I used to go by Larecia Whitehead, I changed my second name to Buford – my real father’s name – when a DNA test led us to each other after decades apart. For most of my childhood, Mum told me another guy was my father, a man I never knew and who left us when I could barely walk or talk. I was never convinced. Then, at 15, a girl in school recognised my then surname and introduced me to the man my mother always said was my dad. We looked nothing alike. He didn’t think I was his daughter either. Fastforward to me being 31, and I needed certainty. Once again I tracked down the man my mum said was my dad and asked him to do a DNA test. The results came back: there was a 0% chance we were related. I’d been right all along.
A year later I turned to online DNA tests, unsurprisingly not matching with the Whitehead family. There were random third and fourth cousins, but I was at a loss. Thankfully, a friend connected me with a search angel – volunteers who help people like me find their lost relatives. It wasn’t an easy task – turns out my dad was one of 12 siblings. But 21 days later, my search angel had found my father.
I showed him a picture of my mum and he recognised her instantly. The DNA tests matched. It’s strange; to this day my mum is adamant they’ve never met. Dad says they were only together three times. I reckon Mum is just in denial. Now she accepts him; we do things as a family. Still, she has no memory of him at all.
And here’s the craziest bit: there had always been question marks over whether my dad had been a father. Not to me, but to a boy. He’d raised a son, when in fact he was the child of another man. Dad needed me as much as I needed him. Being his only child, meanwhile, worked out perfectly for me; after 35 years apart, selfishly, I didn’t want to share him.
We live together now. He’s more than just a father, he’s a best friend. In a matter of months he went from total stranger to being one of the most important people in my life; the same for my children.
I’m going to write a book, not just to tell this story but to try to reach teenagers who also have missing parents. If I’d found him sooner, I could have had so many more years of loving – and being loved by – my father. I want to encourage others to not waste any time.
My mum had me when she was 17, super young. I lived with her for a few years as a baby, but I ended up being raised by my grandma. I never knew who my father was, and my mum didn’t either; let’s say back then she was living young, wild and free in Las Vegas. It’s a city where plenty of men come and go. Right after I was born, we took a bunch of paternity tests. None of the potential candidates that Mum identified matched my genetics. Well into high school, I just accepted it would never be figured out.
And then in 2016, out of the blue, my grandma bought us both DNA tests online. Our intention was to learn about my ethnic makeup, that was all. Mum had mentioned previously she’d been dating – among others – a Puerto Rican guy at the time of my conception. I have a different complexion to the rest of our family. I didn’t intend to find my father, but my roots. Opening the results was one the most shocking moments of my life – apparently I’m exactly half Afghan. Lower down the page was a long list of cousins: once you spit in the tube and send it in, you receive a list of relatives who have also signed up. Some of them – from names alone – I just knew would have to be related to my dad. For the first time, my father felt real.
I called Mum and suddenly a memory of a man was triggered. Maybe there was this one Middle Eastern guy, she said, but they’d only met once. She’d never considered him a possibility.
I messaged one of these newfound cousins and explained my situation. All I knew is that this man would have been in town nine months before I was born. Our exchanges were sporadic. Finally, last November, they sent me a list of names. I asked my mum: he could, she recalled, be an Alex? The final name on the list. Alex lived in Afghanistan with his wife and kids, but his mother – my prospective grandmother – lived a short drive from me. Our DNA matched. A few weeks ago, I had my first video call with my dad.
He wasn’t a visitor, but local. Lots of his family are still here in Vegas; with open arms they’ve welcomed me. I still face an identity crisis, only a different type. Does this new information change me? I want to embrace my heritage, but I wasn’t raised with it; would that make me an impostor? With their support, I’m soaking up Afghan culture. At parties, they all speak Farsi – I want to learn the familial language. I know next to nothing about their customs, food or reference points. I’m excited to embrace it all, and to one day meet my father. Because being Afghan, it turns out, is a huge part of who I am.
I was always interested in genealogy and when I did a DNA test in 2012 I didn’t think much of it. I knew, or so I thought, all about my family history – I was doing it for fun. My parents were Irish American Catholics; all my ancestors were originally from the British Isles. Instead, the results showed I was only half Irish, Scottish or English. The rest of me was European Jewish. Of course, one can be Jewish and British, but DNA testing identifies people of Jewish heritage as a distinct group. It made no sense. At first I thought it was a mistake; maybe one side of our family had hidden their background.
My sister and I went into detective mode and asked two cousins to take DNA tests: one on Mum’s side, and one on my father’s. That way, I hoped, we’d decipher where the Jewish genes were from and work from there. The results took an age, but finally came back: both were Irish; none of our cousins shared our Jewish heritage. Even stranger was the fact that while my sister and I matched as relatives with my mother’s side of the family, genetically speaking my cousin on Dad’s side was a total stranger. My father’s sister was not his sister. Somehow, my father had Jewish genes, but his parents – my grandparents – had not. It was a mystery.
Dad was the son of Irish immigrants. We had his birth certificate, showing he’d been born on 23 September 1913. We knew he was raised in a New York orphanage. At this point, we questioned whether something had gone wrong in the system and two children in the home had been confused for each other. But the sole picture I had of my father as a young child matched the man I knew.
Within two weeks of receiving our cousin’s DNA results, we settled on a new theory: that our father was switched with an Irish baby while the two were newborns in the hospital. It was the only scenario that made sense. It was the only way Dad could somehow have not been related to his own parents. We then spent two and a half years searching for a close Jewish relative who had taken a DNA test to confirm what we thought.
I periodically checked my Irish “cousin’s” DNA results online to see if he had acquired any unexpected relatives. Amazingly, he was contacted by a new cousin, a generation below me, who’d expected to be genetically Jewish, but discovered she was Irish instead. And yes, this woman’s grandfather was also born on 23 September 1913. The babies had been sent home with the wrong parents: an Irish boy had been sent home with a Jewish family. My Jewish father – Jim Collins – had been raised Irish instead.
We tracked down the other family – the news to them was also shocking. As soon as we looked at pictures of Jim – it all clicked into place. The strangest part is all the coincidences we later discovered: how my dad, Jim, was a gambler just like his biological father; how he loved gefilte fish and didn’t eat pork, despite never knowing he was Jewish. Whoever his parents were, my dad was still my dad.
When I was two years old, one of my two younger brothers passed away. I grew older and started my own family, and I too lost a child of my own.
Two and half months ago, I saw a message when I logged into Facebook from a stranger: I’m pretty sure we are brother and sister, it said. I’d done a DNA test a few years earlier, but got nothing. Suddenly, here was this sister out the blue. She’d been searching for us for 35 years.
We’ve basically been neighbours our whole lives – she’s only 10 miles down the road; I’ve known her husband for 25 years, and we have an unbelievable number of mutual friends.
My parents are both dead; after my first younger brother died, my father struggled with alcoholism. He was running around doing whatever, clearly getting someone pregnant in between the births of me and my living brother. As far as I know, he never knew, and neither did we. I ordered a special test which can identify siblings, and drove to her house.
As soon as she answered the door taking a further test seemed pointless. The woman standing in front of me was the spitting image of my dad. When the results came back, lo and behold, she’d been right.
The next day, our families met. We all went for dinner, then returned to my place. It was only when I sat down in my house that I realised: my sister was six years younger than me; my father had died exactly six years ago to the day.
Today she’s a huge part of my life. We talk every day, she’s a missing piece of my life’s puzzle.
I’m so happy about it all: after losing a kid, family becomes even more precious. And here I am, with a new sister, niece and nephew. They’re a blessing… and who knows how many more of us there are still to find?
Mum was only 18 when she got pregnant. The father? They weren’t together and let’s just say he wasn’t around. Her family were devout Catholics. Back then, lots of young, single expectant mothers were sent to these awful institutions, where they’d give birth and have their babies given away. Six weeks before I was born, Mum was sent to Brettargh Holt in Kendal – a convent staffed by Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and Mary. After giving birth, Mum upped and left with me in tow. She never spoke to her parents again. Life was tough, and she did it all on her own. Unsurprisingly, she wasn’t keen on talking about everything that had happened. Growing up, I had no idea who my father was.
During the summer, my skin naturally tanned quicker than most of the other kids, which saw me get bullied. When I was six or seven, Mum sat me down and explained why. My dad, she told me, was Italian. That was the only piece of information she ever wanted to share. And so there was always a sense of guilt attached to me trying to find him. On and off since my 20s, I tried to track him down. Many years later, my estranged maternal grandma sent me a letter. His name was Antonio, she told us; this is the street where he was lodging at the time. I knocked on every single door and found his old landlady. She remembered the young Italian lad’s name.
I found him on Facebook, and sent him a message. Right away, he knew who I was. Soon he had a DNA kit in his hands. He was on a Zanzibar beach when – in his 80s – Dad discovered he was a father, grandfather and great-grandfather for the very first time.
Today we have a great relationship; he calls me his little miracle. We’ve still not talked much about all that happened between Mum and him; why for so long he wasn’t a present parent. He’s an elderly man now. One day, maybe I will. Mum died in 2003. I’m not sure how she’d have felt about me and him connecting. At times I feel guilty, but he’s a wonderful man, a special addition to my life. We may have missed out on memories, but there’s still time for us to make plenty more.
My sister and I are close. We were both adopted by my parents, but the two of us are not biologically related. When my mum gave birth to our younger brother a few years after we arrived, it was a real surprise for all. Mum and Dad were always open about our adoption; they’d read us a book called The Chosen Baby. I’ve also always had admiration for the woman who gave me up. It must have been so hard to do.
I’ve always been super-curious about my genetics. I’ve been married five years, but don’t have children. That means I’ve never met anyone – my age, older or younger – who shares my DNA. Still, I was cautious about digging around; not wanting to upset my parents; aware that appearing in other people’s lives can, of course, cause upset and drama. So little was known about my biological parents – the name my birth mother gave on the adoption papers was a decoy – that I decided I simply needed to know more.
It was Christmas 2018 when I finally took a DNA test. I got the results on St Patrick’s day. I remember because it said I have some Irish blood. Through the site, I connected with a half-uncle – my first ever blood relation. He knew a little about my mother, Barbara: a bit of a troublemaker, in and out of prison. When she was pregnant with me, she stole her brother’s car and drove across the country to secretly give birth. She’d been married at that point; I was the child of her extramarital affair. And, he informed me I had a half-sister – an actor in Hollywood. I reached out to her; DNA tests confirmed we shared a birth mother.
I was overwhelmed. As a child, I’d watched her play the sassy middle sister on television in a popular television sitcom I loved. To find out we were related was heartwarming. I’d spent a lifetime thinking I’d never know any blood relatives, when she’d been there all along.
She and I still haven’t talked talked; we’re yet to meet in person. She was kind when we wrote to each other, but overwhelmed and unsure how to feel. I understand; we all feel different emotions about the past and where we’re from.
And I’m so lucky to have an amazing family who I love more than anything in the world. In time, I hope she and I will connect properly. For now, I’m just comforted by knowing she was, and is, part of my world.