By Diane White McNaughton
Kelly Wolf Megonnel’s Facebook page is filled with the usual fare: the vivacious blonde sipping fruity drinks at local deck bars with her “girls,” enjoying sun-drenched beach vacations with her husband, and giving shout-outs to her favorite NFL team, the Philadelphia Eagles.
But last year, her hundreds of Facebook friends were shocked to see posts featuring something they had never seen before: Kelly’s family.
Thanks to Ancestry DNA, the petite dynamo with the bright white smile and facial features that have drawn comparisons to Natalie Wood, was able to find out who her father was, after decades of searching. Even more thrilling, Kelly was ecstatic to discover that not only did she have an accomplished father –she had a lookalike brother, a paternal grandmother in Florida, and an uncle in L.A. who was an Emmy Award-winning filmmaker, globe-trotting archeologist, and best-selling author.
Kelly, a Middletown native who now lives in Lower Paxton Township and works as an administrative assistant for Dauphin County, was born in 1972 to a young mother. She went through most of her adult life never knowing who her biological father was. When she was 12 or 13, she was heartbroken to learn that her stepdad was not her “real” dad.
“When I would go out, I would always look to see, ‘Is that my dad?'” She searched crowds for men with her big eyes and tiny upturned nose. She would fantasize about what her biological father looked like and what he did for a living. She lamented the fact that she never had a dad to teach her how to drive, help her with homework, laugh at her sappy Father’s Day cards, or advise her when she hit life’s speed bumps.
She assumed her father lived locally. She wasn’t looking for child support or even a permanent relationship, she insists; she just wanted to “know.”
“I didn’t want to disrupt someone’s life and be rejected,” she said. But she admitted to a stubborn identity crisis. She said she always felt lonely and different growing up, even though she was surrounded by a devoted mother and many other people who loved her.
Then, in January of 2018, she decided to purchase an Ancestry DNA test at a post-holiday sale.
She admits that it was “far-fetched” to think that she would be able to find her father from a small cardboard box with some Q-tips and sanitary vials.
She remembers the day–March 10 –when the test results came back. It was at the end of a hectic slog at work. She ran to her friend Amy’s office to open the results with her. It felt like opening the envelope under the floodlights at the Oscars.
Kelly had always assumed she was a German-Italian-Irish mix, but she soon discovered she was half-European Jewish. She was also 27 percent English and Welsh, 21 percent Germanic Europe, and a fraction of Swedish and Irish.
After she opened her test results, Kelly went onto a closed Facebook group called “DNA Detectives,” operated by DNA expert CeCe Moore, who has appeared on the TV news magazine 20-20 and countless other roots-tracing TV shows.
Kelly posted her story to the Facebook group, saying she did not know how to begin looking for her Jewish side.
Through that post, she found a “search angel,” a professor at Waterloo University in Ontario, Canada.
The search angel/genealogy professor, messaged her privately, detailing a record of success in helping adoptees, lost biological parents and other genealogical searchers.
“I took a leap of faith and gave her access to my Ancestry account,” Kelly said.
Within two days, Kelly had the answer she had longed for. She finally discovered who her long-lost dad was, thanks to her father’s second cousin, who emerged as the genetic link.
All along, Kelly’s mom had thought Kelly’s dad’s name was Jeff Adkins, but it was, in fact, a close permutation–Jeff Elkins.
The professor had access to records Kelly did not. Through her, Kelly discovered not just her dad, his name, his face, and his story, but that he had died in 2008.
She also discovered that her father had won some kind of legal settlement, so he may have a significant sum of money. After learning that fact, she was terrified that her family would think she was a gold-digger, following the money.
As a preemptive strike to help ward off that suspicion, the professor suggested that Kelly reach out to her uncle. Kelly did, by Facebook Messenger.
He was Steve Elkins, a man of such accomplishment that he has his own Wikipedia page.
“For 45 years, I’ve been trying to locate my biological father,” Kelly wrote to her Uncle Steve, via the social media avenue. “My entire life I’ve been missing half of my identity.”
She was very clear: “I don’t want anything from anyone, other than to know where I came from and who I really am.”
After private messaging her uncle, her knees started shaking when the bubbles on her iPhone screen showed he immediately began writing back.
Kelly’s mom Wendy saw a picture of Elkins on Wikipedia that the search angel sent, and confirmed the memory.
“It was a very surreal experience,” Kelly said. “I was shocked at how much I looked like my dad.”
“Even now, I’m shaking and overwhelmed with emotion right now. I’ve waited my entire lifetime for this moment.”
One of her assumptions about her life was imploded when she realized she was NOT an only child. She had a brother—Matt Elkins.
When Uncle Steve wrote back, he said Kelly had piqued his curiosity, and he was happy to help her solve the mystery—“if true.”
Steve said when Kelly reached out, he and his wife Janet were returning from a vacation. His first thoughts were, “Is this a scam? Is someone after money?” but, he confessed, “I was intrigued.”
He and Janet called Kelly that night. They thought to themselves, since Kelly’s dad had died 10 years before and there was no estate, they figured they had nothing to lose.
“We called her up and knew immediately she was a good person,” Elkins said. “She seemed lovely.”
Kelly learned that her father died in 2008 of complications from diabetes –a nugget of medical information she was glad to know. Her father was born and raised in Chicago but spent a year in Harrisburg, assigned to a job in radio production, writing advertising jingles.
Kelly sent pictures of herself to her uncle.
Elkins said he was amazed at how much her pictures as a toddler looked like his brother as a toddler.
Elkins recalled that Kelly’s dad had been in Harrisburg in 1972 and had mentioned a major flood–Agnes. That single tidbit validated for him that Kelly’s story was authentic.
And some other marks of validation were also undeniable. Uncle Steve has the same mole as Kelly on his upper lip, and a similar mole under his armpit, which took them both aback.
Uncle Steve did his own DNA test after Kelly’s Facebook message.
“It’s been my missing link,” Kelly typed—“wanting to know my dad.” Her messages to her uncle, and his replies, are now treasured keepsakes on her phone.
Uncle Steve then sent her pictures of her dad, her brother Matt, and Matt’s mom.
She discovered that Matt owns a boutique toffee shop called Heavenly Toffee in Oakland, California. And yes, it’s no surprise: Kelly loves that heavenly toffee.
Her uncle’s DNA test came back the week before they decided to arrange a long-overdue meeting. He was a clear DNA match.
She joked to him, “Congratulations. You’re an uncle!”
The newfound family decided to meet in DelRay Beach in Florida because Kelly’s paternal grandmother lives there.
She was the grandmom Kelly always wanted and had never met. Now 92, Kelly keeps a photograph of her kindly visage on her phone.
Steve said that Kelly’s grandmother greeted the news of Kelly’s existence with the statement, “You live to be 91, you get to see everything!” but added, “At 91, nothing surprises me!”
Steve said, “There is such a similarity in her look to my brother when he was younger.”
Kelly and Matt were dead ringers. “The eyes, the smile are exactly the same,” Steve said.
Elkins’ wife, Janet, said, “Kelly had a lot of courage and tenacity to always strive to find her family. She was the catalyst, and we couldn’t be happier. We feel like the fortunate ones.”
For the reunion, brother Matt, his mom Marilyn, and Uncle Steve came out to the sun and sands of Florida. They all stayed in the same hotel. The date was May 3, 2018.
Kelly even hired a videographer to record the emotional meeting, as they all met outside the hotel in the glaring sunlight, a canopy of palm trees in the background.
Kelly and Matt took a picture of themselves together soon after that first heart-warming meeting. They both had the exact same aviator sunglasses on, and the same color blue shirts.
The moments leading up to that drumroll moment were high-intensity. Family members all flew into Fort Lauderdale.
The suspense was high as they approached their designated meeting point at the hotel.
Matt would text to Kelly. “The Uber is ten minutes away.” “The Uber is five minutes away.” It was a heart-pounding moment for both Matt and Kelly.
And at that moment of meeting: “I just hugged him,” Kelly said.
Before the meeting, they had talked on the phone daily.
“It was the best thing ever,” Kelly said. “To know there was someone else out there who was like me. It’s beyond what I can describe.”
Steve remembers Kelly at that poignant reunion as “like a kid at Christmas.”
“We look so much alike—it’s easy to recognize your own face in the mirror,” Matt said. “I looked at her and thought, ‘This would be me with longer hair!’”
The newly constituted family unit stayed together for four nights and five days.
They rapidly sensed that they liked doing the same things, and they had the same taste in food. When asked what kind of food, Kelly just laughed and said, “We just all like to eat.”
Another commonality, she said, is their “persistence.”
“We argue on principle,” she said.
“My mom is very sweet and gentle. She is my best friend. The rest of the family has more of the fight in them….in a good way,” Kelly said.
Matt and Kelly both share a love of golf.
Matt said he looks more like Kelly than he did his own dad.
“We clicked just like that,” Matt said. They often talk for hours at a time on the phone.
Kelly posted the tears-inducing reunion –or more accurately, union–on Facebook
After those fateful hugs, the family spent their days at the beach.
She finally met her grandmother, too, who was then 91. She was “very accepting and loving,” Kelly said.
In fact, her grandmother told Kelly she loved her when she left, and Kelly’s heart melted.
Since Kelly’s maternal grandmom had died, she was overjoyed to have a grandma again.
Kel continues to send her flowers and pictures.
For Kelly, her brother Matt is 18 years younger than her and still single. He was just featured in Oakland magazine for his online toffee business, which he sells in boutique style grocery stores at httoffee.com.
Kelly said her Harrisburg family and friends were “really excited for me.”Despite the joy, several storm clouds poked though the sunlight. Kelly is disappointed that her family lives across the country, though she will see them again in the fall. She is also profoundly sad that her dad passed away before she got to meet him.
She focuses on what she has. The Facebook comments on Kelly’s page after the Florida meeting were priceless, filled with many “Wows!” and “Congratulations!” and her favorite–“He is your twin!”
One friend wrote, “Twinning.”
But not meeting her dad–“That makes me extremely, extremely sad.”
She struggled to summarize her grief, still palpable, for someone she never met.
“It really hurts.”
Her dad would have welcomed her, her new family told her.
Steve Elkins said that Kelly’s dad–his brother, Jeff — “was a go-getter, an entrepreneur and stubborn and persistent. Kelly inherited that.”
Matt always hated being an only child, he said.
He always wanted a sibling. Steve said Matt is “over the moon he has a sister.”
At 28, Matt loves to see his friends’ jaws drop when he mentions he found a sister he never knew existed.
If his brother would still be alive, Steve said he would probably be very accepting….”after an initial period of shock.”
Brother Matt said Kelly and her dad share similar personality traits. Matt remembers his dad as highly educated and driven, with a gifted entrepreneurial spirit.
Their decorating style is also similar.
Kelly’s dad’s home is decorated in a style she would have picked, Kelly said.
“It’s amazing you can be so much like somebody you never met,” she said. “It proves the power of how strong genetics are.”
For those with a lost family member, Kelly offers this gentle advice: “Do not be fearful of rejection. You have a life now, as it is. So if you find your family, it is just a bonus to the great life you already have. And if it doesn’t work out, it’s ok. Nothing is lost.”
That is how she prepared herself mentally before she reached out to her uncle, post-DNA test.
“I have a husband and family who love me. If I find my dad and he rejects me, it’s not a loss. But if he accepts me, it is a huge gain,” she reminded herself frequently.
“I see many reunions on Facebook,” she said. “I see some that are heartbreaking stories where it doesn’t turn out well. My heart breaks for them. I prepared myself for the worst.”
“It’s a very emotional experience.”
“To finally look in the mirror, I am whole. It’s an unimaginable feeling. I feel whole.”
“I feel really fortunate. I found a family that accepted me and loved me.”
For the first time ever, she can post pictures of her brother and utter those two words she thought she could never say: “my brother.”
Although she is still young and healthy, Kelly is starting to think about her heirs. She has no children, and her husband’s siblings don’t have children.
“It’s nice to know that someone will still live on after me.”
Kelly is so proud of her Uncle Steve. He is an Emmy Award winner for cinematology.
For Elkins, his pride in Kelly is returned.
“Kelly is self-made. She did really well for herself. She wanted nothing from us.”
As DNA tests gain popularity, these stories are becoming more common.
“It’s a real story of the times,” Elkins said.
But it’s more than just a testament to the power of technology to locate a last family member, and of nature over nurture.
It’s about having a family for the first time ever. Though Kelly never had a chance to grow up with her brother, fighting over valuable square inches in the back seat of the car, digging for seashells on the beach, cheering at each other’s ball games, standing awkwardly in the background in prom pictures, or uttering the proverbial lines exchanged so often between sister and brother—“Don’t tell mom,” they are making up for lost time.
It all still feels like a fairy tale for Kelly. It is ironic that a man famous for finding a “Lost City” had also found his lost niece.
“We are very happy to be related to Kelly. We are very happy to have her in our lives,” Steve said. “It’s a lovefest. It’s remarkable.”
“That hole in her heart has been filled.”