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La Familia!

Photo of Gene Wunderlich

I recently had the pleasure of having my family visit me in Colorado. Two of my sisters and their husbands and two of my brothers and wife drove out from Iowa to spend a week in the Colorado Rockies. My daughter from California was also able to join us for a few days of visiting and fishing. Only my son and one brother were not able to join us this time around but a good time was had by all present.

Now you may be thinking – well what’s so special about that? We get together with family on a regular basis. No big deal. Here’s what makes this a big deal. Five years ago I didn’t even know I had this family. Well, I knew I had a son and daughter of course, but was not aware I had three brothers, two sisters, and a whole slew of nieces and nephews. Here’s to modern technology. 

Five years ago my wife gifted me with a 23andMe DNA genetic test kit for my birthday. We thought it would be interesting to see what the test might have to say about ancestry and other genetic issues. Interesting because I was adopted at birth and raised in a small mountain town in the Colorado Rockies by a wonderful family of German/Austrian descent, so some background on heritage and genetics might be of interest and value. 

And it was interesting in that my ancestry results indicated an ancestry very similar to how I was raised, primarily FrancoPrussian ancestry with a little English, Scottish and a few other Europeans thrown in along with a measure of Viking  from their time ‘visiting’ the continent. It’s a fascinating process and there is all kinds of research that comes with the package. And with that I was satisfied. 

A month later I received a notification about a 1st cousin. Sorry, I have no 1st cousins. Neither of my Aunts had children so having a 1st cousin seemed highly unlikely. So I reached out to see what his story was. Well, after exchanging some bona fide’s, he dropped a bomb – I have 5 brothers and sisters! FULL brothers and sisters. 

Seems that my Catholic maternal grandparents frowned upon the relationship between my birth mother and her Lutheran paramour so when she got in a family way, they shipped her off to Colorado to have the baby – me. Upon returning to Iowa, they resumed their relationship, got married and proceeded to have five more children within the next eight years. All of them lived either in the small Iowa farm town they had grown up in, or within an hour’s distance.    

My cousin suggested I send them a letter introducing myself, since none of them were apparently aware of my presence. My letter arrived out of the blue on a Monday, one day after they had all been together for a memorial service for their mother. Turns out she had passed one day after my birthday, the day I received the 23andMe test kit! What timing, eh? Sixty-six years and I missed her by a day!

Turns out the family is a wonderful agglomeration of unique Midwest personalities with whom I share many similarities, musical tastes, political leanings, and one brother who could be my double (although in all honesty, I am somewhat better looking). We have spent time together both in Iowa in their hometown, and in Colorado in mine, and doubtless will spend more time together in the future. 

I know not all of these adoption reuniting stories have a happy ending. Some adoptees are obsessed with finding their birth parents, and unfortunately the reality doesn’t always live up to the high expectations. In other cases, one family or the other may be resentful of the interloper, may be fearful of losing position or status, may be concerned about inheritance issues, or other things. 

Fortunately, in our situation none of those concerns surfaced and we all get along swimmingly. Oh, they have a whole family dynamic of likes, dislikes, grudges, and issues of their own from growing up together for 60+ years, fairly common for large families I gather, but as a Johnny-come-lately, I’m not part of that and try to stay out of, or above, the fray. 

Their presence has enriched my life and that of my own little family immeasurably. I am thankful every day that I found them and that they are the wonderful people they are. Here’s to technology. And family.

Written by Gene Wunderlich, Sr. Staff Writer

Prior to his retirement in 2021, Wunderlich served on a number of local non-profits and boards. He spent the past decade as a legislative advocate for the housing and real estate industries as well as a coalition of local Chambers of Commerce advocating on behalf of small and local businesses.

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