Thomas Finds Family, and then His Valentine – 23andMe February 07, 2020

I saw this on 23andMe – Thomas Finds Family, and then His Valentine: I cut it down as it was over 900 words, but the article is worth a read.

By Andrew Todhunter

Thomas Johnson was curious. How much Native American ancestry did he have? A software developer and former US Army medic from Stockton, California, he grew up in the northwest corner of Indiana.


“Where I grew up, there’s a belief that everyone from that part of the country has some percentage of Native American ancestry,” he said.

Born in 1971, Thomas grew up with a single mom and never knew his biological father. Whenever he asked his mother about that side of the family, he got nowhere.

“I thought this was a mystery that I’d never solve,” he said.

A DNA Relative Match

In January of 2017, he bought a 23andMe DNA test kit, mailed it in, and waited.  When he received the email that his reports were ready, Thomas logged in one afternoon at work. After opting in to 23andMe’s DNA Relatives feature, he learned that his DNA had matched with a close genetic relative: Edwina Kimble. A name he’d never heard before. The test estimated that Edwina was his paternal grandmother. There at work, staring at the screen, Thomas started to cry.

He immediately began to search for his grandmother online, and soon came upon her obituary. She had passed away less than two months before he submitted his DNA test, at age 94.

After decades without answers, the timing stunned him. “I just missed her,” he said.

Becoming a Baby Brother

He found the names of her six children in the obituary—one daughter and five sons. One of those men, he knew, must be his biological father. He soon found a cousin on his father’s side who shared a mutual friend. One connection led to another, and finally, he reached his grandmother’s descendants.

“The brothers knew right away I was Tommy’s boy,” he said. “They knew he had dated my mother, and they welcomed me right into the family.”

Thomas learned that he had an older sister named Charnell, who is four years older than him.

“She later told me she’d always wanted a baby brother,” he said.


Their father’s only children, Thomas and Charnell grew up in the same neighborhood. They went to the same private elementary school and the same high school, but the four-year age gap was just wide enough to keep them from overlapping. After he’d made contact, Thomas communicated almost daily with his family in Indiana. In their conversations and video chats, Charnell noticed that Thomas had the same laugh and many of the same mannerisms as their father, even though the two had never met.


Andrew Todhunter is an award-winning writer, filmmaker, and lecturer at Stanford University. The author of three books, including the PEN USA Literary Award-Winning A Meal Observed, his journalism includes dozens of articles in publications such as National Geographic, The Atlantic, and The Wall Street Journal. 



About Wichita Genealogist

Originally from Gulfport, Mississippi. Live in Wichita, Kansas now. I suffer Bipolar I, ultra-ultra rapid cycling, mixed episodes. Blog on a variety of topics - genealogy, DNA, mental health, among others. Let's
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