1. Michelle was adopted as a baby

In 1986, a man and a woman flew from Oakland, California to New York. They were going to meet their daughter for the first time. She was just a baby at a hospital, born to a 23-year-old mother who wasn’t ready to have kids, but still wanted a good life for her daughter.

Michelle Cehn

The birth mother wanted to give her baby to a couple that couldn’t have their own, and ended up choosing these parents for her baby Michelle. They adopted her and took her all the way across the country, to her new home in Oakland. No one knew it at the time, but 31 years later, Michelle would have a reunion that gave Hallmark movies a run for their money.

2. She always knew she was adopted

As Michelle grew up, she was close with her adopted parents and their family. But while she was definitely happy with them, something nagged inside her. She never knew any blood relatives or family members that looked and acted like her. Apparently, just one Michelle wasn’t enough for her.

Michelle Cehn

Michelle wondered who her birth parents were and what they were like. She was an only child, but she daydreamed about the half siblings that might be out there. Feeling the need to know her birth parents, Michelle looked to the only clues she had about them: her birth mom’s name and photo.

3. Using the internet to look for her mom

Michelle had a “hunger and fascination” to find her birth mother, like you might have for fulfilling a wish on your bucket list. She was determined. By now, the internet had been up and running for a while and social media was becoming much more popular. So Michelle turned to the world wide web to find her birth mom in the wildly wide world.

Michelle Cehn

Michelle didn’t think it would be possible to find her birth father, since she knew nothing about him. At least she knew her birth mother’s name and what she looked like, circa 20 years ago. She scoured social media and family reunion websites, searching for her mother. One day, she finally found who she’d been looking for.

4. It was a magical reunion

Michelle sent her birth mother a very emotional message on Facebook and the next day they talked on the phone. The very next week, Michelle was flying back across the country to meet her birth mom. They met and “it was magical,” Michelle said. (Disclaimer: magic hasn’t been scientifically proven).

Michelle Cehn

“For the first time I was able to see elements of myself reflected in someone else,” Michelle said. But this special reunion only made Michelle want to find her birth father even more. It was going to be near impossible, though, since her birth mother didn’t even know who he was.

5. How would she ever find her birth dad?

While sleeping, Michelle would have literal dreams of meeting her dad. Sometimes he was working in a bake shop, while other times he was a Native American chief. The dreams were all over the place because her subconscious had nothing to go off of. She didn’t know his name, or what he looked like, or where he was.

Michelle Cehn

Her birth mother knew nothing about him and her birth father didn’t even know she existed! Michelle eventually made peace with the fact that she’d never find him. After all, she did have her two loving parents and a wonderful connection with her birth mother. But she never fully gave up hope, and she’d thank herself later for that.

6. Michelle went on with her life and became a YouTuber

In the meantime, Michelle did what everyone does: she lived her life. She started a YouTube channel and blog, both called World of Vegan, about her vegan lifestyle. She covers vegan recipes, shopping tips, how to eat vegan at popular restaurants, and things like product comparisons.

YouTube

But as the years went by, new technology became available that would let Michelle find someone with no information about who they are. All she needed was her own DNA, which conveniently is in all her cells (except red blood cells). The first clue to finding her father was within her the whole time.

7. 2000: the first genealogy DNA kits

DNA kits have actually been around as long as this century has. The first consumer available DNA kit was GeneTree, which offered cheek swab paternity tests as early as 1998. This test was far preferable for determining paternity than say, going on Maury Povich’s show.

Diana Elizabeth

Just two years later, FamilyTreeDNA became the first to offer DNA testing for learning about ancestry. And then in 2007, 23andMe released their own version of the DNA kit, one that used saliva instead of cheek swabs. This really set off the trend of DNA testing for learning about ancestry, but it could also be used for something else: finding relatives.

8. Michelle tried all the DNA tests she could

As soon as she learned about the DNA kits, Michelle spit into a bunch of tubes, trying several different ones in hopes of finding a link to her biological father. The ancestry DNA results can tell you all about where in the world your DNA comes from, but several of the companies also offer a relative connection service.

Nanalyze

Of course, whether or not these sites can connect you to relatives depends entirely on if any of your family members have submitted their DNA to that company (and opted into finding family). You never know, you might even have secret half-siblings out there. Michelle certainly wondered if she did, and it turned out that the DNA websites had an answer for her.

9. She matched with a bunch of distant relatives

Well, Michelle did not get an immediate match for her bio-dad. Turns out, he was not one of the millions of people who have sent their DNA in to get tested. Michelle did find several cousins, of the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th variety. Unfortunately, this wasn’t immediately helpful in the search for her bio dad.

Financial Times

A few years of sleuthing went by, with Michelle messaging these distant relatives and researching as much as she could. Luckily, as time passed, more people used the DNA kits. Eventually, someone special sent in their DNA and opted in to the family finding. When he popped up on Michelle’s account, she was ecstatic.

10. The first cousin was the first clue

One day, a first cousin (Christopher) showed up in Michelle’s matches and suddenly, she had a path to find her biological father. She was overjoyed and messaged Christopher, then spent the next five hours “internet stalking” him. She knew one of his uncles had to be her dad, and that kind of blew her mind.

Michelle Cehn

She sifted through Facebook and family photos, digging as deep as she could in a virtual world, without any actual dirt or shovels or government databases. Then, finally, after what seemed like days but was only five hours, she found a Facebook page that changed her life.

11. The man on Facebook had the same eyes as her

Michelle had been working on making a family tree, to figure out who her birth father was. When she found that Facebook page, she “felt like a murder mystery detective with papers, notes, names, and faces strewn about all around me, working to draw all the connections.”

Michelle Cehn

The man on Facebook, Greg Hicks, was middle aged with graying hair and certainly looked like Michelle. He had her same almond-shaped blue eyes. In the photos and posts, Michelle gleaned a bit of his personality. The self-development books in his pictures were the same ones on her bookshelf. Soon enough, she was convinced. This was her birth father. She’d finally found him.

12. It was one of the top five moments of her life

Looking at the photo of (who she believed was) her birth father was one of the best moments of her life, probably only second best to that time she dreamed her dad worked in a bake shop. Her husband came home and, with excitement, she showed him what she’d found.

Facebook

Tears were on the edge of spilling down her face, she hadn’t eaten dinner, or moved from the couch in who knows how long, but there was only one thing to do from there: message Greg. As she typed, nearly delirious, Michelle had no idea where that message would lead her. All she knew was that she had (probably) just solved the biggest mystery of her life.

13. First contact via phone

After sending the message, Michelle went to bed. The next morning, she got a call from Southern California. It was Greg, the guy she messaged out of the blue about being his daughter. He was a little suspicious at first, perhaps wondering if she was after his money.

Cowgirls & Collard Greens

But then she explained herself a bit more and he went from suspicion to curiosity. The two spent the next five hours talking on the phone and Michelle began realizing how similar their personalities were. Michelle said, “he has this compassionate, caring, kind, open, communicative, friendly and positive attitude that is so familiar to me because it is my own.”

14. They had so many similarities

As they kept talking, more and more similarities revealed themselves. Michelle and Greg were both entrepreneurs interested in health and wellness. They both had ulcerative colitis, an autoimmune disease. And, they both had torn their ACLs, probably from their endless energy and tendency to run and jump everywhere.

Michelle Cehn

“When I got off the phone I was like, whew, that’s my birth dad,” Michelle said. But they wanted to make sure they were father-daughter, because they were not about that Mamma Mia life. After such a connection, what was the paternity test going to say? Michelle could never have prepared herself for what was to come.

15. Did Michelle get her personality from her parents?

Michelle was seeing so many similarities between her and Greg, which made her think he was her birth father. She’d seen similarities before, with her birth mom. And while the ulcerative colitis might be more obviously explained by genetics, how much did Michelle’s birth parents’ DNA actually contribute to her personality and interests?

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The science on personality inheritance certainly isn’t complete, but studies have shown that your DNA does have some influence on traits like openness. Of course, as with most things about people (including ulcerative colitis), the environment and person’s actions also influence personality and interests. So maybe Michelle was just seeing the similarities and ignoring the differences. The paternity test would tell her for sure.

16. The two took a paternity test

With a throwback to the first consumer available DNA kits, Michelle and Greg took a paternity test. She found the quickest, cheapest, highly rated one on Amazon (she didn’t want to wait that six to eight weeks, 23andMe!) and ordered it soon after their first conversation. Following the directions, Michelle swabbed the inside of her cheek.

World of Vegan

She packaged the DNA sample up and mailed it on over to her (suspected) birth father. He did a cheek swab too, and then mailed it in to determine their fate. Then they waited. Would the paternity test confirm what Michelle had already decided was true?

17. Michelle got the results of the paternity test

Michelle’s cheek swab grabbed some of her cells, which contain DNA in their nucleus, so that the scientists on the other end could look at her DNA and see how it compares to Greg’s. They have to compare the DNA because when a fetus is conceived, half of its DNA comes from its mom and half from its dad.

Michelle Cehn

So, scientists look at particular areas of the child’s DNA to make sure all the variation comes from either the mother or the predicted father. It turned out that Michelle and Greg were probably (99.99 percent) father-daughter, so they disregarded the 0.01 percent chance and decided to meet in person.

18. Butterflies before the big meeting

The paternity test had confirmed what Michelle already knew, so she and Greg set a date to meet in person. He was in the same state, just a few hours south in Southern California. About a month after sending that first message, Michelle flew down to meet the man she’d been dreaming about for 31 years. She was more than a little nervous.

World of Vegan

Butterflies invaded her stomach, but she was excited. As she was driving, the emotions got to her and her eyes would not stop filling with tears. She couldn’t believe what was happening to her. It was finally coming to fruition, but the meeting was going to be like nothing she could have ever imagined. She landed at the airport, heart racing in anticipation.

19. Meeting her birth dad was beyond her expectations

Finally, the day had come for them to meet. 31 years after Michelle was born, and about a month after Greg found out his daughter even existed, the two came together to meet in person. Greg, with excitement and flair, leapt onto a cement block and then jumped, arms wide, to his daughter.

Michelle Cehn

Hilariously, Michelle backed away. She was amazed because that energetic jump was totally the kind of thing she would do. “Awesome!” Greg shouts. Then, they hugged! After years of searching, Michelle finally hugged her birth father. “Feeling fast, immediate, intense love for someone you just met is a very weird and unexpected emotional experience,” Michelle said.

20. Her dad was just as happy to meet her

Once they met, Michelle “felt an enormous and fulfilling sensation of being whole.” But how was her biological father feeling about the whole he-has-a-daughter-he-never-knew-about thing? At first he was a little confused and even suspicious, but he opened his arms to her anyway.

Michelle Cehn

If he hadn’t been so open, Greg said in a video on Michelle’s YouTube channel, it would have been like throwing away a winning lottery ticket without ever knowing it was the winner. He said their meeting, “just ignited this joy, this fulfillment in Michelle that just sends multiples of that love back. It’s truly been a blessing.”

21. She then got to meet a lot more family

After meeting her birth father, Michelle got to meet even more relatives. She was welcomed into Greg’s family, where she met cousins, aunts, an uncle, and grandparents. Never did she ever believe she’d be able to meet her biological grandparents, but by this point everything was exceeding her expectations.

Michelle Cehn

Michelle was overjoyed to meet her blood family. “It’s better than any movie I’ve watched, and it’s my life,” Michelle said (she must not have seen Star Wars). But in all the commotion, Michelle found out she also had a brother, Austin. He wasn’t there at the time, so she’d have to wait to meet him…

22. And she got a half brother!

Always an only child, but having been adopted, Michelle long imagined about having half-siblings somewhere out there in the world. And once she found her long lost father, she had the fortune of learning she had a brother too. Of course, Michelle had the fortune of skipping past childhood squabbles and meeting her brother as an adult.

Michelle Cehn

They finally met at Austin’s college graduation, where Michelle surprised him. She’s ecstatic to have a brother and looking forward to tormenting him, as big sisters do. So after a long, 31 year journey, Michelle was lucky enough to meet all her blood family. But of course, this is only the part of the story…

23. Michelle’s birth dad did a cameo on her YouTube channel

Michelle continues to grow the relationship with her birth father, whom she talks on the phone with every day. She even had him on her YouTube channel, World of Vegan, in a video comparing different brands of vegan cheese (the winner was Follow Your Heart brand, if you were wondering).

World of Vegan

While they don’t live in the same city, at least they’re in the same state. Michelle has even talked on the phone with both her birth parents at the same time. She’s just happy to know her own story and understand herself better. But her birth family keep surprising her.

24. Greg was inspired by Michelle and went vegan

After meeting Michelle, and seeing how much veganism was a part of her (since it’s her job and all), Greg decided to go vegan, too. He had always been into nutrition, health, and wellness, so at this point veganism seemed like the next step. He first started with doing it for two weeks.

Michelle Cehn

But then he went to 30 days, and then more, until he committed on camera to a full year of veganism. Greg said, on Michelle’s vegan podcast, that he feels better, has more energy, and has lost weight. Whether he’ll ever go back to animal products is still up in the air.

25. Michelle and Greg hope their story inspires others

Of course, not every adoption story works out this well. But Michelle and Greg hope their story inspires people to try and be open to adoptive parents or surprise children. Both her birth mother and father almost deleted the Facebook messages she first sent them, but lucky for Michelle, they didn’t.

Michelle Cehn

At that first message, Greg didn’t recognize her birth mother’s name and had never been to the city she was born in, but he was open to hearing Michelle out and trying to help her. That openness ended with him gaining a loving daughter. Eventually, they traced Michelle back to one fated but fuzzily remembered Super Bowl Sunday in 1986.

26. So what where Michelle’s adoptive parents up to the whole time?

Michelle’s parents were always supportive of her journey to find her birth parents. Her mom even helped her find her birth mother. At first, her mom had some emotional challenges with Michelle connecting with her birth mom, but she soon realized that their connection didn’t affect her and Michelle’s relationship at all.

Michelle Cehn

Later, Michelle was able to even have dinner with her parents and birth mom. She also found out that her birth mom didn’t know her name after she was born, and so could never have tracked her down (although, we’ve learned you don’t even need a name to track people down these days).

27. Here’s how you can use DNA kits to find your own lost relatives

You might want to find lost biological relatives yourself, whether you were adopted or not. Along with the sense of identity that Michelle was looking for, knowing your biological family can be helpful for your health, too. Doctors are always asking what conditions your family has.

23andMe

So how do you go about finding these relatives? Well first you have to send your DNA in to one of these companies. It’s probably best to do more than one, though, since you never know which your relatives used. From there, the scientists look at your DNA, which is divided into 23 pairs of chromosomes. Then, you get your results.

28. Build your own family tree

Once you have your results from the DNA tests, the websites will show you what relatives you matched with. From there, it’s a good idea to catalogue all their usernames, predicted relationships to you, and the amount of shared DNA you have. Plus, it’s good to look at what relative matches you share, because the next step is to build your family tree.

Ancestry.com

It’s important to visualize how you’re related to these people, especially if you’re looking for a lost parent or someone else. This part can be fun, like a puzzle. But if you don’t immediately find who you’re looking for, you may have to wait for them to eventually take their own DNA test.

29. DNA tests can tell you a lot more than who your relatives are

Of course, DNA kits were not brought into this world to just unite long lost families. They do a ton of other things. 23andMe has a huge focus on health and can tell you all about various genetic conditions you might be at risk for or what genes you’re a carrier for that could affect your children.

23andMe

Plus, there’s the fun part where they tell you where in the world your DNA comes from. Certain variations in human DNA can be traced back to places like Spain or Polynesia or Northern Africa. Your family history can be traced across the world, as they moved from place to place, through your DNA.

30. Humans are 99.5% the same as each other

Human DNA is about 99.5 percent the same from one stranger to another, but that last 0.5 percent varies between people and holds quite a lot of information. Two people have the same gene, but the gene might be slightly different between them. These are the differences that companies like 23andMe and Ancestry use to learn about you.

23andMe

These differences are called variants, and one might be associated with a higher risk for breast cancer or perhaps with brown eyes. However, most things are determined by variants in several genes. DNA is never straightforward. Plus you can’t count out how the environment affects you, because the whole nature vs. nurture thing is basically just nature plus nurture.

31. DNA test companies do their own research, too

One of the really cool parts of sending your DNA in to be tested is that you then get the option to be a part of their research. You can answer survey questions, so they learn more about you and can use that to study how DNA affects all kinds of things. And, more importantly, which parts of our DNA affects which things.

Michelle Cehn

Recently, 23andMe got permission to start offering information about how your body might react to certain pharmaceuticals. The research isn’t super flushed out yet, so they aren’t saying for sure whether or not that blood thinner will work for you. But, they are providing information that could be useful in conversations with your doctor. This DNA test stuff is charging headfirst into the future.