Mar 28, 2017
Morgan – I just checked for the first time since I got my results back, and it looks like we might be close enough to be first cousins! You’re the only one I had on my results who was anything closer than a 4th cousin.

I don’t know how this is supposed to work, but to put you at ease, I’ll tell you a little about my family to see if we can indeed connect the dots.

My family resides in Rochester, NY, but I moved to Miami, FL 13 years ago. The last names on my mother’s side of the family are Wichman and Von Buren. The last names on my father’s side of the family are Berry and Ciaccia.

Do any of those sound familiar? Is upstate NY home to any of your family?

This is fun! haha. Hope to learn more about you.

There are synapses firing between my ears, with nerves on high alert as I hit ‘send’ on the message. I never thought I’d be the one to spit into one of these vials and finds myself at the center of a Hardy Boys family mystery. I’ve known the insides of the Ancestry website, and the alleged truths of my DNA origins for mere minutes, and now I’ve been transported into the dark side of the internet to connect with a DNA stranger I’ve never heard of.

Hellquist sounds vaguely…Nordic. In my mind’s eye, I see a woman in a parka working at a remote fishery on the coastline of Iceland, filled half-way with Jewish blood wondering about long lost family in the great land of the United States, where they have cable TV…

Minutes turn to hours, and I’m glued to my phone, refreshing the homepage every few minutes. On hour five, a green number ‘1’ shows up over the mailbox icon on the site; there’s a message. I’m guessing, hoping, that it’s her. It is.

Mar 28, 2017
Hi David- Thank you for reaching out. I have to say I am pretty surprised to find such a close match! I had my DNA done last year and didn’t find anything closer than 4th cousins.

So my info might be a bit more than you bargained for. I don’t want to cause any harm, but I think honesty is best. I decided to have my DNA done because my parents went through artificial insemination at the University of Rochester to have me and my biological father was an anonymous donor. I wanted to find out about my heritage and never really expected to find a relative. I am very excited to find a match, but also very aware that the donation was anonymous and would never want to make your family uncomfortable.

I am very familiar with Rochester NY. I live about 30 minutes south of the city. I am 31, married with 2 children. My parents chose to not have any more children after conceiving me so I am an only child, but have a large family on my mother’s side and most of us are all still in the Rochester area. I am a part time Art Teacher and full time mom. My daughter is in second grade and my son is in kindergarten.

I’d imagine that this is a bit shocking, as was finding out that I had a match! I will leave it up to you if you want to stay in contact or share any more info. Thanks for reaching out in the first place!


My first message to Morgan, the day I received my results on Yes, I go by El Rey De Espana on the site.

The message, despite its warmth, hits me like a practical joke. I’ve spent the first few hours of this experience thinking it was some detached, distant experience to be had between internet cables across seas. But her being from Rochester, NY hits me a bit too close to home — literally. This isn’t a happy accident; this is in the backyard I grew up in and it immediately feels as if it has greater implications.

In front of my laptop computer in my living room, alone, I laugh nervously to myself, a reaction that feels as natural as any since a few hours earlier. What exactly does she think she knows that would prompt her to say “I don’t want to cause any harm”?

I type her name into Facebook, and within seconds, I have gone beyond conjured up visions of a Nordic woman, and instead have discovered a living, breathing person who feels like she’s part of me. It’s the combination of DNA mixed with the Rochester roots that have sobered me and brought me to that assessment. I’m a block from the sunny shores of Miami Beach, but I’ve been pulled home by an internet stranger and blood relative. Her profile picture has a handful of people in it, so it’s not immediately clear which is her. But underneath the picture is her birth date; September 19, 1985, nearly a year to the day after my birthday, September 24, 1984.


I click through her profile pictures and find only two close-ups. Admittedly, I can only say she looks like she could be related to me; we both share blue eyes, though it’s not immediately clear who in my family she might look like. Already, though, the theories have started to form inside my head. Dad had no brothers, so I reason it wasn’t a man on his side of the family. But mom has three younger brothers. If I was a betting man, it is most likely one of them, and it fits the ‘close relative’ parameters I’ve just scoured; it would make Morgan a mystery first cousin.

Could my own dad have donated sperm? Sure. Likely? No. I know full well the issues my parents had with starting a family, so the odds of dad donating sperm while actively trying to start his own family were virtually impossible.

I am one of four grandchildren on my mom’s side of the family born between 1983 and 1987. The four of us were born to my mom and two of her three brothers, leaving the third brother as the only logical sperm donor in that window of time. I know enough about sperm donation through word of mouth to know that a masturbatory session in a doctor’s office could often yield $50 or so. Only one of those uncles hadn’t fathered a child between 1983 and 1987. It has to be him.

I immediately call my mother and ask her to put me on speaker so my father can hear as well. It’s been just six hours, but I’m all the way down the proverbial rabbit hole, and I’m about to take them down it with me. I read them the message I’ve received from this stranger named Morgan, whose biological dad is a sperm donor, relaying to them along the way this theory I’ve developed in the last five minutes.

“Does any of this make sense to you?” I ask.

Off-hand, they both say no, and they also confirm that my dad never donated sperm. I posit that if a possible connection is a first cousin, is it crazy to think that my uncle had donated sperm? I add in more color to my theory; my uncle had left the U.S. Air Force in the mid-80s and would’ve been in Rochester during that time. It seemed like he’d be an ideal candidate to fill a cup for a handful of coins now and then.

“I mean, it’s possible. But I just don’t think so,” she says, asking that I don’t go around asking my uncles to find out, though. She doesn’t want to ruffle any feathers.

I’m more floored by the fact that neither her or my father seems interested in knowing more about this revelation. We’re going to gloss over the fact that there’s a maybe-cousin around my age—currently living just outside of Rochester, NY—and no one wants to play detective?

I’m respectful of my parents’ wishes, but I want to respond to Morgan and continue our conversation regardless. And I’ve come up with a way to do that without disrespecting anyone’s wishes.

March 29, 2017
As you may have imagined…that was a really unexpected message to get back. Wow! I’ve literally been on the site for a day, so like you, this was more than I bargained for.

I looked more at our match details (all new language to me), and it looks like you and I have 1,509 shared centimorgans, which is a measure of how compatible your DNA is to another person. The website says 680 – 1,150 = 1st cousin, great-grandparent. 1,450 – 2,050 = grandparent, aunt, uncle, half-sibling. So we’re close enough to even register as possible half-siblings.

Here’s what I can tell you. I spoke to my mother and explained the situation to her. She was as surprised as I was. But, she asked that I not go about exploring within my own family to get the answer to this, and I’d like to respect her wishes. However, I can confirm that my father has never donated.

With that said, if you have any other questions that you think I could answer, I’d be happy to. I imagine it’ll take some time to unpack all of this, but if it’s what we think it is, well, it’ll be interesting to see how things shake out.

My best,

As I hit ‘send’ on the second message, my workday routine and deadline demands have taken a back seat to whatever it is I’ve landed upon, with a line drawn due-north where one hadn’t existed a day prior. I’m a lot of things, and naive isn’t one of them. I do take my mom’s request to stay out of it as an attempt to protect someone; it’s clear as day. And based on her reaction to me identifying one specific brother, it seems that she knows that my uncle has fathered a child through sperm donation, and that it’s being kept secret from the family— me included— for some reason. Is it that big of a deal?

I wonder.

Later in the day, now day two, I can feel a pen pal relationship gaining steam through the website between Morgan and me, and I can’t help but feel like a method actor dropped into his role as TV-show detective, and part-time therapist. What a beautiful oddity to find yourself inside a trove of substantive, private dialogue with a complete stranger.

March 29, 2017

Let me first start out by saying thank you for the information! ….

I completely understand that your mother doesn’t have interest in poking around and would also like to be fully respectful of that. I don’t have any intentions of poking and making what is already an awkward and difficult situation any harder. I am however curious to connect what dots we can. I am pretty unfamiliar with the science of this kind of thing and find the way we are connected somewhat mysterious. I am your Aunt? By the looks of your tree your mother has 3 brothers, so one of them could have been the donor or a great uncle somehow. I just want to reassure you that I will be respectful of your Mother and your family in this regard.

That being said, you are the only relative from my paternal side, and if you’re open to it, I’d love the opportunity to know one another more.

Before I tell you more about myself, I’d like to start with sharing what a gift your family member gave to my mother. When I told her about the match her only request was that I convey how thankful she was.

My parents met in High School, lived in rival towns and dated some when they were young. My mother moved out west to travel and during that time my dad was hit by a drunk driver while riding his motorcycle. He was paralyzed from the sternum down from the accident. At the time he had just finished playing college football and was home working. They reunited as friends. Later in their 20s they got back together and were married. Due to the paralysis my father couldn’t have children but after 2 years of fertility and artificial insemination from a donor I was conceived. I was raised knowing I was conceived by donor and the only information I had was that he was most likely a med student during 1984 when I was conceived and was supposedly a non-italian, non-jewish, caucasian. It was kind of funny to find out the donor was 100% European Jewish! There is quite the possibility that anything I was told might not be true, but just what the doctor shared with my parents all those years ago.

I had always wanted to find out more about my genetics, but my Dad was more than any girl could ask for in a father. I would never have put him in a position of being hurt or wanted him to think I was looking for family. He passed away two years ago after 41 years as a paraplegic from an infection and complications due to his injury. It took some time to decide to find out more about myself. Not in a way to find any kind of replacement – I want to make that clear. But to find out things I didn’t want to pursue while he was alive. I look exactly like my mom, but I have blue eyes. But I always had part of me wondering what my heritage was. And that led me to the DNA test.

I sincerely don’t want to be overwhelming. But I think by nature that’s how this whole thing feels. I am hopeful to hear back from you and would love to know more about you if you’re willing to share.


As I finish the last word of her reply, I breathe deeply through my nose, and let out a gust of air from my mouth. Oof.

On her last point, she is right—this is overwhelming, though there doesn’t seem to be another type of ‘whelming’ from which we could choose. The cadence of her words, which seem crafted deliberately, carefully, remind me in many ways of someone I know well.


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  1. As I was reading her responses to you, I couldn’t help but think, “She writes as well and beautifully as him!” What a journey you’ve been on!

  2. wow! Great read, DB. You know, a book on the initial contact of individuals finding and contacting their top matches and how they developed would be a hit….

  3. As someone who graduated with you, I am dying to know how this turns out! You have many amazing gifts and writing is undoubtedly one of them… but… as you were the first person to befriend me at a new school, I know you also have a wonderful gift of compassion and I know that will mean a lot to Morgan too! Maybe you were meant to find her? I can’t wait to hear how this turns out and I wish you, your family and Morgan a lot of peace, love, comfort and happiness.

    1. Nikki! So good to see your name pop up. That means a lot. I do know I was meant to find her. I think as I share the rest of how this unfolded, you’ll agree. Miss you and hope you’re well.

  4. Hi David! I’m am completely enthralled in this. I’ve cried and laughed. Can’t wait to find out more.

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