Cleveland — It was in a cellar that I found my roots. Davina Shuman, a relative I never met, graciously gave me a glimpse of the family I never knew I had.
The Levys were a conservative, Jewish family from Cleveland. Their patriarch, Harry Levy, is my great-grandfather. In the spring of 1930, one of his four daughters — we don't know which — gave birth, out of wedlock, to my mother. Davina, one of Harry's legitimate grandchildren, says no one ever knew about this baby.
"It would be scandalous, really, in those days, for this family," Davina said.
My mom died knowing none of this. She was raised by another couple. There was no formal adoption or paper trail. So if not for DNA testing, my ancestry would have remained a secret. My results revealed two relatives, leading me to some new discoveries.
A recent survey showed about a quarter of the people who take these tests find some kind of surprising result. Or in my case, two surprising results. The test was more definitive regarding my grandfather. He was an Irish Catholic railroad worker named Frank Black.
His other daughter, Carol, is my new aunt. My uncle is also named Frank Black. Together, they told me all I needed to know about my grandpa. Frank said he had five wives. Carol said he was a drinker. Not exactly the astronaut or war hero I was hoping to find.
"We were the apples that fell off the tree and rolled away," Carol said.
It certainly does make you question who you are. I grew up an Eagle Scout who went to Catholic school. Now I find my grandpa was Casanova, and the Levys were Jewish.
"If your mother is Jewish, you are Jewish, no question," Davina said.
But my new relatives all told me none of that matters.
"I just want you to come for Thanksgiving," Davina said.
Look deep enough into your past and odds are you'll find a family tree full of flowers and broken branches and a lot of leaves you don't recognize. But I think it's important to embrace it all because whatever is there, it's exactly what your tree needed to grow the perfect you.