HARRISBURG, Pa. — 27-year-old Melissa Turnpaugh was born in New Jersey but adopted by a Harrisburg family after her biological mother passed away. She never got the chance to meet her biological father, and even as a young kid she wondered who he was.
“My mom gave me subtle information but never really gave me full-out details, [and she] never wanted to talk about it,” said Turnpaugh. “It was kind of something in the past that she didn’t want to hash back out.”
As a result, Turnpaugh set out on her own mission to find her father.
“I’m so eager," she said. "When I want something I’m pretty determined to do it."
Turnpaugh signed up for 23andMe, an at-home DNA testing kit service, in 2018. In a matter of months, the website led her to a half-brother she never knew she had.
“I ended up going on Facebook and found a guy who looked a spitting image like my mother, and I was like ‘Oh my word this has to be him because there’s no way that you look that much like her and [are not] related,” said Turnpaugh.
Turnpaugh flew to Florida to meet Michael and the rest of his family.
“It was surreal because again I felt like I was looking at my mother,” she explained.
A year later, 23andMe connected Turnpaugh to a cousin who was able to lead her to her dad’s sister, Diane.
“She ended up going and taking a picture of a picture that my grandmother painted, and on the back was my grandmother’s signature," said Turnpaugh. "...I was like ‘Well there’s no other way you would have this.’”
That’s when she discovered her biological father, William Henry, passed away in 2001 from pulmonary disease.
“I didn’t get the chance to meet him, but it’s been really awesome meeting his extended family, and she just gave me the whole history of his life through pictures and stories,” said Turnpaugh.
However, the puzzle wasn’t yet complete. In 2020, Melissa was connected to her half-sister, Amy.
“We immediately bonded, [and] we have the same personality, [and] we’re both in human services,” said Turnpaugh.
The two women share a father but are 30 years apart.
“It was heartbreaking when I found them because it’s like...my whole life I didn’t know you and know you existed,” said Turnpaugh.
This past December, the siblings met for the first time.
“We went to my Aunt Diane’s and did our own little Christmas, and she actually has two daughters and I’m right in the middle of their ages which is kind of crazy because they’re my nieces in a sense,” explained Turnpaugh.
Turnpaugh says 23andMe changed her life, giving her three new loved ones with which she can to build relationships.
“It gives me a whole different appreciation of just what family is, and it’s not just blood – it’s the people who you bring into your village and community.”