DNA Reunion Stories: Filling Empty Seats

Diahan Southard

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These DNA reunion stories remind us that DNA testing can bring newfound relatives to your holiday table—metaphorically or literally. Is it time to give the gift of DNA testing to someone you love?

We’re coming to the time of year when many of us will spend more time with family than we otherwise might—and we may be reflecting on the empty seats at our table. We think of those who weren’t able to travel to the family gathering, and to those who have passed on.

For some, however, long-empty seats have been filled, thanks to the assistance of a DNA test. I love these stories, and while I know not every DNA reunion is a happy one, here are a few that remind me WHY I do what I do.

DNA Reunion Stories

Awhile back, The Ledger reported the story of Mary McPherson and her cousin Dolores Washington-Fleming, who discovered a common connection through Peter Edward Williams. Mary descends through through Peter’s wife, and Dolores descends through a different mother: an enslaved woman held by Peter.

Mary and Dolores welcomed this new connection and shared information about their common ancestor. As they reunited for the first time, perhaps they talked about what life might have been like in the 1850’s in the south, and how their ancestors would’ve never guessed that the two of them would someday be gathered around the same table.

Adoptees continue to flock to genetic genealogy testing companies with the intention of filling the empty seats at their holiday tables. The New York Times reported a touching story of Khrys Vaughan who felt her identity crumble when she found out she was adopted. Turning to DNA testing, she was able to connect with cousins and feel a biological connection she didn’t know she had been missing. Even though she still has many open seats at her table, she felt that filling even one meant that she was no longer biologically adrift, but could now look at someone and say, “This is my family.”

A similar story came out of California. Just days old, Jen Chervin was found outside a hospital in Yuba City, CA. That was 40 years ago. But this year, Jen used the power of the genetic genealogy database in combination with some serious genealogy work to find her parents. While neither is in a position to openly embrace her as a daughter at this time in their lives, Jen now has a name card to place at seats of honor around her holiday table, all thanks to a simple saliva test. (Here’s how adoptees can get started with DNA testing.)

My Own DNA Testing Journey

In my own family, by virtue of one seeming miracle after another, I have added the names of maternal grandparents and great grandparents to my family tree as DNA testing has helped my mom fill in some of the missing pieces in her life. We received a true Texas welcome from some of her paternal second cousins, and an outpouring of kindness from a maternal second cousin. Place cards for extended relatives are gradually being filled in at my genetic holiday table. I am excited about the new faces and names and I can’t wait to learn more.

If you want to get started filling seats at your table, there is no time like the present to give yourself, or someone else, the gift of DNA testing! The first rule in DNA testing is to test the oldest generation. So parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles should be first on your list. If you are that oldest generation, then that’s YOU. Just be sure you’re ready for whatever you may learn, or whatever additional mysteries may present themselves. DNA testing can bring both welcome and unwelcome news; interactions with new-found relatives may or may not go well; and it may take some time to find and understand your genetic connections. (Be respectful if your loved ones need more time before they’re ready to explore their DNA mysteries.)

Start Your DNA Journey

There’s a lot to consider when it comes to starting your DNA testing journey. Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered! My inexpensive DNA Quick Guides are here to help you navigate every step of DNA testing and discovering new relatives and ancestors. Grab your copy today!

Take me to those Quick Guides!

This article was originally published at www.genealogygems.com. Updated and republished by Your DNA Guide.

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<a href="https://www.yourdnaguide.com/author/guideyourdnaguide-com" target="_self">Diahan Southard</a>

Diahan Southard

As founder and CEO of Your DNA Guide, Diahan Southard has been teaching people how to find family history answers in their DNA for several years, and she's been in the genetic genealogy field since its infancy. Diahan teaches internationally, writes for popular magazines, consults with leading testing companies, is author of Your DNA Guide–The Book, and producer of Your DNA Guide–the Academy, an online learning experience.


  1. Lynnette

    I have been doing DNA testing to confirm who my great grandfather was in Sweden before he came to the US in 1849. (name change made record searching in the US difficult). One of my DNA testers matches my oldest two first cousins and three of my five children but not me. I believe that he is still related to me. Am I correct in assuming that?

    • Diahan Southard

      Hi Lynnette, the fact that the match is matching your children, but not you, means that they are related to this DNA match through their father’s side, not your side. So that makes it difficult to say that the match is related to your first cousins in the way you hoped, as the match may be related to them through a different line.


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