Wed, Sep 26, 2018 - Page 7 News List

DNA tests unite unknown siblings from France, US

AFP, COLLEVILLE-SUR-MER, France

From left, Andre Gantois and his half-siblings Allen Henderson and Judy Rogers stand at the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial overlooking Omaha Beach in Colleville-sur-Mer, France, on Monday.

Photo: AFP

A Frenchman who spent his whole adult life searching for his American father, a soldier who fought in Europe during World War II, said he was “bowled over” after coming face-to-face on Monday with a previously unknown half-brother thanks to a chance DNA breakthrough.

Andre Gantois, now aged 72, was told he was asking for the impossible when he began his search for his dad aged 20 at the US embassy in Paris, knowing only that his mother had fallen pregnant shortly after the end of the war.

She had revealed the existence of her American lover on her deathbed, when Gantois was 15, but did not share his name or any other details.

“They told me that what I was asking for was like looking for a needle in a haystack,” the retired postal worker from the Lorraine region said.

Undeterred, Andre continued to research US military and legal documents, but the breakthrough only came when his sister-in-law suggested he try a popular US DNA company MyHeritage, which specializes in family research.

“I didn’t expect anything. I’d come to the conclusion that I’d die without knowing my father,” he said.

Instead, after sending off a couple of swabs from his mouth, the group informed him that he had a match: a half-brother from South Carolina called Allen Henderson, who was seven years younger.

Henderson had also approached MyHeritage weeks before “on a whim just to see where I’m from” after seeing the company advertise its services on the Fox News channel.

“He had no idea that we were here and, of course, I wasn’t looking for him, because I had no idea that he was there,” Henderson told US television channel 7News at the end of last month.

The discovery of his half-brother softened what was a blow for Gantois: His father had died in 1997, apparently without ever knowing he had a son in France, because Gantois’ mother, Irene, had never told him she was pregnant.

On Monday, having already exchanged photographs by mail, they came face-to-face on the same windswept beach in northern France where their father landed along with hundreds of thousands of Allied forces in June 1944 to liberate France from its Nazi occupiers.

The two men share a clear resemblance, each have a black cat and both like plaid shirts.

“People around me say it’s incredible how much we look like each other. You’d really say we are brothers,” Gantois said.

“I’ll need to start studying English now,” said Gantois, who has also gained a half-sister, Judy, 70.

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