Who I Am

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Barbara Weir, right, with her daughter Casey.

Not everyone who tries 23andMe has the same sort of reaction to his or her results as Barbara Weir.

“It’s mind boggling,” said the 87 year-old who lives in San Diego. “Next to marrying my husband and having my children it’s the most exciting thing in my life. It explains so much about me — who and what I am.”

With the help of her daughter, Casey Spaccarelli, a doctor who lives in Chicago, Barbara not only found out that she’d been adopted — something she’d never known — but she also connected with and then met her half brother in person.

“One of the big things for me is that it explains so much,” she said. “Looking back I was nothing like my family. We had different aptitudes and interests. I remember my sister once telling me ‘we’re not alike at all.’ I wanted to be like her and my family, but I just wasn’t.”

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Barbara and her brother Marvin soon after meeting for the first time.

The revelation that she’d been adopted and that she had biological family, including a half brother, who had lived in the Boston area, didn’t happen all at once. It started with a lot less drama, with Casey deciding to create a family tree and look at her ancestry. She tested first with another company.

“I did it for fun,” she said.

But very quickly she discovered a lot about herself that didn’t match what she had always been told. For one, she has about a quarter Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry.

“No one in the family knew of any Jewish heritage, only German,” Casey said.

Eventually Barbara tested and it turned out that she has about 50 percent Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry. Casey tested with 23andMe thinking that perhaps the result was a mistake. It wasn’t. So she had her mother and her mother’s sister, Nancy, test on 23andMe. Her mother’s results confirmed the Ashkenazi ancestry, but her mother and Nancy didn’t have any overlapping DNA. They weren’t biologically related, according to the test.

“So I told my mom, ‘I think you may have been adopted?’” Casey said. “And she just said, ‘Oh I don’t know, maybe,’ and left it at that.”

But Casey wanted to figure this out. Fortunately she found a close relative connection in her 23andMe results with a name she didn’t recognize. So Casey contacted him. His name is Steve and she told him a little bit about herself and asked if he had any family in the Boston area, where Barbara had been born in the late 1920s.

“He said ‘my whole family is from Boston,’” Casey said.

He was open and helpful. Steve also had a lot of family history that he was willing to share with Casey, names and dates. That all became very important for Casey,who, by triangulating information, figured out that Steve’s grandfather Karl was also likely to be her grandfather, and Barbara’s father. Fortunately Steve’s uncle Marvin was still alive and they decided to talk to him.

“That got the ball rolling,” Casey said.

She knew they were close to solving this mystery. After looking at a few high school photos of Marvin and his sisters, Casey was pretty sure she’d found her mother’s biological family. A few weeks later Marvin, who grew up in Boston but now lived very close to Barbara in California, tested with 23andMe. Bingo. He turned out to be Barbara’s half brother.

The two arranged to finally meet. In photos they look remarkably similar with the same slim build and smiles.

“I’d never seen anyone who looked like me before,” said Barbara, surprised to be able to see family resemblances in her new-found brother and in photos of her sister.

Marvin’s father, Karl, had been a successful business owner in Boston, who had emigrated from Russia. He had a big family —Marvin, who is a year younger than Barbara, was the last of the family’s six children. Casey still doesn’t know the circumstances of Barbara’s conception, only that she and Marvin have the same biological father, but different mothers. Barbara’s parents lived in Boston at the time she was adopted but later moved to Nashville where she grew up.

“So my mother found out she was adopted at 87 years of age,” Casey said. “It had been this huge family secret only known to her adoptive mother and the secret had died with her, until now. Until 23andMe.”

Even learning this so late in life was hugely important for Barbara. Things she wasn’t sure about in the past suddenly made sense.

“It’s amazing to learn this all at my age,” said Barbara. “I finally found out who I am.”






  • Regina

    If Barbara was born in Massachusetts, she can access her original birth
    certificate.
    http://www.mass.gov/eohhs/docs/dph/vital-records/pre-adoption-memo.pdf.
    Here is the application:
    http://www.mass.gov/eohhs/docs/dph/vital-records/pre-adoption-memo.pdf
    This would solve the mystery of who is Barbara’s birth mother. Please
    pass this information along to them. Thanks!

    • Casey

      Thank you. This is Casey, Barbara’s daughter. Yes, we know about the access but there was no record found. So apparently there was no legal adoption in Massachusetts. (Unless the record was lost)

  • Donna Huntz Didgeon

    Are you sure there was an adoption? Could the woman the raised you have been your biological mom that had married?

    • Jeanne Deaux

      No, because Barbara’s adoptive sister didn’t match her at all.

      Unless the sister was adopted, but given Barbara’s complete lack of similarity to anyone in her family, that’s very unlikely.

      • Casey

        Correct. The sister she was raised with was a biological child. Barbara remembers when her (adoptive) mother gave birth to her and the sister bears a very strong family resemblance to her father.

    • Casey

      The woman that raised Barbara (my mother) gave birth to a girl that is not any DNA relation to Barbara, therefore she was not a biological mother to Barbara.

  • Casey

    We are searching for Barbara’s birth-mother’s name now and have identified her great grandparents through DNA relatives. They are of Irish-Canadian descent (New Brunswick). We are awaiting another DNA test now to hopefully confirm a first cousin. Barbara remains very excited with this late-life adventure.

    • becompassionate

      How exciting for you all and especially for Barbara! Family is sooo important and knowing where your roots are go a long way to your feelings of belonging somewhere in the scheme of things. I see your comments are from a year ago, and I see the latest comment is from 3 months ago, and I’d love to know how this all turned out! All the best to all of you!

  • Casually_Observant

    Is it possible there was an unknown switched at birth scenario here?

  • Julia A. Adams

    has anyone considered that she might have been switched at birth so that even the woman who raised her didn’t know? In the absence of any legal documentation I would sure have to consider that possibility. Legal adoption is a hard secret to keep for a lifetime.

    • becompassionate

      I’m sure it happens, though.

  • dolly.pizzimenti@gmail.com

    I know an adoption that has been kept a secret for a lifetime…at least it has from the person who was adopted. My whole family knows the truth about this person’s parentage except him. He is the spitting image of his mother whom he has believed is his sister.

  • daniel43

    sort of old to be adopted at 87 isn’t she?

  • Dodie Beeler

    Lura newman Anything is possible Julia, but unlikely since Barbara and Marvin had the same father but different mothers. Five siblings before Marvin convinces me that Poppa had an affair and the mother gave her up.

  • Dwayne Keith

    I found out through 23 & me that my father, his twin brother and older sister were all fathered by another man and not the man I knew as my grandfather. I knew my aunt had a different father than my dad and his twin brother but the test revealed relatives I didn’t know about which led to the discovery that all three of kids were fathered by the same man. My grandfather married my grandmother and he adopted the three kids but this was kept secret. I discovered this at 56 years of age so the grandparents are long gone. My dad passed away in 2010 and my stepmother told me she thinks he suspected this but he never told me. It is kind of disconcerting to discover that your family name really isn’t your family name. I contacted the half-sister of my real grandfather through other relatives I was matched up with by 23 & me and she knew nothing of this and still doesn’t believe that she had a half-brother. She is 90 years of age (born 1937). I sent her a copy of her dad’s WWI draft registration from 1917 where he listed responsibility for a child born in 1910 but being raised by his parents. She grew up thinking this man was an orphan adopted by her grandparents. With the age difference, he was already an adult by the time she was born. I don’t think she welcomed learning this news. In retrospect, I wish I had not contacted her. It’s kind of strange that my sister and I are her closest living relatives and she knows nothing of us…or didn’t until I contacted her.

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