Unexpected DNA Match Leads to Life-Changing Discovery
*This story is shared with client permission and with consent of individuals involved.
Through DNA analysis we are able to gather information regarding individuals’ shared heritage, far beyond the basic haplogroup. DNA testing, combined with thorough genealogy research, has helped clients break through genealogy brick walls including difficult-to-trace ancestors, determining an ancestor’s ethnicity, and solving family mysteries that would otherwise be impossible to investigate due to lack of records. With client permission, we share the following case in which an unexpected DNA match leads to a life-changing discovery.
My name is Kelli Hochhalter. My brother is Howard, and our journey of family discoveries through Legacy Tree Genealogists actually started on August 22, 1929. My dad Kent was born that day and he never knew who his real father was. My grandmother married Ferdinand Hochhalter when my dad was 3, and they divorced about 10 years later.
My brother Howard and I never knew a grandfather growing up because on my mother’s side, my grandfather was killed by the Japanese during World War II. It was just the life we knew and we didn’t think we were missing anything.
Growing up I always had an interest In Irish, Scottish, and British history. As a kid, I would check books out from my school’s library on the history and culture of those countries. I have visited Ireland and England and thoroughly enjoyed my time there and it only increased my interest in them.
A few years ago, I did a DNA test because I thought maybe I had some British or Irish blood in me and I was a bit disappointed to see that there was none. I am half East Asian, which we already knew since my mother is full Korean, and the rest was broken up between west and east Europe, but no British, Irish or Scottish.
This past year I decided to try another DNA test thinking that maybe because now that there are more markers out there and more clients who have done the DNA test, I might find more details about my background. I received my results this past September and I was absolutely thrilled to see that there was 19 percent British in there. I danced around the house saying, “I knew it!!”.
In addition to the regional connections I had through the more recent DNA test, it also listed all the potential relatives I had. One of them was listed as a very high probability of being my first cousin. That got me thinking about my paternal grandfather, how that is probably where my British ancestry comes from and maybe that person is a key to finding out all that information. I tried sending that person a message, but I never heard back and I could tell by their last login date that they were not very active on the site.
My curiosity was now piqued and I contacted Legacy Tree Genealogists and they started the project of finding my paternal grandfather. I kept my brother in the loop of all that was happening and all my correspondence with Legacy Tree and now he was getting very interested. Once we started this, we realized how much of a hole we did feel in our life by not knowing our grandfather or anything about that side of our family tree.
A few weeks into the “grandfather” project, my project manager at Legacy Tree sent me an email and informed me that my DNA markers for the person that was a possible first cousin was off the charts. That led them to believe that this person, who they had identified as David Roberts of Nebraska and who was 28 years old, was either an uncle, a half-sibling, or a full nephew. They then ruled out him being an uncle because of his age. Based on family information I had provided, they ruled out half-sibling and concluded that he was my full nephew. They also finished with a paragraph about how the name Stevens comes up a lot in 3rd and 4th cousins and that could possibly be a clue to my paternal grandfather.
I immediately forwarded the email to my brother and he promptly called me. We talked on the phone wondering how this could be. Did our father go off and have another child somewhere and that person had a child who was now our nephew? We were throwing all scenarios out to each other as I paced my house and Howard walked around a Super Walmart.
I finally said to him, “Could you have another son?” His reply immediately was no. Howard is married with 4 young children, three daughters, a 2-year-old son and a wonderful wife. I pressed him and said “Okay, well let’s back track to be sure. If this guy is 28, his mom would have been pregnant 29 years ago. Where were you in 1987-88?” Howard replied, “I was in the Marine Corps and based in California at Camp Pendleton.” I then asked him who he dated during that time. He said he had dated nobody seriously, “except for a brief time before being deployed to Japan, I dated a girl name Michelle Roberts. But this guy’s last name is Stevens.” I corrected him and said “No, wait, you are confusing the names here. Let me reread the email.” I then told him that the last name of the young man was not Stevens, but Roberts. There was a period of silence while my brother and I digested what we knew we had just discovered and then he said, “Holy cow Kelli, I have a 28-year-old son!” He was in the cheese section of Walmart and he said everyone was looking at him.
We hung up with each other and agreed he should drive home and we would talk again then. I also said I would do a Facebook search to see if I could find anything. Typing in ‘David Roberts, Nebraska’ in the search bar, a list of people and profiles came up and as I looked, one caught my eye and I clicked on it. The first picture that popped up of this David Roberts had me on my knees as it was like looking at a picture of my brother. I had no doubt at that point that this young man was my brother’s son.
Howard, his wife Kristen, and I all talked on the phone that night and I told them that Legacy Tree had contact information for David if we wanted it. They both agreed that they wanted the information and wanted to contact David.
Howard did contact David the next night via Facebook and then within 30 minutes of that, they were talking on the phone and had a 3-hour conversation.
Howard and his wife Kristen made plans to fly out to see David and his wife. Within a two-and-a-half-week time period, my bother found out he had a 28-year-old son, talked to him on the phone, and then met him in person. The similarities between them is bone chilling and most definitely contributes to the nature vs. nurture aspect of raising a child. They have much in common, enjoy each other’s company, and are excited for what the future holds.
In extension of David and Howard, the families on both sides have been nothing short of wonderful and welcoming. Everyone on both sides are excited about our growing family and excited to meet one day.
We found out from David that the reason he did the DNA test was not to find out who his father was, which his mother had offered to help him do if he ever wanted, but was to find out what part of Asia his ethnicity was from. Unfortunately for him, all the DNA test says is East Asia. So my brother was able to tell him that he is part Korean and he was able to settle all the bets he had running with a lot of his friends about “what flavor of Asian David was.”
My brother, with Legacy Tree’s help, was able to stop the pattern that began with my dad. David will not spend his life wondering who his father is. My brother has found a sense of peace in his life that he never realized was missing until he found it. He likes to put it this way– ”We went searching for a name to fill in the blank of our family history and we found a future and a treasure far greater.”
Legacy Tree also completed my original goal of finding out who my paternal grandfather was. We have a sense of connection now that we never had before. I haven’t yet reached out to any of the relatives I have on my grandfather’s side. I think I will eventually, but just knowing who he was and who we are, gives us a sense of peace that we never realized was missing.
The Research Behind the Reunion
Kelli came to Legacy Tree Genealogists to find her unknown paternal grandfather. She gave us access to her DNA results and told us about her family and her parents’ differentiating ethnicities, which assists in sorting maternal and paternal genetic matches. One of Kelli’s matches was much closer than the rest. With our focus on her unknown grandfather, we initially assumed this close match would be a half uncle or paternal cousin. However, as soon as we began the analysis, we realized the shared DNA required this match to be even closer – either a full uncle, half brother, or full nephew.
This close match had Asia East ethnicity and was not a shared match with the known father’s maternal side of the family. That quickly eliminated any chance this match was her uncle. An uncle with Asian ethnicity would require the client’s unknown grandfather and known grandmother to have a second child together unknown to the client who somehow had Asia East ethnicity, without the parents having Asia East ethnicity. This was impossible.
Remaining was the possibility of a half sibling or nephew. The only way to confirm which relationship was correct was to discover more about the genetic match. His username was unique and trendy, which immediately implied a younger individual. Also, this match’s family tree contained only private individuals but the tree had a name – David Roberts. We used public profile searches and found multiple social media accounts with his unique user name. One of these social media accounts contained the same name, David Roberts. Examining David’s public profile, we determined he was 28, likely named after his maternal grandfather, and likely raised by a single mother. He also appeared to have Asian ethnicity when his family did not. All indications were that this was Kelli’s nephew, not half sibling.
Understanding Kelli could be aware of this nephew but not know his username or that he had tested, or even that her brother might be aware but perhaps had not told the family, we carefully crafted an email with David’s name, age, and other identifying information and our reasoning why he was likely her nephew. And then we waited. We were thrilled when we found out that David was unknown to Kelli and her brother, Howard, and that they were excited about the discovery! We sent them his information right away to make contact.
With most of the research time still available, we were able to pursue Kelli’s paternal grandfather with the remaining close first to second cousin matches. Three of these close matches identified the same father or grandfather in their attached family trees. This man could not have been Kelli’s grandfather but he was likely a brother to her grandfather. He was one of a family of 5 boys, living on the border of South Dakota and Minnesota. Kelli’s father was born on the Minnesota side of the border, only 15 miles away from this family of boys, matching Kelli’s family story about the father being an older brother of a school friend.
We examined each brother in this family. The youngest brother was too young to have fathered a child and the oldest two brothers’ circumstances made them less likely. We attempted to differentiate the circumstances of the middle brothers.
Simultaneously, we were identifying the remaining close couple genetic matches in the same way we identified David, by searching their usernames and looking at public records. One woman was likely either a first cousin once removed or half cousin, but there was not enough identifying information to determine the names of her parents or grandparents through public records. She seemed to be a dead end, but we made note of all public records we examined for her, in hopes something would match our document research on the family of brothers.
We were able to order the obituaries for the two middle brothers who lived on the border of South Dakota. Listed in the older middle boy’s obituary was his son who did not carry his surname. We suspected this son was a known illegitimate child. The surname carried by this possibly illegitimate son was the same unique surname as the half cousin genetic match’s maiden name. From there, it was easy to identify that the older of the two middle sons must be the client’s grandfather, because he was this half cousin genetic match’s grandfather also.
In one project, we were able to give Kelli a grandfather and a nephew. We are so excited for Kelli, Howard, and David, and can’t wait for them to continue learning more about their family.
If you’ve taken a DNA test and need help analyzing the results, or if you have a genealogy question you think DNA might be able to help answer, we would love to help! Contact us to discuss your questions and goals, and we’ll help you choose a project option and get started.