Until two years ago, I had no doubt about the identity of my biological parents. None. Of course, my mother is clearly my mother. We look a lot alike, and she raised the five of us as a single parent. The man I believed to be my biological father denied paternity of all of us. I rejected this out of hand, seeing him as someone primarily seeking to shirk financial responsibility.

So, when my cousin suggested I test my DNA through Ancestry.com, I thought it would be fun if not especially illuminating.

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The old saying goes that you can't choose your family, but you can choose your friends. As the holiday season begins, The Inquirer Opinion Department asked Philadelphians to share stories of how they've gathered a "chosen family." 

The results rocked my world.

Turns out the man I had, for over 50 years, believed to be my father is not. It has been difficult to accept, especially since neither he nor my mother is alive to answer any questions.

In fits and starts (because this is a lot!), I have attempted to figure out exactly who my biological father is over the last two years. I called a few close relatives and friends of my mother, but did not make a lot of progress. Ancestry work is harder with Black folks — there are fewer records, and limited mobility caused a lot of intermarriage and intermingling. Through Ancestry.com and 23andMe, I did identify many new relatives, but almost all on my mother’s side.

Until earlier this month.

An amateur genealogist helped me out. I trusted her because she helped my dear friend, Sam Anthony, identify his own biological parents before his passing. While she had been able to identify my great-great grandparents on my father’s side, she had made no further progress identifying my father. As she was about to send me an email about her lack of progress, she decided to check my Ancestry results one last time to see if there was any helpful recent activity.

There was.

When she told me the name attached to the latest activity, I recognized it right away.

It is a very unique name and belongs to the son of a friend I have known for over 30 years. His son appeared as my closest relative on Ancestry, behind my sisters, Fay and Merriette. I know now that he is my nephew. That was really all the evidence I needed to confirm the one suspicion I had as to the identity of my biological father.

It turns out the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. My biological father is also a lawyer and racial justice advocate and is someone I know well: Peter Grear, an attorney in my hometown, Wilmington, N.C. In fact, Peter gave me my first legal job — I worked two college summers in his law office, where I met his son, Tony Grear, who also worked there. Tony and I hit it off right away and over the years have developed profound respect, admiration, and affection for each other. I love my siblings, but if I have to have another one, I couldn’t ask for a better one than Tony. We — Peter and Tony and I — have a very strong foundation on which to build our familial relationship. We’ve already started.

Peter did not know he was my father until I called him about two weeks ago. He, like my mom, and most others, believed the other guy was my father. But he is delighted by the news: “Who wouldn’t be proud to be your father?” he said.

Everything makes far better sense now, including why I am the way I am (ha!) and care about the things I care about so passionately. I have never had a real father figure in my life — in fact, I have never called anyone “dad” before — so I expect it will take some getting used to. The great news is that we are all excited to take on the challenge.

Oh, for those who believe in divine intervention, Tony’s son — my nephew, the person who ultimately led to this discovery — is named Trinity.

Reggie Shuford is the executive director of ACLU Pennsylvania.

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