Like more and more Americans, Larry King, 75, decided in 2018, to take a DNA test through Ancestry.com, a consumer DNA company.
“I’ve always been interested in my people beyond north Florida and south Alabama,” says the former Pensacola native. Plus, several of his friends had already gone through the testing process and learned more about their heritage.
What King learned was that things were not as he’d grown up believing. His DNA results were puzzling. They showed the name of one first cousin he had never heard of – “I thought I knew all of my cousins.” And all the other results pointed to his mother’s side – “I couldn’t find any Kings.”
Later that year on a trip back to Pensacola to visit his brother, Larry asked him if he’d take a DNA test if Larry bought the kit. He readily agreed and the puzzle pieces began to take shape.
His brother’s test results clearly showed they were half-brothers. In the meantime, Larry had tried reaching out through Ancestry’s messaging platform to the mysterious cousin, but he was getting no response. By Googling him, Larry was able to identify the cousin’s parents, who he also Googled. He found their obituaries, which, in turn, led to finding the parents’ siblings, one of which should be Larry’s father.
The cousin’s mother had three brothers, one, in particular, seemed to be a likely candidate for the paternal puzzle piece because one scrap of information Larry found indicated he had been in the Navy. This man also had two daughters, one of whom Larry found on Ancestry in a Family Tree profile but with no DNA. Meanwhile, Larry continued to send messages and receive no response from the unknown cousin. Until…
You found us!
In June 2019, while competing in a national seniors pickleball tournament in Albuquerque, N. M., Larry finally got an email from the mysterious cousin, who had been in the hospital for months of cancer treatment.
When he and Larry talked, Larry explained the situation and speculated that John Hussion was the likely paternal candidate, not one of his two brothers. The cousin, Bill, confirmed that John had two daughters, Karen, 66, and Brenda, 63, and at Larry’s request, he agreed to reach out to Karen. But he said that’s all he was prepared to do. Sadly, he would die three weeks later.
Within a week, Larry got a long, three-page email from Karen, with the most surprising message: “We’ve known you were our brother for a long time,” she wrote, “and we’re so happy you have found us.”
“I was just flabbergasted because I thought I’d have to talk her into having a DNA test to prove we’re siblings,” Larry recalls. Instead, “She said they were happy to be as close as I wanted to be.”
Karen said she even had a picture of Larry she’d kept in her jewelry box since she was a young teenager. As it turned out, Larry’s biological father, John Hussion, had told Karen’s mother when they were courting that he had a son. Once they married, she had even wanted Larry to come live with them.
The two sisters found out about Larry as children when they were snooping around in their father’s closet and found the Christmas cards and photos Larry’s mother, Mattie Ethel, sent to John every year. One of which has written on the back: “He looks more like you every day.” The affection between the two must have lasted a while because John did not marry until 1955 and there’s an old, blurry photo of a bedside table, likely in his officer’s quarters, that shows a photo of Mattie Ethel with John’s photo stuck into the corner of the frame.
In November 2019, the three families met for the first time at Brenda’s New Jersey home.
“I was kind of apprehensive, staying with people I’ve never met,” Larry recalls. But there was an immediate bond. “We had a wonderful weekend.” Throughout the pandemic, the three siblings stayed in touch virtually, and met again in August 2021 followed by the most recent gathering in May at the North Carolina coast.
Like many Boomers, Larry’s life was affected by the upheavals of World War II in that his parents would never have met otherwise; they each moved from small, rural areas into the larger world, and met because of the war. Mattie Ethel and her husband, Bob King, were raised in a rural area of northwest Florida. They eloped when she was 17, but then six months later, he was drafted and shipped out to the Pacific in 1942 and didn’t return until 1946.
After he left, she moved to live and work in Pensacola, which was humming with activity around the flight training school at the Naval Air Station. It was there she met John, originally from West Virginia, who had transferred from the Coast Guard to the Naval flight school toward the end of the war. In time, he would retire as a Navy pilot and then go on to train as an air traffic controller for the Army. Interestingly, Larry spent his career as an engineer with the Federal Aviation Administration. He discovered they had both spent significant time at the FAA’s Oklahoma training facility.
King says he was not close to the man he thought was his father and says his mother’s marriage to him was not happy. They divorced in 1962; he died in 1967. Mattie Ethel died in 2009 and John died in 2013.
Larry’s wife, Iva, says the two of them are closer to the two sisters than to any other family members, except their children. “We share the same values, the same education, the same financial status,” she explains.
Their daughter and grandson just spent 10 days in Maine with the two sisters and called to tell Larry, “Dad, you found a great couple of sisters!”
Adoptee finds an unexpected abundance of family
Madison county resident Sandy Venable, 55, has always known she was adopted at birth through an adoption agency in Miami, Fla. in 1967. Although her adoptive parents encouraged her to seek out her birth parents, it was never a priority until she had two children in the early 2000s and had no medical history to share with them. At the time, though, it was going to cost thousands of dollars to do a search, with no guarantee of useful results.
Knowing Sandy’s longstanding concern, her husband bought her an Ancestry DNA kit for her 49th birthday in 2016. But when the results came back, no close relatives showed up, only 3rd or 4th cousins. She lost interest and had forgotten about it until Labor Day 2020, in the midst of the pandemic, when she got a message through Ancestry from someone identifying herself as Jennalynn, living in Daytona, Fla.
“I see we’re closely related and I’m wondering what information you may have. Please respond at your convenience.”
“I was stunned,” Sandy remembers, so she looked at her results again and they now showed not one, but two close relatives: this Jennalynn and a Glenda in Texas. She immediately responded to Jennalynn that she knew nothing about her background and couldn’t help her.
Over the course of texts and phone calls, Jennalynn, 25, explained that she knew her parents, although they had separated when she was a child so she lost contact with her father, and he later died. She was using Ancestry to try to connect with paternal relatives. However, now she was enthused to connect with Sandy and after a series of phone calls, said she wanted to help Sandy find her parents.
“We’re closely related and that’s all that matters,” she said, adding, “I think we’re related through my Dad.” They also exchanged photos, which showed Jennalynn closely resembled Sandy’s youngest son.
Given their age difference, “she could have been my daughter,” Sandy thought. “Maybe she’s my niece.”
Who is Glenda?
They both wondered about the other close relative showing up on Ancestry but Jennalynn reached her first and called Sandy, bursting with excitement.
“Girl! Have I got news for you!” were the first words out of her mouth, followed by “The man I thought was my Dad was not my Dad. Glenda is our aunt.”
Jennalynn had pressed her mother about Glenda and wondered how she could be her aunt. That’s when her mother confessed that she had had a brief affair in Arizona before she married.
So, the only working hypothesis in that phone call between the two women was that Glenda’s brother David might be Jennalynn’s father – he had been separated from his wife at the time of Jennalynn’s conception. However farfetched, could the deceased Gordan be Sandy’s father?
Sandy immediately called Glenda who asked Sandy when she was born. Counting back, she said there was no way Gordan was her father; he was in Japan in May of 1966. But David was in Miami around that time. “You and Jennalynn are sisters!”
She further explained that as a young man he had been footloose and fancy free but now he was married, had three sons and a daughter-in-law, and lived in Avondale, Az. Call him, she said. With trepidation, Sandy did.
David, 76, in 2020, received two phone calls in two days from two women, each purporting to be a daughter. When Sandy explained her situation, he asked when she was born, and confirmed he was in Miami in 1966. He remembered dating a young woman a couple of times before he moved to New York. He remembered her first name: Vanna.
Following his phone calls with the two women, his three sons encouraged him to take a DNA test, which confirmed the suppositions about the two women. After that, communication and connections picked up steam.
“Everyone was very accepting,” Sandy says. “Bobbi was glad to have girls in the family.” By March 2021, after numerous Zoom calls, the group began making plans for everyone to meet up in Georgia over Labor Day weekend, including Jennalynn and her girlfriend. But before that, David made a surprising decision.
“The water is drying up out here – let’s all move to Georgia,” he declared. He told Sandy later, “The kids say I need to live near one of them, but they will be in Atlanta. I don’t want to live in a city. What if I lived near you?”
One big happy family
Before the big reunion in September, Sandy’s adoptive mother had become ill and died in August. She knew about Sandy’s discovery; “nobody was happier.” Her adoptive father had died in 2016.
Sandy met David and Bobbi at the Atlanta airport, holding a big sign with everyone’s picture on it.
“I was a nervous wreck – it was very emotional,” she recalls. “Seeing Dad was like seeing my kids right after they were born.”
Within a week of the reunion, David bought the one house listed in Madison County last fall, which is where they all gathered for their first Thanksgiving together.
“It was chill,” she says. The one sad note in the whole endeavor is the failure to hear from her biological mother. The name David remembered was unusual enough that using Ancestry’s search engine and Google, Sandy was able to identify her and where she’s living now. Sandy sent a certified letter that she signed for. In it, Sandy gave a brief outline of the facts as she knew them and asked her to respond if she wanted to or if the facts were incorrect. Sandy reassured her that if she didn’t hear back, Sandy would never bother her again. She’s never responded.
“It’s her loss. It’s been a ride.”