A Trusted Friend in a Complicated World

8 Adoptees Who Found Their Birth Parents Through DNA Kits

Who knew that swabbing your cheek could result in family reunions across the world? A simple test is responsible for reuniting these adoptees with their birth families in heartwarming ways that you've got to read to believe.

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Briana Reavis
courtesy Briana Reavis

A wink from God

Adopted at birth, her adoptive parents had encouraged her to find her biological family since childhood, but Briana Reavis, 32, was hesitant. “I didn’t want to find things that I didn’t want to know, or shake up anyone’s life.” She was aware that the Ancestry DNA kit she took might provide links to those who shared her DNA, but that wasn’t her motivating factor for taking the test. “It really had nothing to do with my biological family—I just wanted to know where my ancestors were from. I never thought I’d meet my biological family,” Reavis explains.

When she received a message that a DNA match had been located, Reavis began an adventure of a lifetime. Her biological mother, father, and two half-siblings were found. “The day my biological father contacted me was the day my adoptive dad passed away. It was like God was winking at me, telling me that even though I just lost my dad, I had gained another.” Today, Reavis and her birth family continue to make up for the 30 years they lost, with her adoptive mother and biological family even vacationing together.

“I’ve never looked like anyone in my family, and now I have a whole bunch of people who look like me, and they’re my family. It’s like I was born all over again, as an adult,” Reavis shares. Before you take a DNA test, check out these surprising facts.

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Pepa Paniagua
courtesy Pepa Paniagua

She’s attending her own baby shower—a few decades late

Adopted at four-days-old by loving parents, Pepa Paniagua knew her birth family existed, of course, but had no desire to locate them. “My adoptive parents were always very supportive of me finding my biological parents, but I felt like it was opening Pandora’s box,” she recalls. When Paniagua’s wife bought her a 23AndMe DNA kit one Christmas, she decided to complete the test to get more information about her genetic makeup.

Then, when she received a message from her biological father’s sister—her aunt—claiming a large DNA match had been made, she was open to learning more. As emails and pictures were exchanged, and a couple more DNA tests were done Paniagua’s father was identified—along with an entire extended family. The twist? Her father, Jon Shore, had no idea she existed.

Shore explains, “I was 18 when she was conceived, and it was a brief encounter from college. I had no idea her biological mom was pregnant. I was shocked and surprised, but happy.” The father and daughter reunited along with her aunt, uncles, cousins, and grandmother. Paniagua says it was an amazing experience. “I never knew what it was like to walk into a room of people that look like you. When we met it was this instant family, and a sense of comfort and belonging. It was different from sitting around the table with the family I had grown up with.” Today, their bond is strong, and they text and talk frequently. Soon, Paniagua will travel to meet her father once again—his friends are throwing him a belated baby shower for the daughter he never knew existed. “It’s going to be great,” Paniagua says. You may not know that these celebrities are adoptees. 

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Kirill Yusim
courtesy Kirill Yusim

A storybook life made better

In 1967, John Larson was adopted in the San Francisco Bay Area—far from where his birth father could find him. His birth mother had broken off an engagement with his father, then headed west to put her son up for adoption and start a new life. “I lived most of my life thinking I was special because my adoptive parents had chosen me. I never once felt like there was a missing piece. I was blessed with incredible parents,” Larson says. He had no idea that his birth father, Randy Brill, had been searching for him his entire life.

Larson purchased 23AndMe kits for his four sons, one of whom is adopted, as well as one for himself on Christmas. “I thought it would be nice to have genetic information on myself, to know where my ancestors came from and get a health history.” After he received results, he also got a notification that he shared a large percentage of DNA with a woman named Rachel Brill. “I sent her an email and she asked if she could call me. She told me to sit down, and then she said, ‘I’m your half-sister. I have a younger brother who is your half brother. My father has been looking for you all of your life.'”

The reunion of Larson and his father is still an emotional topic. “It was the highlight of my life. Here I was looking into someone else’s eyes that were my own, only older. Our handshakes are the same. We wore the same suit to the reunion, we had the same money clip. We both love flashlights and keep them everywhere.” As for his sister, it turned out they both climbed Mount Kilimanjaro with the same crew, just six months apart. (These stories of older adopted children will inspire you.)

Larson says finding his family has been more than he could have hoped for. “I have this part of me that I didn’t know existed. I had this storybook childhood, I have a beautiful family, my life was complete—and here’s this gift that God has given me. I couldn’t ask for more.” Birth parents aren’t the only discoveries that come from DNA tests—don’t miss these shocking surprises.

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Courtesy Milton Wiley

A 30-year search

Milton Wiley, 56, always knew his “baby daughter,” as he still calls her, was out there. Wiley lost touch with his unborn daughter’s mother immediately after the birth of their child, yet he never stopped searching. “I hired private investigators and even went back to the apartments where we lived. No one could give me any information. I told my children, ‘You’ve got an older sister out there, and we have to find her,'” Wiley recalls. For 30 years, Wiley says he and his wife searched endlessly for the child he never met, registering with adoption agencies, and even stopping on long drives to inquire about his daughter at places his birth daughter may have frequented. “As a parent, I had this feeling that my daughter needed me. I just prayed that God would allow me to see the baby I never held and that He would take care of her.”

Wiley’s prayers were answered when his niece was contacted by a woman named Rachel who said she suspected Wiley was her father after a 23andMe test result showed Wiley’s niece as her first cousin. “I was overwhelmed with joy. I couldn’t believe my baby was looking for me,” he says. His wife and daughter arranged a meeting, and the rest was history. “There was my baby. It was one of the greatest days of my life—to get to hold her for the first time. We think alike, we look alike. It’s unbelievable.” Today, Wiley and his newfound daughter talk a few times a week and are planning a family reunion in the coming months.

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Sheila Malloy
courtesy Sheila Malloy

An only child no more

Sheila Malloy, 55, didn’t know she was adopted until she was eight. An only child and devastated by the news, Malloy made a personal vow to never share the secret with anyone. “During a childhood argument, a neighborhood kid told me that my parents didn’t want me—it was super humiliating to find out in that way. It put a padlock on how much I would tell anyone from that point,” she recalls. After the death of Malloy’s adoptive parents, she felt she could finally pursue learning about her biological family. “I never wanted my parents to feel bad or like I didn’t appreciate or love them. They were the most amazing parents ever. Once I told my own children, my daughter said it was time.”

Malloy’s daughter purchased a 23andMe kit for her and after receiving the results, she was notified of a 99 percent match with a first cousin. “I emailed her, and after some questions, she told me she was actually my niece. I had four half-siblings, along with two whole siblings.” Malloy was the product of an affair, and her parents eventually married once her father’s marriage ended, going on to have two more children. Since reconnecting, Malloy and her mother, sister, and extended family have met in person (her biological father passed before the meeting). “It was indescribable. We hugged and took pictures. We’ve spent Mother’s Day together and call and text constantly.” At a recent family reunion, Malloy met an aunt along with other family members she never knew she had. “It was like we were strangers, but family, too.”

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courtesy Carra Powell

She went from having one sibling to over 20

Carra Powell’s birth mother hid her pregnancy from her family and gave her up for adoption without a word to anyone. A trans-racial adoptee, Powell grew up in a predominantly white Oregon suburb—something she says gave her a unique view on the world. “No one looked like me. Not my family, not anyone at school, no one in my environment. I came to a point where I realized I had to find out if there were people out there that looked like me,” Powell recalls. After connecting with her birth mother’s family in 1999 facilitated by her own research using information from her adoption paperwork, Powell wanted to find the missing piece of the puzzle: her biological father. “My maternal aunt had been praying for me since she learned her sister had given me up for adoption. Her family looked like me, and they lived in rural Memphis. I had never met a black teacher or doctor before then. I knew I wanted to raise my kids there.” When her biological mother refused to give her information about her father, Powell decided to take a 23andMe DNA test. “I was matched with a half-sister on my dad’s side, and then was told I had 20 other half-siblings! My father has already passed on, but I’ve met several of my siblings and it’s been the most positive experience. We are all very similar.”

Since reconnecting with her mother’s family, Powell has relocated to Jackson, Mississippi to raise her family. “This feels like home to me. It feels like where I was supposed to be.” Find out what your doctor isn’t telling you about genetic testing.

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Mike Morgan
Courtesy Mike Morgan

A double discovery

Sharon and Mike Morgan of Tucson, Arizona, never imagined a DNA test would bring them both family members they never knew they had. The husband and wife were both adopted as infants, though Mike learned of his adoption at 40. “He was shocked, he didn’t know what to do,” Sharon says. Sharon, 54, has always known she was adopted, and only hoped to get health information. “I never really bothered to seek out information about my biological family. I wanted to know what I would look like when I grew up, but it never really bothered me.” After Mike located his biological father through a 23andMe test, Sharon thought it might be worth it to try it herself. “My husband met his father and two siblings and it’s been great. He’s still in contact with them, so I thought maybe I should do this, too.”

After submitting her own kit, Sharon received a message from someone claiming to be her half-brother. From there, she learned of two more half-sisters. Her birth mother wasn’t ready for contact yet, but Sharon says the connection between her and her siblings has been incredible. “We met and we just connected. It was like I had known them forever.” Sharon and her siblings remain close, and she has plans to visit her brother’s family in the coming months.

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courtesy Stephanie Felix

A last name found

Robert Koeppe, 66, knew he was adopted from a young age. Though he wasn’t bothered by the fact, he thought more about it as he aged. “Once I had children, I realized I never knew my real last name, and it seemed to me that it wasn’t fair for my children to have a name that had nothing to do with them,” Koeppe recalls. After his daughter, Stephanie Felix purchased a 23andMe kit for him, things moved quickly. Felix shortly received a message from her father’s cousin. “He said, ‘I think I know your grandmother—your father’s mother.’ I was at work and just started crying. My biological grandma called me shortly after, and said, ‘I’m looking for my son.”

Koeppe’s birth mother had tried unsuccessfully to locate him in the past, after giving him up for adoption at eight months old. Unable to care for him properly at the time, the decision was a difficult one that she never fully got over. Koeppe says about the meeting, “I just kept looking at her. There was a resemblance. I thought I would be angry, but I’m adjusting. She’s a wonderful woman, and things happen.” Since reconnecting with his mother, Koeppe learned he has six half-siblings between his biological mother and father, who passed when he was ten. “We’re all still in contact all of the time,” Felix says of her newly found extended family. “They’ve all been super nice and welcoming. It’s an instant family like he was never adopted.” Adoption is a wonderful way to start a family, and these heart-warming stories prove it.

Jen Babakhan
Jen Babakhan is an author and credentialed educator living in California. She writes regularly about advice and culture for Reader's Digest. She is also the author of Detoured: The Messy, Grace-Filled Journey From Working Professional to Stay-at-Home Mom (Harvest House Publishers, 2019). She earned her BA in Communication Studies from California State University, Stanislaus. You can follow her on Instagram @JenBabakhan , Twitter @JenBabakhan, and Facebook @JenBabakhanauthor.