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Opinion

Essay: DNA helped me see my family tree

Rose Warren, left, and newfound cousin Anita Ferrari

Rose Warren, left, and newfound cousin Anita Ferrari send a message to yet another cousin during a visit together in Uncasville, Conn., Nov. 5, 2017. They found each other through a DNA genealogy service. Photo Credit: From Anita Ferrari

In 2015, I ordered a $99 DNA kit from ancestry.com. Two weeks later, I filled a small tube with my saliva and mailed it back to the genealogy service. Within a month, an email came back. With anticipation, I filled in a code at the website.

My four grandparents emigrated from Italy in the 1890s, and the results confirmed my Italian roots. Another section of the findings revealed that many distant relatives also had taken the DNA test, enabling ancestry.com to match many of us with “extremely high” to “moderate” confidence. There were more than 200 names! They ranged from nephews I know, all the way to “8th cousins” I don’t.

I thought only in Naples would I find a healthy supply of strangers sharing my DNA, but it turned out that Long Island is home to or plays a role in the lives of several. I emailed some, struck up conversations, and have since embraced friendships with a fascinating and diverse band by the names of Joe, Vito, Marie and Anita.

Joe Bernard, 42, originally from Massachusetts, was identified as a fourth cousin with confidence level of “good.” Over lunch in Levittown, Joe and I realized that we share a love of philosophy and teaching. (I used to teach special education in Nassau County.)

Joe explained his path to Long Island. He began modeling while at the University of Mississippi, and later, on the first day of an assignment in South Africa, he met Linda, his future wife. They married and settled in Malawi, in southeast Africa, where he spent his days teaching and photographing his new country. He once spent weeks in a tree stalking a bird, and got the first photo of the white-winged apalis.

Joe was living in the Cayman Islands in 2013 with his wife and their two children and had accepted a teaching position in Egypt. But because of security issues in the Middle East, he decided not to go. Joe asked Linda, “Where should we go?” “Long Island,” she said, “they have the best schools in America.” They settled in Glen Cove.

Last spring, I met my cousin Vito DiTommaso, 53, of Babylon. He had also modeled! (I didn’t inherit the modeling genes.) My mother and his grandfather were siblings. Vito never knew his deceased grandfather. Tears came to my eyes when I introduced Vito to his grandfather’s sister, my 95-year-old mother, Florence Miello, at my home in Plainedge. It was a good day for mom. She enjoyed sharing family stories. Vito and I speak regularly, and he has celebrated July Fourth and Thanksgiving with me. He always brings the pastry.

Another newfound cousin, Marie Maiello DeLise, 65, and I have the same maiden name, only spelled differently. I used Miello. For some unexplained reason, my grandfather dropped the A in Maiello. Marie and I share the same great-grandparents, and she is my go-to person for info on the Maiello family tree. Marie invited me to her Merrick home, where I met more of my father’s relatives.

I also got in touch with Anita Ferrari, 62, of Old Saybrook, Connecticut. Ancestry.com said we were second cousins, but it took us a while to identify our connection. In our conversations, we realized that while I am nine years older, we were both born in Proctor, Vermont, and delivered by the same doctor! With research, we discovered our grandmothers were sisters. Now we text each other every day. We are both friends and family. Fortunately, business assignments bring her to Hauppauge, and we can get together.

The fun of my discoveries goes on as ancestry.com continues to notify me of new cousins. By connecting with them, I feel I am honoring my ancestors.

Reader Rose Warren lives in Plainedge.

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