When Your Father is Not Your Father: The Shock Results of Ancestry DNA Test. Part One by Lisa Hunt-Wotton
By the start of 2019, more than 26 million consumers had added their DNA to four leading commercial ancestry and health databases, according to our estimates. If the pace continues, the gene troves could hold data on the genetic makeup of more than 100 million people within 24 months (Technology Review).
The scientific landscape that was once reserved only for lab technicians, doctors and detectives is now an open market. Any one happy to dish out about $100.00 and spit into a test tube, can take the test and have the results back in about 6 weeks. People are lining up to find out their ancestoral heritage but many are finding out a lot more than they bargained for. Myself included. Along with finding out you may have descended from vikings, you may also be finding out about infidelities, health concerns, affairs, and bumping into relatives that you never knew existed.
In March this year 2019, I had the traumatic experience of finding out at 56 years of age, that my father was not my father.
This is My Story
My father Joe was born in 1928 in the inner suburbs of Melbourne at the beginning of the great depression. Times were tough. Both his parents were caught up in the gangland wars of Squizzy Taylor and the Fitzroy Gangs. His older half brother Edward was the son of Squizzy Taylor or so the family secret goes.
The story of Mona and Peter is one for another day. It is a sad and heartbreaking tale. In 1931 after the death of his 26 year old mother, my dad was abandoned at the race track with a note pinned to him. He was 3 years old.
Interestingly he was abandoned at a race track and eventually grew up to become a jockey himself.
The note said 25.7.31 (original note see below)
I P Murray the father of Josif Peter Murray is to stay with Mr and Mrs F G Cooper as long as he is 21 years of age and none of his parents can take him away from them, he is in a good home and I could not find any better in Melb. Peter Murray. Born on the 8th.12.28
My father was raised by the Cooper family and recalls a loving and wild upbringing. Pop Cooper was a Melbourne Policeman. who was on the take from the gangs and involved in all sorts of goings on in the 1920’s. I think this is how my grandfather met Pop Cooper in the first place. Again, that is a story for another day.
My father was raised knowing nothing of his birth family. At 21 when he met my mother and wanted to get married there was the difficult task of getting hold of a birth certificate. This was when the note was produced. At least they had a name and a date. It was at this moment in his life that he found out he was not a Cooper by birth but was in fact a Murray.
For all of my life this was the only narrative I had of my father. We knew nothing of his parents, siblings or their families, where they were from or where they were now. We knew from his birth certificate that his father came from South Africa. That was the only information that we had.
Over the last ten years I have spent hundreds of hours on Ancestry.com trying to piece together my fathers heritage and trying to find some of his relatives who may know more of his story. I have poured through police gazettes, news papers, books, sent letters of request for information to South Africa and followed up hundreds of leads on ancestry.com. The family tree now has over 1000 people on it and over 500 photos, but little to no information about my grandfather ‘Peter Murray’.
I do however have a description of him from a police gazette. A seemingly typical description of an inner city gang member in the 1920’s Melbourne. This is the last record I have of him.
2.11.31 Murray, Peter is charged, on warrant issued at the instance of Jane Mollross 14 Webb St Fitzroy, with deserting his child at Fitzroy. Description: – About 33 years, 5 ft 7 in. nuggety build, full face, clean shaven, black curly hair, gold front teeth: wore a blue twill suit.
Two front Gold teeth. Let me tell you, only gang members had gold teeth in the great depression.
After hitting some serious road blocks, I decided that maybe the next step was to get dad to do a DNA test. He was now 89 years old, frail and I was running out of time. Easter 2018 my husband and I went to visit dad and asked if he would humour me by spitting into this test tube. Dad looked at me like I had lost my mind.
“You want me to do what? You want me to spit into that tiny thing”. My step mother Maureen came to the rescue and encouraged him to do it reminding him of the DNA shows that they had watched together on TV.
Six weeks went by and nothing. 8 weeks, 10 weeks and still no results. I finally got correspondence from Ancestry to say that they tried 3 times to do the test but there just wasn’t enough spit.
By this stage my father was quite ill and soon after had a crippling fall which put him into hospital. He never came home. We buried him in the August.
Ancestry then sent me a replacement DNA kit as an apology for not being able to complete the test for my father. Of course it was too late now for my dad so I put it at the top of the cupboard and forgot about it.
In January this year I remembered the DNA test siting there and thought that I may as well go ahead and do the test myself. It was free and it might still open up some fresh leads. Boy was I in for a life changing moment.
Six weeks later I got an email to say that my test results were in and to activate the DNA results. I was so excited. Maybe I would find a cousin or aunt or uncle of my dads that could give some fresh light to his story.
I activated the test and watched in amazement as the results started filling the screen. I was pretty puzzled at first. The initial data I looked at was a pie chart which showed me my ethnicity estimate. It said that I was 46 % English and 46% Irish. The English was not suprising as my mothers family had all come from England. However the Irish? My research had shown that my grandfather was born in The Port of Saint John in South Africa.
hmmmm… okay well I thought I was Dutch South African but maybe they were Irish South African?
The next thing you see is DNA matches to people who share your DNA, and there were hundreds of them. It is so confronting. All these peoples names and photos and percentages load up on the page in order from the highest match to the lowest. The ones up the top said ‘Close Family’. How strange. I was expecting 2nd and 3rd cousins not close family.
I click on the first one which told me the name and showed me the photo of this beautiful woman. The results told me that we were 100% match.
100% – I wasnt expecting that ……..what the heck does that mean? There is a question mark icon at the side of the box which shows you the DNA relationship. This woman and I regisgtered as 100% either as a grandparent, grandchild, half sibling, aunt/uncle, niece or nephew.
Okay, so this is explainable. Holy Moly Batman, this must be my cousin. A child of one of my fathers siblings. Oh… no it doesn’t say cousin. Hmm Well its not a grandparent, she looks about 50 years or less. Can’t be an aunt or uncle because my dad is 90 and she is too young.
When I click on her profile there are contact details. So I decide to email her. Excited that finally some of the missing pieces of the puzzle will fall into place.
A couple of things to note: from here on in the names have been changed because this is a very fresh trauma and family are still processing this information. The other thing you should know is that sometimes people don’t check ancestry for many months. Imagine my surprise when I receive an immediate response.
This is how the connection went.
I have just done a DNA test with Ancestry and you came up as a close relative – so interesting. I was wondering where you live? I am in Melbourne Australia.
Yes, we are very closely related.
I am happy to have contact and share all that I know about our connection. I live in Melbourne.
Take care, Jade
Wow, this is crazy.
I would love to chat, email or catch up. Let me know what works for you.
Immediately the phone rang.
I am like Tigger bouncing around and so excited. It’s Jade. Ahhhhhh.
“Hey so great to hear from you. Wow this is amazing. I can’t believe it. Do you know how we are related”?
Jade: “Yes I do. How much of the story do you know”
Story… what story. No I don’t know anything.
I went on briefly to explain about why I had done the test and about my fathers recent death ect.. She was very lovely and very composed. She told me later that she was shocked to hear that I had absolutely no idea what she was about to say.
Then she drops the bomb.
“Lisa I do know how we are related. I am your half sister”
It’s at this point that I have my first anxiety attack. My mind is blank, I have gone hot and cold all over and I am feeling panicky. I am thinking: I don’t know this lovely lady, this could be a hoax, ancestry has made a mistake. This cannot be true. I have been hacked!
She goes on. Lisa is your mothers name Lauris. “Yes”
Did you grow up in Canterbury, did you attend Canterbury Girls High is your mother a florist? “Yes…. faint”
OMG….. how does this stranger know these things about me. I am now nearing full panic as she calmly and gently goes on to tell the story of what she knows.
‘Lisa, you have three half sisters. About ten years ago our father was dying from cancer and a friend came to talk to us to say. Girls, there is something that you need to know. You have another sister, a half sister and her name is Lisa Jane”. The girls go to talk to the dad on his death bed and he confirms the details of the other sister Lisa Jane (me).
It is at this stage that I start crying uncontrollably and start to shake. I think that Jade is crying too and she is apologising for having to give such explosive and devestating news to me. I explain that I need to hang up and try to process all of this and that I will call her back in a few days when I get my head together.
I was still very much in denial and unbelief. I had to talk to my mother. Until she confirmed it, it just wouldn’t be real.
Jade kindly asks me if I would like her to tell the other sisters that I am not ready to speak to them yet. “Yes please I reply through my tears, it’s going to take me a little while to process this shock”. We hang up.
Of course Jade and the other two sisters have been eagerly waiting for this moment. They decided 10 years ago that they would not try to find me, they didn’t want to ruin my life with this news. They believed that if we were meant to be together then the universe would make it happen. Well the universe and a simple DNA test certainly did make it happen. As soon as I activated my DNA results they were notified that I had connected on Ancestry so they went balistic. They were very excited that Lisa Jane had arrived on the scene as confronting and confusing as it had been for them.
My husband and I got NO sleep that night. At 7 am I called my mother and said, “Mum, I am coming over now. Cancel everything you have on this morning there is urgent news that I need to speak to you about”. I then called my aunt and my older sister asking that they meet me at mums house immediately. It was urgent and shocking news that I had to bring and I needed support. I needed my aunt there because I was worried that my mother would need support. Support that I couldn’t give her if my life was about to fall apart.
We arrived at my mothers within minutes of each other. Everyone pretty confused and distressed. I assured everyone that I and the kids were okay but that I had news that couldn’t wait. This is a little how it went.
“Mum. You and I have been through a lot together over the years and there have been many times when you have lied to me. Today is not going to be one of those days. Today I am going to ask you some questions and you are going to answer me with the truth.
Do you know a man called Kallan Callaway, did you have an affair with him before I was born”
My mother “Yes, yes I knew Kallan and yes we had an affair.”
Holy mother of pearl.
It would take a book to explain to you the next few hours. The questions, the confusion. My older sister sat quietly crying as it dawns on us that we are now half sisters not full blood sisters. I begin to hate that word half. My aunt is in shock and distressed for all of us. Later I have to work out how to tell my brother and younger sister and also to tell my children that their grandfather is not their grandfather.
I know that my dad is my dad and always will be. But this shocking news brings a tsunami of information with it. It reframes and changes all of my narratives. What about medical history, relatives, new nieces and nephews.
I share this difficult story to my kids through heartbreaking sobs. Hours later, once the shock begins to subside, they reach for their phones to check FB. Do we have new cousins? Are they our age? Did they grow up near us? What if I’ve dated one or kissed one? Do we have mutual friends on FB?
One of my sons says to me. “When poppy died, at the funeral everyone said how I had his legs and that I looked like him. Does this mean that I don’t have pops legs anymore”. I know this sounds funny but all of a sudden our family history and identity had been ripped out from underneath us.
It was trauma on a new level. I found myself kind of glad that my dad was not alive to go have to go through this. I was also confused about the ‘new Irish dad’ who was also dead and unable to talk or share his life with me and my children. What was his story? What does it now mean for me?
This ends Part One of this blog When Your Father is Not Your Father: The Shock Results of Ancestry DNA Test. In the next post I will write how I go about meeting my new sisters and the next part of the journey that has just begun. There is good and wonderful news to come and I will explain that in part 2. (insert hand clapping)
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