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DNA test taken ‘out of curiosity’ helps Sun City man find family he never knew

Finding out your ancestry? Here’s what happens to your DNA sample.

Millions of Americans are submitting their DNA to companies, like AncestryDNA, to find out more about their ethnic backgrounds. Here's what happens to your sample and the privacy rights you have over your data.
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Millions of Americans are submitting their DNA to companies, like AncestryDNA, to find out more about their ethnic backgrounds. Here's what happens to your sample and the privacy rights you have over your data.

Many people who use a self-testing kit to check their DNA get confirmation of something they already know: Their distant ancestors came from Ireland, or India, or Africa.

For one man who lives in Sun City, the results were much more surprising and personal. He found a niece he never knew existed.

Last fall — “just out of curiosity” — Max Clements, 84, of Bluffton decided to try a kit from ancestry.com to find out about his genetic history.

“It’s become the in thing to do,” he said.

His results told him that his DNA showed a strong family match with someone else who used the service — someone he didn’t know.

Marsha Mathews, of Haslet, Texas, would get the same notification through ancestry.com, and it would answer questions she had wondered for years about a father she never knew.

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Marsha Mathews of Haslet, Texas, from left, sits with her half sister Jill Ortago of Puryear, Tenn., at their uncle Max Clements’ home in Sun City Hilton Head on Tuesday morning after a DNA search linked the three together. Clements brother, James Doy Clements, who has since died, was the father of the two women who recently learned of each other through DNA. Drew Martin dmartin@islandpacket.com

Mathews and her husband arrived in Bluffton last weekend to make those family connections in person.

Along with meeting Clements — her biological father’s brother — Mathews was able to meet another uncle, cousins and a half sister as well.

“It’s been an unreal situation for both of us,” Clements said. “I didn’t know what to expect and neither did she!”

Search for family

About seven years ago, Mathews’ mother told her the man who raised her wasn’t her biological father.

Mathews had a single, small photograph of a man in a military uniform, and she had a name: James Clements.

“I thought, well, I’ll try to find him, but I didn’t have enough information to search for him,” Mathews said.

In February that all changed when Max Clements contacted her.

“He just said, ‘James Clements was my brother and he was stationed at Fort Carson, Colorado’ — that’s where I was born — ‘and I would like to talk to you,’” Mathews said.

“I didn’t even know what to do. I didn’t know what to think,” she said.

Then Mathews found out that she had a half sister, Jill Ortago, who lives in Puryear, Tennessee.

“Jill comes into the picture, and she called me. And that was, I think, even more shocking,” Mathews said.

Surreal moments

Ortago said their father died in 2015, but he had told Ortago that she had a half sister.

As a young soldier, their father had been in an accident and spent six months in the hospital. Later, he tried to find Mathew’s mother without success because she had gotten married and had a new last name.

“When Jill told me this, it was kind of one of those moments ...” Mathews said.

“Surreal,” Max offered.

“Yes, that’s a good word for it,” Mathews said. “It was amazing.”

Bittersweet, too.

“When Jill called me, it was so happy and sad at the same time because her dad had passed away, and we couldn’t make that connection while he was still alive,” Mathews said.

Making connections

The newfound family spent the past week sightseeing around the Lowcountry and sharing stories and photographs.

“When Jill looked in her father’s photo album from his military days, there was a picture of my mother in there,” Mathews said.

The two women see resemblances in their grandchildren and look forward to many more opportunities to get together and get to know each other.

“It’s just the beginning,” Ortago said.

“It has been a good, good, good experience, something that I never thought would happen,” Mathews said. “This put the puzzle pieces together for me.”

Said Clements: “We’re very thankful to welcome her into the family.”

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