I Found My Dad’s Secret Birth Father Thanks to a MyHeritage DNA Test

I Found My Dad’s Secret Birth Father Thanks to a MyHeritage DNA Test

MyHeritage user Robyn Trickel Barret Dowd has been hooked on genealogy ever since her then-8th-grade daughter came home with a family research project — but her research took a crazy turn when a throwaway comment from a family member led her to uncover a painful family secret. Determined to get to the bottom of it, Robyn embarked on a thorough DNA testing campaign until she finally got some answers… and some new relatives. Here is her story:

It all started around 2004 when my angry half-sister told me to take her off the family tree I’d been working on for the past 20 years. “Besides,” she threw out, “you are following the wrong family anyway!”


The tree in question traced her line back to Newgate Prison in London, where our ancestor was found guilty and sentenced to transportation to Virginia Plantation in 1743. Was she saying that this ancestor wasn’t really my ancestor?


So what she was telling me was that there was truth to those words.

Digging up old dirt

My next move was to call my dad’s only living sister. She knew a family secret and she shared it: one of the five siblings did not belong to her father! She cried on the phone and confessed that she always felt she was the one, since her parents divorced shortly after her birth.

I had to get to the bottom of this.

I’d been attending the annual Southern California Jamboree in order to improve my research skills, and at one of the events, I listened to Bennett Greenspan talking about genetics. What he had to say froze me in my seat.

If I could test two males in my family, I might be able to sort out who was who.

There were only two living males descended from my paternal grandmother at the time. First, I had to break the news to them that one of their fathers might not be a Trickel. My cousin’s first question was, “How will we know?” I replied that if we were lucky, either he or my brother would match another family and we would have our answer.


A few months later, we had our answer. My dad was not a Trickel, but a Barlow. He had a close match with a Barlow in Georgia.

When I told my aunt, she cried again. I think she had been blaming herself all those years for her parents’ divorce. Then she stopped and said, “I’m still your aunt!” Yes, she was.

Finding my grandfather

Now that we had the answer, a new question arose: how do I go about finding which Barlow man was my grandfather?

Here’s what we knew: My grandmother was living in a tent city in the oil fields of Pawhuska, Oklahoma at the time of my father’s conception. She and her two children had followed her husband for his work in the field. While working there, he was arrested for moonshine running in late 1923–early 1924, leaving his wife and children to fend for themselves. The story is left to the reader’s imagination as to what happened after, but my dad was born in the tent!

Researching Barlow men in the area, I found two brothers listed on the 1920 census. One was an oil foreman, and one was an oil pumper. They were also listed in city directories. So I made the assumption of who my great-grandparents were and worked up a family tree. This was 2008.


Years passed, and over time, I took a DNA test myself and managed to get my dad’s sister, my half-brother, my children, and my German-born sister-in-law to test as well. I uploaded our data to a few different websites, including MyHeritage, in hopes of casting a wider net.

After checking all of my DNA uploads weekly, finally — in September 2018 — I received a message from MyHeritage informing me of new DNA matches… and there he was, my brick-wall-breaker! 371.1 cMs! My Barlow first cousin! My dad’s nephew! His father had passed away earlier, so I guess that led him to decide to take a DNA test, and he chose MyHeritage. It was officially confirmed: the oil pumper was my paternal grandfather!

My brick-wall breaker was as excited as I was that I found him. The family had no idea that my dad existed, but once he found out, he and his brother drove from Oklahoma to California to meet me.

Jeff and Wayne Barlow (my Brick Wall Buster) and myself, Robyn Trickel Dowd, 2020

Jeff and Wayne Barlow (my Brick Wall Buster) and myself, Robyn Trickel Dowd, 2020

Meeting Jill Binder, another Barlow cousin, in Oklahoma

Meeting Jill Binder, another Barlow cousin, in Oklahoma

今年夏天,我们在俄克拉荷马州的奥瓦索举行了一次小型聚会。我们的堂兄韦恩·巴洛在我父亲出生的帕胡斯卡遇见了我们。韦恩想让我们从他的角度来看待巴洛家族的遗产。他带我们去了一座桥,这座桥是我们的曾祖父约翰·韦斯利·巴洛(John Wesley Barlow,简称JW)建造的。JW在堪萨斯州的卡尼拥有一家制造马车的铁匠铺,但当油田向他招手时,他又搬到了俄克拉荷马州。他在Pawhuska社区很有影响力:他的照片挂在Pawhuska法院。我们去的时候,博物馆已经关门了,但当地的博物馆有几块匾额,上面有他的作品。1918年,57岁的JW在油田工作时被拔管机的井架击中头部身亡。

Robyn’s great-grandfather, JW Barlow

Robyn’s great-grandfather, JW Barlow

Our mini-reunion in Oklahoma was with 3 Barlow descendants that we had met since 2019, Wayne and Jeff Barlow and Jill Binder. Unfortunately, my half-uncle that I had so wanted to meet was sick and unable to come. It was a disappointment of the trip. I had wanted to see if he and my dad shared mannerisms, voices, or interests.

The next day, Wayne, Jeff, and their significant others, caravaned us to our great-great-grandfather’s grave in Anderson, Missouri. I would never have found it without their help. So though the reunion didn’t include my half-uncle, I got to “meet” my great-great-grandfather, Alfred Barlow.


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  • SA

    Sharla Anderson

    September 30, 2021

    That was an awesome story, thank you for sharing!

  • C


    October 2, 2021

    Wow! I am in the same situation. I have found out through DNA that my grandfather is not who I thought it was. My Dad is still alive and has no suspicions. It would break his heart to know. His mum and dad stayed together and I’ll never know if they even knew. Of course Granny must have wondered but as far as I know kept her secret.
    I enjoyed reading your story very much. I hope one day my story reaches such a happy conclusion.

  • JH

    Janeene Hobbs

    October 2, 2021

    So wonderful great results.
    Im new to this trying to find my birth father so this is inspiring

  • CD

    Connie Davis

    October 3, 2021

    That was a sweet story! Thank you for sharing.