DNA & Adoption: One Woman’s Family Mystery

I am currently busy taking care of a new baby  (YAY!) and taking a hopefully short hiatus from research (BOO!).  Fellow family researcher, Alicia, agreed to do a guest post on her interesting story of how an AncestryDNA test helped to break down a wall of her biological father’s family and the new mysteries that have since unfolded. Please note, names have been changed as a courtesy to those living.

I was born in the 1980’s and was adopted by a loving family when I was two days old. I had a wonderful life growing up and the best parents ever. I had always wanted to know who my birth parents were but didn’t express this to my parents very often. My mom went to a two day adoption conference at a nearby college when I was in my early 20’s. My mom happened to be sitting next to a lady who worked in the court record office in the city where I was born. My adoption was a closed adoption, but somehow (I’m not sure if this was legal) the lady told my mother that she would help her open the closed records. The records were unsealed and in them, a Polaroid of my birth mother and birth father together that the court had carelessly stapled to some information about them and my birth info.

My mother somehow found my birth parents contact info, and surprisingly, they were both excited to speak to me (they live on opposite ends of the country but had remained friends over the years). I contacted them and things went well. I was so excited to learn of my family history and heritage since I had never known anything about it before.

I learned that my birth father was also adopted at birth. His birth mother’s name is “Ellen Raskovich” and he had actually found and met her her via the internet a few years earlier. He explained to me that she had told him she was of Russian-Jewish descent. I was fascinated! I had always thought I may have been Italian because of my dark, curly hair and dark eyes. My birth father told me that his birth mother, Ellen, had told him that her parents had passed away in Minnesota 1950’s and that she had only one brother and he still resided in Russia. At this point, I had been researching the lineage of my adoptive family and also some friends. I was pretty good about finding information and following the census records. However, I could find no trace of anything that pertained to the names of Ellen’s parents. This was strange to me, but I just thought the records were out there somewhere still but I just couldn’t find them. I decided to take an Ancestry DNA test a couple weeks later and that is when the true story started to unfold…


Three years ago, I took the Ancestry DNA test. I anxiously awaited the results for six long weeks. Finally, the test results came back and I logged on to my computer to look at them. What?! No Russian results?! I was perplexed. Something had to be wrong. The test results came back with a very high percentage of Scottish and Irish ancestry (my birth mother’s side) and Spanish/Iberian Peninsula and Native American ancestry. My birth father agreed to take an Ancestry DNA test as well, and my test was extremely similar to his and no Russian ancestry came back on his DNA test either.

A year or so went by and a half sister of my birth father’s (Ellen’s daughter who lived with her) contacted me. She was digging through some old boxes and said she had found a birth certificate for a “Juanita Martinez” with the same birth date as her mother and my birth father’s mother, Ellen. I immediately thought of the Spanish DNA test results and just had a strange feeling. I typed in the Martinez name and the birth date into FamilySearch.org and didn’t find much. However, I typed in Ellen Raskovich and found three children’s birth records that listed Ellen as their mother. It also listed her birth place, and it was not Russia. It was New Mexico. The three children were Rob, Dean, and Donna Sanders. Their father of the three children was listed as Ronald D. Sanders. I found a marriage record for Ellen Raskovich and Ronald D. Sanders. If this was the same Ellen that was my birth father’s and birth father’s half sister’s mother, she had been married and had three other known children that my birth fathers half sister did not know about for 40 years.

Who is Juanita Martinez?

I decided to Google Ronald D. Sanders. I found an obituary from the late 90’s and to my surprise it listed that he had been preceded in death by his two sons Rob and Dean and was survived by a daughter, Donna Sanders Emerson. (The childrens’ names matched up to the birth records that my birth father’s half sister had found in her and Ellens home). My next step was a bold one, but I decided to impulsively do it anyways. I looked up “Donna Sanders Emerson” on Facebook and the name came up and a photo of her and she looked identical to my birth father. I knew right away she was related to us. I tried to think of what to put in a Facebook message. I think I said something of the sorts of “I was researching genealogy and had some questions about an Ellen Raskoivich”. Three or four days went by and she finally responded to my message with “Can I call you? What is your number”.

Mobile Phone call

I gave her my number and she called. She asked how I had found her and I told her. At first she was defensive but then she started opening up and telling me the story. She said “Oh yes I know an Ellen Raskovich, that is my mother but I haven’t seen her in 50 years. Donna also told me that “Ellen” wasn’t her real name, that her real name was “Juanita Martinez.” This is the same name as the birth record found in Kristina and Ellen’s house. I LITERALLY ALMOST FELL OUT OF MY CHAIR. Donna explained to me how the last time she saw her mother (Ellen/Juanita) was in 1965 when Ellen was divorcing Donna’s father. Donna was 5, and her brothers were 3 and 1 and that was the last time they ever saw Ellen. I asked Donna if she knew who the father of my birth father was and Donna explained to me that her father used to tell her that Ellen had an affair with a lawyer and that the lawyer was the father of my birth father. (I still to this day do not know who my birth father’s father is, as there was no fathers name written on the birth certificate).

I called my birth father’s half sister and told her of the findings. She was shocked that she was now in her 50s and had no idea her mother had another family and life that she never knew about.  I called my birth father and he was shocked as well. One thing that hit me hard was when Donna told me that Ellen/Juanita went to her grave thinking her own daughter was dead.

My birth father’s half sister was shocked. She had lived with Ellen for 40 years and had no idea of any of this. When her mother came home that evening, she confronted her about the birth record that said “Juanita Martinez” and Ellen responded with anger.

There are so many twists and turns in the story. I don’t know Ellen’s reasons and I probably never will. If it weren’t for the Ancestry DNA test, I don’t think any of this would have come to light. I have used false names in this story to protect the privacy of the people in it, especially as “Ellen” is still living.

If you are adopted and are considering using DNA testing to help though a genealogical brick wall, here is a great post by Judy Russell, The Legal Genealogist, you may want to read. 

Have a great story about your own genealogical research you would like to share with Life in the Past Lane as a guest post?  Please send me a message through the Contact page.

Copyright © 2015-2016 Beth Wylie and Life in the Past Lane. All rights reserved.


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