Stephanie Shaffer

Lucas and Stephanie Shaffer, of Effingham, search through information about Stephanie’s family tree. The couple recently connected with Stephanie’s biological family through an Ancestry DNA test.

By Kim Jansen

News Report Staff

There has always been one wish on Stephanie Shaffer’s list.

Find her birth parents!

And this year, her Christmas and birthday wish came true when her husband surprised her with a DNA kit that led to the discovery of her biological family.

Stephanie, who was born on Christmas Day in 1976, was placed up for adoption and spent the first few months of her life in foster care, until she was adopted by Ken and Nancy Joslyn, of Effingham.

Although Stephanie’s adopted parents provided her with the best life she could imagine, she was still curious about her biological parents and family.

“I have had an amazing life with my parents. Ken and Nancy are my parents, and they have been for 41 years,” said Stephanie. “But all of my life, I have been curious about my biological parents. It has just been a void in my life.”

Stephanie’s adopted parents have always been open and honest with Stephanie about her adoption, and she grew up knowing her sister and brother were also adopted.

“I have had a blessed life. I have had an amazing life, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. But, there has always been that natural curiosity about my biological parents,” said Stephanie.

She had always been curious about who she looks like, where she received her talents and interests, and most importantly, why they decided to give her up.

“It is those basic questions that people who know where they come from take for granted. Those questions ate at me all the time,” said Stephanie.

As she grew older, Stephanie became more and more curious about her birth family, especially after she had children of her own.

“When I had my own children, that really hit home,” said Stephanie, adding she couldn’t understand how someone could give up a child.

Stephanie always wanted to search for her biological parents, but since she was born in Maryland, she had little information to go on.

“I always wanted to search, but I didn’t know how to go about it,” said Stephanie. “Every time I tried, I always reached dead ends.”

In 2008, Stephanie and her husband, Lucas, decide to hire an agency to conduct a search. But two years later, the agency sent a letter letting them know the search was unsuccessful.

“It was another dead end,” said Stephanie. “I thought it just wasn’t meant to be, and I decided I was going to let it go because it just wasn’t going to happen.”

So, when Lucas gave Stephanie a gift of an Ancestry DNA kit for her Christmas/Birthday present, Stephanie admits she was a little hesitant, not knowing if she wanted to go down that path again, for fear it would lead to another dead end.

“I had decided I was done, and I didn’t know if I wanted to open this can of worms again,” said Stephanie.

Lucas encouraged Stephanie to take the DNA test, which was then sent into a lab with the results posted online to a secure site about six to eight weeks after the DNA was submitted.

Through the Ancestry DNA website, Stephanie then had the ability to learn about her ancestry, but also to see if any of the other Ancestry DNA users matched her DNA.

Once accessing the results on the site, Stephanie learned her heritage, and she also found she had a connection to a woman in the Chicago area who was marked as her third cousin based on DNA results.

Stephanie was a little nervous reaching out to her cousin, Angie Pfeiffer, because she wasn’t sure if anyone even knew that her biological mother was pregnant. Files the Josylns received when adopting Stephanie indicated the pregnancy was kept secret.

“We messaged Angie through Facebook, and we then phoned her to talk to her,” said Stephanie.

Following those communications, the two decided to meet face-to-face in St. Louis on February 18.

“I started to get sick to my stomach on the way there because I was so nervous,” said Stephanie.

But Stephanie’s nerves were instantly calmed when Angie greeted her with a huge hug and tears.

“We saw each other, and she ran up and hugged me. Then, there were tears, and we just stood there hugging,” said Stephanie. “The world around me just stopped, and it was just me and her.”

Stephanie and Lucas sat down with Angie to try to figure out through what family the two were related, and most importantly, who Stephanie’s parents were.

“At this point, we still had no idea who my mom and dad were, so we were looking at the results trying to figure out who was who,” said Stephanie.

After a little bit of research, Lucas made contact with another relative on the phone, which is when the couple learned the name of Stephanie’s birth mother, Olive Mae Felix.

Unfortunately, Olive Mae had died in 1991 from cancer — Stephanie was just 15 years old at the time.

“It was sad because I really wanted to meet her and say thank you because she had given me a great life,” said Stephanie. “I wanted to tell her I forgive her. I wanted her to know that I wasn’t mad, and I was never mad. I just wanted to find her and meet her.”

Stephanie felt a wave of emotions, but also a sense of closure.

However, the door to her biological family had just been cracked open, taking her on an expected journey that has led her to the discovery of other family members, including 12 siblings.

Although Stephanie was the only biological child of Olive Mae and George Allen (who Stephanie discovered was her father), she learned through her husband’s dedicated research and with help from Angie that she has three half-siblings on her mom’s side and nine half-siblings on her dad’s side.

On her mom’s side, Stephanie has reached out to her half-sister, Lorraine, who is 10 years older that Stephanie and lives in the Pittsburgh area.

The two have talked on the phone, texted and plan to meet soon.

“I look just like her,” said Stephanie. “It was kind of creepy, but in a good way. It was like looking right back at myself, but a little older version of myself. We are spitting images of each other.”

During their first phone conversation, Stephanie was immediately at ease, as she and Lorraine talked about the other two siblings on her mom’s side and her mom.

“I thought I would be nervous, but it was the most calming feeling. It felt like we knew each other forever,” said Stephanie. “We now forever have this bond that is not going to go away.”

As more information and photos were shared with Stephanie during the days following, she learned she looks like her mother, who also had blonde hair and green eyes, and she learned her musical talent and outgoing personality are traits she inherited from her mother.

“They say I have her gift for music. It blew my mind to know how much we were alike,” said Stephanie.

Photos received by Stephanie, included pictures of Olive Mae when she was pregnant with Stephanie. In many of the photos, Olive is with a man, George Allen, who is Stephanie’s father.

Once Lucas learned the name of Stephanie’s father, he began researching George to figure out who he was and where he was. But unfortunately, Lucas quickly discovered that George had died just a month earlier.

Through George’s obituary, Lucas discovered that Stephanie had nine other siblings, seven who were still living.

When Lucas reached out to the siblings, the first few were very hesitant, concerned that it was a scam.

“I was ready for them to accept me or not to accept me,” said Stephanie. “I told them that I didn’t want anything from them. If they wanted to accept me, I am here. If not, that is ok, and I was ok with that.”

But, after Lucas provided the photo of George and Olive Mae, who was clearly pregnant, the siblings let their guard down and began communicating with Lucas and Stephanie.

“They knew there was a baby that was put up for adoption, but they were told that I was a boy,” said Stephanie.

All of her siblings — on both sides — remember her mother and shared several details and lots of photos, so Stephanie could learn more about the woman who gave her life.

“Everyone I have talked to from my mother’s side and my father’s side have nothing but amazing things to say about my mother,” said Stephanie. “She just lit up the room, and she was funny. Everyone just loved her.”

Having just missed the opportunity to meet her father does weigh on Stephanie, who can’t help but think if she had tried the DNA kit just a little bit sooner that she could have met her father.

“That was the hardest to take because it was so close,” said Stephanie. “If we could have figured things out a little quicker, I could have met him.”

As for what will happen next, Stephanie was recently surprised by her husband, who is taking her along with their children on a trip to the Pittsburgh area, where she will get a chance to meet her family members and visit her mother’s grave site.

“We are going to connect, and I am sure we are going to share lots of tears,” said Stephanie. “It has been such a roller coaster ride, so many ups and downs. But, it’s been an amazing ride. This has been the most amazing time in my life.”

Stephanie said she jokes with her husband that he will never be able to top this gift — the gift of connecting her with her biological family.

“My husband is amazing. Besides our children, he has given me the best gift ever,” said Stephanie, adding her husband not only gave her the kit, but has dedicated so many hours to finding her family members.

Stephanie’s adopted parents have supported her every step of her journey, and telling them the news that she had found her birth parents is a moment etched in her memory.

“I told them that it was all over and that I had found them,” said Stephanie. “I finally have closure.”

Stephanie has been sharing her experience through Facebook by posting updates and videos of her journey. She hopes her successful journey will give hope to others who are searching.

“If you have the opportunity, you should just try,” said Stephanie, adding one DNA test can be life changing, like it was for her. “I hope that anyone researching gets these kinds of results. It is worth taking a chance.

“I had given up, and now, with the help of my husband, I have the world. I have two huge families,” she said.

Stephanie said finding her biological family members and the answers she was looking for has given her the peace she was searching for.

“I feel like a ton of bricks have been lifted off of my chest. I finally found the answers, and I have closure,” she said.