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Made in Michigan


“I think I’m your Mom.” It didn’t take her long to say this - three or four minutes, tops.

“I was hoping you’d say that.” So much for me playing it cool.


A spittin’ and a grinnin’

In the late 2010s in the USA, data and technology had led to easily accessible, reasonably reliable DNA testing and matching of biological relatives. My understanding and trust in data, coupled with the loss of my brother a few years prior, led me to spit in a tube and send it off to the leading ancestry companies at the time (there may also have been some wine involved, back then). It would be fun. I wouldn’t worry about it too much. And if anything materialized, it would be really neat to meet someone I shared blood with.

I started receiving bio-matches almost immediately: third and fourth cousins, multiple times removed, living everywhere from Southern California to Finland with Ukraine in between. Interesting for sure, but having just traced my adoptive family’s tree a couple summers back, I knew exactly how close those “cousins” really were. I didn’t reach out or respond - what was the point?

One day out of the blue, when I hadn’t thought about genetics for quite some time, I received an automated email notification much like all the others - with one incredible difference.

You see, DNA matching is generally measured by “cM”, which basically means the number of strains of DNA you have in common with other people. Third cousins share about 200cM. First cousins, 700cM, indicating a closer familial tie. The email that caught my eye identified someone I share 3,400cM with. And while I’m sure the ancestry companies’ lawyers won’t let them guarantee any connections, the email clearly said (in BIG FONT) that when people share that much DNA, 100% of the time they have a parent/child relationship. ONE HUNDRED PERCENT!

I was terrified. I had been hoping for a closer connection, but this was a bit extreme. So I did NOTHING. I left the email in my inbox for about a month before opening it again. Could that simple act of spitting in a tube really have produced my biological father?


Stalking (aka “Research”)

When I finally got up the nerve to reopen the email, I stared at it a few times and then went to work. I’d been a data analyst in the entertainment industry for 20+ years, figuring out ways to derive everything from theatrical box office predictions to streaming rights and royalties. Data never lies. Data is logical, factual, and doesn’t change on a whim. I trusted that and followed the trail.

Looking up the name of my potential bio-father, supplemented with some serious research from family and friends, we found him. My biodad was alive and well and living in Michigan. Whew! Since I lived in California at the time, this made him “geographically undesirable”. Or “desirable”, in this case. My research team rallied and we put together everything we could find out about him. Married since the 70’s, two amazing and accomplished daughters, and a wife who was an award-winning volunteer for an animal shelter just outside Detroit, which was close enough to my birthplace of Flint to make sense. I started making jokes that “at least his wife likes strays” so I wouldn’t fixate on the potential disruption I was about to cause to their family.

We dug deeper. We mapped his family tree back to his great-grandparents and did the math to realize that if he had fathered me, he would have been only sixteen years old at the time. Just a kid! It started to become very, very clear - or so I thought.


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