Retired and Childless Vietnam War Veteran Finds 'Insta-Family' Through MyHeritage DNA Kit
At 71, retired with no children and living in Florida, John George thought he and his wife, Janis, had the rest of their lives mapped out.
But fate had something else in store.
Thanks to a surprise DNA match from a test kit, a Google search that started with just four letters and a CEO turned genealogical Sherlock Holmes, George recently found out he has a whole family he didn’t know about: a 49 or 50-year-old daughter, five grown grandchildren, and even two great-grandchildren.
George’s parents, 95 and 96, now have great-great-grandchildren they never knew they had.
“We’re all so happy about it,” George, a retired merchant marine captain, tells PEOPLE.
Instead of having just two generations of family, he says, “We now have five generations.”
George and his newfound family met for the first time in January.
“I cried,” says Janis, who has a son from another marriage. “Now I’ve got a stepdaughter, five stepgrandchildren and two stepgreat-granddaughters. I’m enjoying every moment.”
George’s grandson Brian Ho, 25, says his mother, Loan, had looked for years for her father.
“I’m so happy and I’ve never seen my mom so happy,” he tells PEOPLE.
They never would have found each other at all had Janis not submitted her husband’s DNA to MyHeritage.
In early 2019, Janis, George and his parents decided to buy MyHeritage DNA kits to find out more about their ethnic backgrounds.
They swabbed their cheeks, sent in the samples and forgot all about it until Dec. 29, when they got the surprise of their lives.
“That’s when we got an email from MyHeritage saying that John had a 26 percent DNA match,” says Janis, 61.
The email didn’t say who the match was — or how the match was related to George.
Since her husband had no children and no siblings, Janis was baffled. So was he.
“I said to John, ‘You have a very high DNA match out there,’” says Janis. “Something’s funny here.’”
The only clue she had about the mystery match? The initials ‘BDHO.’
Janis immediately dashed off messages on the MyHeritage site to BDHO, whose name, age and family tree were unknown.
With no replies coming back, she joined a genealogy group on Facebook asking members to help her find her husband’s mystery match.
Among those who saw her plea for help was Gilad Japhet, the CEO and founder of MyHeritage, who told her he would message her privately because he wanted to help her find the match.
A Persistent CEO and His Research Team
By day, Japhet runs the genealogy company he founded. But at night and on weekends, he goes back to his roots as a genealogist, rolling up his sleeves and helping people find their relatives, says Roi Mandel, the head of research at MyHeritage.
In George’s case, Japhet began by wondering, ‘Who is BDHO?’ says Mandel.
Popping the four letters into Google led him to the username of someone who’d published photos on an artistic picture site, as well as the name Brian Ho.
From there, Japhet enlisted Mandel’s help.
“He emails in the middle of the night saying, ‘Look. We’re trying to find this person. His name might be Brian Ho. If it means anything, he is supposed to be 50 percent South Asian, based on [the] genetics. Try to see if you can find anything about this guy,'” Mandel recalls.
Together, they found the Brian Ho they were looking for and contacted him on Facebook.
“It was a chance in more than a million, but it was very successful,” says Mandel.
An Unexpected DNA Match
At first, Ho thought he was getting spam from MyHeritage, since he had submitted his DNA more than three years ago to another company. What he didn’t know was that MyHeritage had acquired that company, and with it, his information.
“Then I found out that Roi from MyHeritage was asked by the CEO to track me down,” he says.
Quickly creating an account, he read the messages Janis had sent him.
“They go from curiosity and shock to a lot of excitement once she finally realized what that 26 percent really meant,” he says. “The rest is history.”
He immediately called his mother, who was elated by the news.
“I was really happy for my mom because she’s been looking for so long,” he says.
Ho’s mother told him that her mother — his grandmother, Dep, 67 — met John when he was serving in Vietnam from 1969 to 1971.
At first, Dep was “apprehensive” about the news.
“To be frank, she was probably the least excited out of all of us,” says Ho. “Her philosophy was, ‘He’s lived his life. We’ve lived ours. Should we really bother him?’ By the end of it though, she was completely on board, and she was actually quite happy to meet John. It turned out great for everyone, including my grandma.”
Janis is often asked if any of this bothers her.
“Not at all,” she says, laughing. “I was 10 when he was serving in Vietnam.”
Mandel is happy that he and Japhet were able to help the family.
“We could have given up because it was a hard thing,” he says. “But the way Janis wrote those posts, we thought that we should help her. She was desperate to try to reach out to this person. It was so important to her.”
Now that they have found each other, they hope to see each other as much as possible. Brian Ho may end up seeing Janis and his grandfather more often now that he is looking at getting his Ph.D at a university in Florida.
“I’m excited to have a grandpa,” says Ho, who visited the couple just last week.
Considering how much laughing and joking the two have done in the little time they’ve known each other, he says, “He’s been a fun one so far.”