Coincidence befell two families a thousand miles apart, as Michael McPeters and Terry Duvin pondered their identities. Both received ancestry DNA kits for Christmas, driven by the curiosity that they may have Native American ancestry.
It turned out neither did, but the effort was far from wasted. It culminated in McPeters and his wife, Susan, traveling from Davenport, Iowa, to Williamsburg for an unlikely family reunion.
“We had lost this idea that we were part Native American, but we found each other as brother and sister,” McPeters said.
The results of the DNA test, taken via ancestry.com, also returned a list of others who have taken the test and may be blood relatives. Duvin topped McPeters’ list and vice versa, showing confidence higher than grandchildren, nieces and other known relatives also on their lists. So McPeters used the website to reach out to what it described as a potentially “very close” relative.
“I’m not a Nigerian prince looking for somewhere to stash my millions,” McPeters, 67, wrote in his initial message in April. “I am interested in how you can be so closely genetically linked to me without knowing anything about you.”
Duvin, a Williamsburg resident, said that mix of humor and heart quelled any concerns she had that it might be a scam. Still, both wondered if they would actually like each other. Blood can’t always guarantee that.
“They were both very private people,” Susan McPeters said.
But, after five months of messages, emails and phone calls, they decided to meet in person.
Family and fate
Duvin’s mother, Ada Demcko, hailed from Tulsa, Okla., where Michael McPeters was also born. At one time, Demcko decided to move to New Jersey to live with her brother; she was also pregnant.
During that time, Ada Demcko, fell in love with the man who would become Duvin’s stepfather — the man Duvin thought was her biological dad for the first two decades of her life. When Terry Duvin needed her birth certificate to wed Ron Duvin, she learned of her real last name, which she shared with her biological father, Paul McPeters. But her mother never wanted to share more information about the story, and Duvin had never seen a picture of her father before meeting her half-brother.
“I always wanted a brother,” she said.
Michael McPeters said his father never mentioned anything to him growing up in Sand Springs, west of Tulsa. Orphaned at a young age, Paul McPeters attended military school; his sister attended Sand Springs High School around the same time Ada Demcko went there.
“We figured maybe they knew each other,” Michael McPeters said. “It was easy to establish a real connection, but no real details.”
Since Paul McPeters and Demcko passed away, many of those questions will remain unanswered.
“When you get to this age, you just say it is what it is,” said Duvin, 81.
She said she didn’t want to hurt her mom or anyone else by asking questions earlier in her life. But now, those who might be hurt are gone.
“People are flawed,” Susan McPeters said. “But look what good can come out of it.”
McPeters’ and Duvin’s children, grandkids and other relatives have been supportive of the two uniting, excited that their families each grew bigger. Duvin’s daughter initially pushed her to reach out. Duvin thinks her stepfather would approve, too.
“He was a good man,” she said.
A trip, a lifetime in the making
Michael and Susan McPeters spent three days visiting the historic area before leaving Friday to return home; the Duvins invited them to stay at their residence in Ford’s Colony while in town. The Duvins showed them some of the usual tourist attractions, such as Jamestown Settlement and Yorktown’s American Revolution Museum. But they often found themselves reveling in conversation instead.
“This has just been wonderful,” Susan McPeters said. “I believe they connected right away. It’s been terrific seeing them together.”
Duvin said there was little practicality in wondering about how different things could have been had they known of each other sooner.
“It doesn’t matter,” she said. “We can’t say, ‘What if?’”
Meeting her half-brother also meant an opportunity to discover who her father was. Duvin learned that her father fought valiantly during World War II, joining the Air Force in 1943 and successfully completing 69 missions before returning home.
“This is something that had been on her mind since she was 20,” Michael McPeters said. “I was hoping I would just be able to provide some context.”
They also discovered a series of coincidences tying them together, beyond taking the DNA tests around the same time.
The Duvins celebrated their 60th anniversary earlier this year with a cruise, which included a tour of the Battleship Iowa, the state where the McPeters reside. Duvins’ daughter had recently gotten a job in Iowa as well, just 50 miles from where the McPeters live. Even the license plate on the McPeters’ two-year-old car begins with “DUV,” a common nickname within the Duvin family.
“It was fate,” Duvin said.
Be it fate or coincidence, more love to go around is something to be cherished in the midst of an often chaotic and confusing world.
“It’s a whole new life,” Michael McPeters said. “It’s a whole new part of the family.”
He said he hopes their relationship continues to grow, and they’re already discussing plans to meet up again, this time somewhere in the middle between Davenport and Williamsburg.
“So many things had just fallen into place,” he said. “The future is up to us.”
Birkenmeyer can be reached by phone at 757-790-3029.