For years, Steve Detz and Hope Durante stood among the thousands of people looking into the sky at the Fourth of July fireworks bursting out over Lititz Springs Park. But neither Detz, of Lititz, nor Durante, of New Holland — strangers until recently — knew they had a sibling in the crowd. The two Lancaster County residents, both adopted as children, connected through the genealogy service Ancestry.com and learned they share a biological father. They’d been unknown to each other for four decades, though they’d been living less than 20 minutes apart their whole lives.
They aren’t the only Lancaster County residents to connect with a sibling recently — an Ephrata woman found a new family connection through the genealogy service 23andMe.
These are their stories of discovery.
As a police officer for the Lititz Borough Police Department, Detz was familiar with the power of DNA technology when he received an Ancestry DNA test kit as a Christmas gift. He was mostly interested in finding out more about his heritage, he says, and was surprised to learn he had some sub-Saharan heritage. Then he received a bigger surprise. He had a close relative nearby. He sent a message to Durante through the website’s messaging application.
“I got a call on Mother’s Day (2021) from a family member, and they said, ‘Have you looked at your Ancestry?’ ” says Durante, who had also been using Ancestry to learn more about her heritage, and posting updates on Facebook for about five years. “They said, ‘You have a brother,’ and I was like, ‘No, I don’t.’ I looked and I saw his message saying, ‘Hey close relative, my DNA came back to you.’ I called him immediately and said ‘Hey, I think I’m your sister.’ ”
Durante and Detz began messaging that day, and met up in person soon after.
“It was like a whirlwind. There’s this need to like fill him in on everything that happened in my life,” says Durante, who is married with three children. “I just felt like happy and sad and overwhelmed. It was hard because it was like, I’m your sister, and I don’t know you.”
But, the two half-siblings had an immediate connection.
“It was like meeting someone I already knew,” Detz says. “There are a lot of emotions. You’re happy, but you’re sad that it took 40 years (to meet). And then right here in the same county.”
Durante feels like they’ve had to have crossed paths before, and though she sometimes feels frustrated that didn’t meet earlier, she says she’s accepted that this is the time they were meant to meet.
“She would come to Lititz for the Fourth of July fireworks, and of course I would always be there,” says Detz, who is also married with kids. “I think about how many times our paths probably crossed, because she’s a nurse at Lancaster General and I’m a police officer in Lititz. So, like, how many times have I been down to the hospital, you know?”
Now, Detz and Durante are getting to know each other as adults. They talk almost every day, says Durante. Durante has met their biological father on a few occasions; Detz has never met him.
The half-siblings discuss their jobs in the service fields. Durante says she always wanted to be a police officer like Detz. The two of them have begun introducing their families to each other and doing activities like going to the pool. Durante, the more extroverted of the two, got Detz into watching TikTok videos, and they’ve discovered they share a similar sense of humor and a love of horror movies.
“My whole life changed,” Durante says of the day she received Detz’s message. “Everything changed on that day.”
Lorin Beier, of Ephrata, also recently decided to use a DNA testing service to learn more about her heritage. Beier, whose mother — like her — was also adopted, gave her a 23andMe test kit for Christmas. They helped each other navigate the process and received their results. Their experiences were very different, says Beier.
Beier was interested in finding out more about her medical history and her heritage. Beier, who was raised Christian, and later found Catholicism, found out her ancestors were Ashkenazi Jews, a group of Jewish settlers that established communities in western Germany and northern France.
Then in March, she learned some new information about her family: She had a half-sibling and they shared a biological mother. Though, instead of being separated by 20 minutes’ worth of distance like Detz and Durante, Beier and her half-sister Brandie Benson, living outside of Tucson, Arizona, are separated by more than 2,000 miles.
Benson also received a 23andMe test kit as a Christmas present in 2019. She was adopted, along with a twin sister, by a family in Arizona. Her adopted mother was diagnosed with cancer and wanted to give Benson and her twin sister a chance to find out more about their family tree. Benson decided to complete the 23andMe test, but her twin sister did not.
In Arizona, in the 1980s, Benson says, parents who surrendered their children for adoption could petition to permanently seal birth records. According to Benson, she and her twin sister were the last two people in the state to have their records permanently sealed.
“We had no recourse or options available to us to investigate our biological family,” Benson says.
That is, until the rise in popularity of genealogy services like 23andMe.
A spokesperson for 23andMe said the company is increasingly hearing stories of families discovering and reuniting with newfound relatives.
“Although 23andMe was not designed specifically to help people confirm parentage or find biological parents, our DNA Relatives tool does help people find and connect with participating genetic relatives,” the email read. “This feature is completely optional, meaning customers must actively choose to participate and are informed up front that by using the tool, they may discover unexpected relationships.”
The last part of that statement hints at a word of caution: While some users make connections like Detz and Durante, or like Benson and Beier, other users may find out things about their family history that they’d rather not know.
In the spring of 2020 — just a couple of months before her adopted mother passed away — Benson submitted her DNA to 23andMe and a few weeks later she had her results. She was excited by what she found.
“Lorin popped up immediately as a half-sister and we started messaging each other the day I got my results,” Benson says. “The whole last year has just been a whirlwind.”
Two thousand miles away, Beier’s computer pinged with a notification.
“We must have gotten the emails at the same time,” Beier says. “You can direct message in the 23andMe app, and the app could not respond fast enough to us sitting there texting. It was really fun. I’m 34 years old and I’ve never had a true blood sibling in my life.”
The half-sisters began sharing information and pictures and plan to meet up in person.
“Brandie and I were texting each other that first day like, ‘Where are you from? What do you look like?’ ” Beier says. “We switched over to Facebook Messenger, and I was snooping through pictures and she was going through mine and it was like, ‘Oh my god I have a niece’ and she was like, ‘Oh my god I have five’ — well, at the time it was four. It was mind-boggling.”
The two siblings learned more about each other and marveled at the fact that they both wore champagne dresses and curled updo hairstyles in their senior prom pictures.
“Lorin and I grew up on the opposite side of the country and we turned out to have a lot in common,” Benson says.