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DNA test helps connect a metro Detroit family separated over 80 years ago

Posted: 6:23 PM, Oct 03, 2018
Updated: 2018-10-04 11:01:30-04

DNA testing has become popular and affordable for everyone curious about their ancestry or preexisting health risks.

Hundreds of stories have unraveled since genetic testing was made available to anyone, including one story right here in metro Detroit that's more than 80 years in the making. 

A simple genetic test from 23andMe  was meant to alert a Rochester Hills mom to her own health issues. She had no idea it would change her life in an entirely different way.

“I thought with all these other DNA tests on the market now, maybe there’s something that can help me figure out if (there are health risks) in me and if there’s a risk with my children,” Michelle Simpson said.

The process of submitting a DNA sample is pretty straight forward.

“You provide your saliva sample in a plastic collection tube. You mail to our laboratory and within six to eight weeks, you receive your results within your secure online account,” said Jhulianna Cintron, a customer relations specialist for 23andMe, in a Skype interview.

Simpson's health results gave her peace of mind. Even though the results didn't have all the information she had hoped for herself, her family history was much more than she ever expected.

“I was hesitant to pursue it because my father never wanted to talk about his upbringing, and this was potentially his brothers and sister that he lost track of 80 years ago,” Simpson added.

Her father said that for so long, that part of his life had been suppressed. 

“To know something and not be able to do anything about it is very difficult," said Bernard Herschfeld, Simpson's father. "You more or less put it out of your mind, but it’s back there some place and once in a while it gives you a kick in the behind.”

Herschfeld had three half siblings from his father’s first marriage. At 4-years-old, his mother died. His dad couldn't care for the children, so they were split up between family and foster care. 

Herschfeld had a rough childhood after the family broke up. He rarely spoke of them.

“I was scared to death," Simpson said with a grin. "I didn’t know how he’d take it. I started with, 'I did the test. Well, there’s this other side of it that I was able to explore, and – I found relatives,'”

Simpson sent one vague email to a possible relative that ended up being a first cousin that responded right away. One note spiraled into dozens of emails and numerous phone calls from all over the country.

Everyone in the new-found family wanted to connect.

“It’s been a wonderful journey," Simpson said. "I have just loved it. It’s been so positive – I wish I had done it sooner."

Though all three of Herschfeld’s siblings had passed away, the relatives were very aware of him. It was bittersweet finding out Herschfeld’s oldest brother spent his whole life looking for him. He died a couple years ago at 97 years old. 

“I found out that I have another family,” Herschfeld said.

In June, a small family reunion was organized when relatives from California and New Jersey made a trip to Michigan.

“We spent the afternoon sharing stories, sharing pics, breaking bread,” Simpson said. “Everything is around food and (we) just had a wonderful time.” 

Simpson's father, Herschfeld, echoed the same sentiments. 

“It’s wonderful! It's a little closure,” he said. 

Simpson continues to communicate daily with her new-found family and is planning on meeting up soon with another first cousin who lives in Florida. Herschfeld is finally at peace after finally realizing he was never forgotten.