Case Study: Discovering an Unexpected Family Member

By Sunny Jane Morton Premium

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discovering long lost unknown family member
DNA testing led siblings Howard (left) and Kelli (center) Hochhalter to Howard’s son, David Roberts (right).

Kelli Hochhalter was proud of her Korean heritage on her mom’s side, but knew little about her dad’s background. Kent Hochhalter was born to a single mother, Aug. 22, 1929. She never revealed the name of Kent’s birth father.

Kelli took a DNA test, hoping to learn about her ethnic ancestry on her father’s side. But she also noticed a first cousin match. Could he be related through her mystery grandfather? He never returned Kelli’s message.

Diving deeper into the research

Curiosity piqued, she hired a researcher from Legacy Tree Genealogists. Now that the search had begun, Kelli and her brother, Howard, felt the emptiness of this unknown family branch.

Her researcher emailed about the DNA match. It was a close one. Very close: equivalent to a nephew. His profile name and online searching identified him as 28-year-old David Roberts from Nebraska. The surname Stevens also cropped up a lot in matches’ trees.

A life-changing phone call

Kelli called her brother. They tossed around relationship scenarios involving their grandfather or father. Then she asked, “Could you have another son?” No, he said. He was happily married with four young children.

“Where were you in 1987 or 88?” she asked.

Howard had been in the Marine Corps, awaiting deployment to Japan. It took a few more moments of adding up details before he said, standing in the cheese aisle at Walmart, “Holy cow, Kelli, I have a 28-year-old son!”

Open arms

Kelli requested David’s contact information from her researcher. Within two and a half weeks, Howard had met his newfound son. The families welcomed each other with open arms.

Another family member discovered

Three of Kelli’s other close matches, including a probable half-first cousin, had family trees that identified the same man as a father or grandfather. He was one of five brothers living on the border of South Dakota and Minnesota, 15 miles from Kent’s birthplace. Their last name? Stevens.

The youngest brother was too young to be the father. The oldest two weren’t in the right place and time. Kelli’s researcher focused on the remaining brothers. One’s obituary listed a surviving son with a different surname—which also was the maiden name of Kelli’s half-first cousin match. That son was Kelli’s half-uncle. Her grandfather was found.

From the May/June 2018 issue of Family Tree Magazine.