SACRAMENTO, Calif. (KTXL) -- As little as 30 years ago, DNA evidence was not even admissible in court. Now, the DNA of millions of people is accessible online. That has made the search for many who are looking for their real family even easier.
While some find exactly what they’re looking for, others discover family connections they didn’t even know were there.
Throughout his life, Stephan Tahy never had a reason to doubt who his parents were. But four years ago, while his father was on his deathbed, his aunt came to him in tears.
“And I said, ‘What’s going on?’ And she said, ‘I need to tell you that your father is not your father,’” he said.
The man Tahy thought was his father -- the man who raised him -- wasn’t his real father.
The story began 53 years ago in Germany.
Inge Geissel Tahy was just 17 when she became pregnant by an American soldier named Patrick.
“My aunt said, ‘It’s really a love story because your mother really felt in love with this guy,’” Tahy said.
But Patrick was deployed to Vietnam and lost touch with Tahy’s mother.
Years later, Inge got married to the man Tahy thought was his father.
Then, when Tahy was 13 years old, his mom was diagnosed with cancer. On her deathbed, she asked her sisters to make a promise.
“Don’t tell my son that his father is not his father because I don’t want him to raise up with the feeling not having a real father and not having a mother anymore.”
That promise was kept for decades.
The news left Tahy, who still lives in Germany and has two kids of his own, with a strong desire to find his real father.
His aunts remembered Tahy’s father was from Napa. He says, during his research, an Army official suggested he share his story with the Napa Valley Register.
And that’s how he met Nancy Collins.
“General Google search and I came across an article,” Collins said. “I’m an investigative genetic genealogist, which means that I actually use DNA to help people find relatives, to help them break down their brick walls or to discover their ethnicity and ancestry.”
Collins offered to help Tahy and wanted to start by rebuilding his family tree.
They started with a clue one of his aunts had given him.
“She didn’t know because she doesn’t speak English,” Tahy said.
According to Tahy, his aunt thought the last name sounded like a German word that "means somebody who’s helping you."
Through a distant cousin she found on GEDmatch and a lot of sleuthing, Collins was able to track down Tahy’s family -- including his half-brother, Jason Pedroia, who lives in Los Angeles.
“I mean, I was surprised, shocked,” Pedroia said. “But also had a couple of reservations.”
Since they met three months ago, Pedroia and Tahy speak almost daily. They’ve formed a bond, both working as high-level company executives.
“Talk about work career, family life, you know, travel, that sort of thing. So yeah, we have a lot in common,” Pedroia said.
Their father is still coming around to the idea of meeting Tahy and his family.
“He said to Jason these days, he said, ‘Well, if I look at the pictures, he really looks like me,’” Tahy said.
Tahy is hoping a reunion will come this holiday season.
While Tahy had a happy ending in his search for his father, Collins says it does not always work out so well. Often, people don’t want to admit they had children with someone other than their spouse -- even years later.
Sacramento man’s search for his birth parents leads to shocking discoveries
“I’ve always known I was adopted,” Ted Wood said. “My parents were open with that.”
Originally from Los Angeles, Wood has lived in Sacramento for decades.
“Didn’t have any other information about it,” he said.
But in college, a trip to the doctor’s office made him realize he needed to know more.
“They asked about health histories and I realized whatever I told this guy meant nothing to him as far as being able to help me,” Wood told FOX40. “I decided I wanted to find as much information about my birth parents as I could.”
By searching records, Wood quickly found his birth mother.
“The weirdest thing is my (adopted) grandparents live two blocks from where she lived from 1969, '70, '72. So for about two or three years, she and I were two or three blocks from each other,” he said.
He reached out and she was willing to talk. While she was helpful filling in some of the blanks, his mother had lost touch with his birth father.
“Nobody in their community or her friends in that circle had any information about him,” Wood said.
That was in the ‘90s, Wood said, when no one was thinking about DNA.
For decades, Wood gave up on his search. But about four years ago, he realized the internet could hold the key to finding his birth father.
“Some information through Ancestry that was connected to some of his relatives,” he said.
Those relatives revealed tragic and unsettling details.
“I found out he was involved in a murder-suicide in Houston in ’82,” he said.
According to newspaper reports at the time, Wood’s biological father shot his lover during a fight before turning the gun on himself.
“It was relieving to kind of have some information to be able to shut the door on that search,” Wood said. “But at the same time, kind of disappointing that with the stuff he was going through, he wasn’t able to resolve it and work through it.”
But the DNA Wood submitted to several ancestry sites during the search led to more shocking discoveries.
“I got an email through Ancestry, just, ‘Hey, you may not know me but I know you,’ and it pops up with a parent-child relationship. And I’m thinking, ‘Oh man,’” Wood said.
Wood came face to face with a decision he made during college. In need of some extra cash, he donated to a sperm bank.
“It went out of my mind and never thought about it again. Didn’t even think about it when I signed up with Ancestry that that could ever show up.”
Wood has five donor children on top of the four kids he raised.
He met three of his donor daughters recently.
“You know, they all have good lives, good parents who cared for them, love them. Gave them a good up-bringing and they all turned into really good, solid people,” he said. “You know, it’s exciting to see that, even though I had no part in it.”
Wood has since introduced his donor kids to the kids he’s raised and his birth mother.
He said it’s nice to be able to fill in their family medical history so that they know what to watch out for.
“It’s good to be able to provide that kind of closure for them, much like I got on my search,” he said.
Wood has no regrets, but he does warn others – submitting your DNA online can uncover more than what you’re looking for.
“You’re going to find branches on your tree that are going to give you some very exciting news. You’re going to find branches on your tree that are going to be shocking, horrific,” he said. “Keep a very open mind and be prepared for anything.”