Can a birth parent be found with a single DNA match? YES! Amazingly, I had it happen twice in the same week. Both cases offered some seemingly impossible challenges and required a whole lot of luck. The first involved a Greek immigrant, and the other a Chinese immigrant. I'm still shocked that both of these cases fell in my lap at the same time and were solved within days of each other. The odds that this all worked out was kind of like winning the lottery, twice. I'll start with the Greek story and tell you about the Chinese family in my next post. Some names will be changed to protect people's privacy.
A woman named Theresa, age fifty-five, wanted help finding her birth father. Her mother passed away and refused to tell her who her father was her entire life. She managed to take the secret to her grave. We suspect the father was married at the time and this was kept secret because of an affair. One tiny bit of information was given to her by a family member. She was told he was a Greek waiter at the Chase Park Plaza Hotel in St. Louis, Missouri. Not a whole lot to go on, but it's something. This would have been way back in 1968, so finding hotel employee records wasn't an option.
Theresa decided to turn to Ancestry DNA to possibly find her father. When I looked at the DNA matches, I quickly realized there was good news and bad news. The good news was, she is fifty percent Greek. This meant the story about the Greek waiter was possible. The bad news was, there was only about one thousand DNA matches. That may sound like a lot, but it really isn't. I've seen match lists with over fifty thousand matches on each side of the family. That's not the worst part though. These matches were all people living in Greece and they were VERY weak numbers. Mostly fourth or fifth cousins. There were no matches that would be helpful to me, except ONE! A match of 266cM. We'll call him Kristopher. He had no trees or profile made. I messaged him several times and got no response. All we had was his first and last name.
If Kristopher was in Greece like everyone else on the list, I probably wasn't going to be able to find him. I tried searching for people who have died. Maybe an obituary would mention a Greek person that once worked at the Hotel in St. Louis. To my surprise, that hotel was, and still is, extremely well known. It was a popular place to stay for famous actors, athletes, and politicians. It is quite large and I'm sure thousands of employees worked there over the years. I also discovered there seemed to be a large Greek population St. Louis. I actually found several obituaries mentioning Greek employees at that hotel. Some even mentioned they worked at restaurants there. Below are some photos I found of the hotel in its early days.
Unfortunately, the names of the people I found who once worked there didn't match up with Kristopher's last name. This seemed like a dead end. I also tried looking up Kristopher on people-search sites. He has an unusual Greek last name, so if he was in the US, he should come up in a search. No, there was no trace of that name anywhere. I was pretty much out of options, but then I decided to try another approach. If he was related to someone who died in the US, he may be mentioned in a relative's obituary. I searched for his last name only and took a guess that the relative may be from St. Louis. BINGO! I found someone with his last name from St. Louis who died a few years ago. In the obituary, it mentioned his grandson, Kristopher. Could this really be a connection? As I said, there was no info about Kristopher on any people-search site. I would soon find out why. His father, we'll call him Stephan, was mentioned in the obituary. Now I had another relative to search for. He was easy to find. He is fifty years old. This led me to finding his son's age. Kristopher is a teenager. That's why he's not showing up on any people-search sites. Those sites don't post info about children, and much of the data comes from real estate databases. The good news is, Stephan lives in Florida.
Now we can get into the possible DNA relationships. If you've read my old posts about DNA numbers, you know that 266cM would be a good strong second cousin match. Kristopher is over thirty-five years younger than Theresa. It's highly unlikely that he's in the same generation as her. Another one of my posts called, What Generation Am I In?, explains that age doesn't always determine generation. I'd soon find out that would be the case here. If Kristopher was a generation younger than Theresa, this would be great. It would mean Stephan would be in her generation and would likely match her at double the centimorgan level. Let's take a guess and say 500cM. At that level, Stephen would have to have one grandparent in common with Theresa, maybe even two. Could we actually be getting close to figuring this out? I found Stephan on Facebook and messaged him. To my surprise, I actually got a response. If you don't already know, it's no longer easy to get a response from people on Facebook. New security features will often block people's messages if you are not on the person's friends list. He replied though and we exchanged email addresses.
Stephan confirmed that the Kristopher on Ancestry was indeed his son. Wow! I really did find the right people. I told him the story about the Greek waiter, and I couldn't believe it. He said, "That sounds like my cousin!" In fact, he was quite sure of it. I explained to him that it likely would NOT be his cousin because this person would have been born in the 1940s. His cousin would have to be a whole lot older than him for this to be possible with the DNA numbers. To my surprise again, he said, "Yeah, my cousin was a lot older than me. The dates and location totally make sense. He worked at the hotel in St. Louis in the 1960s." This is another good lesson about generations. Think about this for a moment... Theresa is age 55, Stephan is 50, Kristopher is a teen. If Stephan's cousin is Theresa's father, then Stephan is a generation older than Theresa, even though he is younger than her. They are first cousins once removed. Theresa and Kristopher are over 35 years apart, but are in the same generation. They are second cousins. The DNA numbers work absolutely perfect with this unusual generation gap.
What happens next? Stephan informed us that his cousin (Theresa's father) moved back to Greece in the 1980s and has passed away. He was a hotel manager before his death. So, we have the hotel related connection again as well. He told us, Theresa has two half siblings living in Greece. Stephan is in process of getting in contact with them. I will post an update if new info becomes available.
The next story is about an even more difficult single DNA match discovery.