My grandparents were all Eastern European immigrants, and three out of the four of them died before I was born. Neither my sister nor my brother remembers hearing any stories about life before moving to the United States. And to be perfectly candid, I’m not curious enough to devote the time and money to ancestry research.

Unlike me, I have several friends who’ve discovered distant and not-so-distant relatives when tracing their genealogy. I’m sure it can be exciting and rewarding to find family. I’m also sure that it can be disrupting and upsetting.  

My friend “Brian” had his DNA tested and then signed up on an ancestry search website.  He discovered that his dad was actually married to someone before the marriage to his mom!  Not only that, but Brian found he had a half-sister who lived in San Diego!  My friend went through the gamut of emotions.  He felt angry toward his father and mother for never telling him.  He also felt betrayed by his parents and frustrated that he couldn’t confront his mom and dad about the family secret because they had both passed away.  In addition, Brian felt excited because, as an only child, he finally had a sibling.  He even had her name and address!

What did Brian do next?  

First, he gave some thought to his end game.  What reasons did he have for making contact?  What were his expectations?  Would he be accepted with open arms?  Was there a possibility that he’d be rejected?  

The potential that Brian was no longer an only child, and that there possibly were aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces, and nephews motivated him toward the next step.  

But before actually reaching out, Brian took some time to consider that there might be negative consequences.  Without knowing what his newly discovered sibling actually understood about her parentage, she might react with distrust.  She might believe that Brian was looking for a handout, or maybe a place to live.  The image of her parents might be tainted if there was an affair that resulted in pregnancy.  And she might feel betrayed by this family secret.  

Brian decided to consult with an impartial person to guide him through the “what ifs” that this scenario presented, so he reached out to his church.  Brian met with “Pastor Larry,” who asked some tough questions.  Together, they worked out a strategy, using Pastor Larry as a liaison.   Pastor Larry sent a handwritten letter to Brian’s half-sister.  Although it took several weeks, she ultimately replied by email, giving permission for Brian to contact her.  

Pastor Larry urged Brian have some patience.  A few days later, Brian sent the email, with the subject of “Siblings.”  He kept it short, gave her his name, address, and phone number, and left it up to her to take the next step.  And she did!   They are now gradually getting to know each other.

If you have a similar story, regardless of the outcome, please share.