone who lived in Pipestone back then?

“Yeah,” I replied unthinkingly, “My cousin, Greg.” 

I’ve known Greg my entire life. My gut reaction to the implied possibility was, “Nope! No way.”

But then I thought things through. After high school, Greg attended a vocational institution before taking a job at a Minnesota welding shop. This would put him in Pipestone in the year… No! Could that be right?  

Tammi shared some info she had obtained from the adoption agency. Her mother was 18 and her father 20 when Tammi was born. Her parents were young and didn’t know what their future might hold, so they decided that it would be best if they put their daughter up for adoption. Tammi’s parents eventually got married and had three more children, two sons and a daughter.

A bolt of recognition shot through me. Greg and his wife, Sandy, have three children, two sons and a daughter.

There was more. The adoption agency had furnished Tammi with some general information about her father’s family. This included the genders of his siblings and their ages at the time of Tammi’s birth and the ages of her paternal grandparents.          

As I read and reread Tammi’s message, three words thundered through my head: Oh. My. God! Tammi was describing Greg’s siblings and his parents!

There was zero chance that this could all be some crazy coincidence. I wrote back to Tammi that I was approximately 100% certain that she is Greg and Sandy’s daughter.

It’s nearly impossible to portray deep feelings via electronic text messages, but Tammi managed to do it. She wrote that she had begun to peruse Greg and Sandy’s Facebook page and was overwhelmed with emotion when she looked upon the faces of her biological family for the first time. She wanted to make contact with them, but was anxious about the repercussions. I encouraged Tammi, telling her that I couldn’t imagine that Greg and Sandy would be anything less than loving and accepting.

One day I casually dropped in for a visit with Greg at his welding shop and acquired a business card belonging to Greg and Sandy’s eldest son, Michael. I promptly passed this intel onto Tammi.

A few days later Tammi messaged a draft of an email that she was thinking about sending to Michael. She told Michael that she had been raised by a loving farm couple at Kenyon, Minnesota. She explained that she had spent 19 years in the Air Force and is currently an airline pilot. Tammi said that she and her husband, Kevin, have a young son and a full, happy life. She ended her email by telling Michael that she would like to meet him someday and, hopefully, begin a relationship.

The email left me teary-eyed. I would be proud if Tammi were my daughter; Greg and Sandy could not but feel any different.

Tammi asked if she should send the email. I said absolutely.

“Done,” replied Tammi minutes later. “The torpedo is in the water.”

Next week: The big meeting between Tammi and her biological family.

Jerry’s book, Dear County Agent Guy, is available online and in bookstores nationwide.

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