Popular DNA tests through Ancestry.com or 23andMe can dish up the darndest things—no kidding. But this one isn’t about discovering you’re 10% Irish, 5% Macedonian, 2% Ukrainian and have assorted percentages from other nationalities. It’s about a 64-year-old Marco Islander named Marilyn Gutierrez discovering that her biological dad was still alive, and that she has a half-sister the same age as her eldest son. It’s also about her biological dad, John Donald Wilson, discovering that his supposed nuclear family has now swelled from a late-wife, daughter and grandchild, to an extra six grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren.
Coming from North Carolina, Wilson was in town this week visiting Marilyn and her husband William, as well as the Gutierrez’ locally-based children—Joseph, Cheyanne, Chenoah, Dakotah, and their respective families. You could call it a family reunion about as unique as it gets.
The now-happy saga began 65 years ago when a young John Donald Wilson dated Marilyn’s mother-to-be, Flo Cristo. They later stopped dating, however. “She didn’t ever tell me she was pregnant,” said Wilson, who fits the definition of sprightly and sharp for his age to a T. Wilson went on to serve in the Armed Forces for a period during the Korean War, and later joined Southern Bell (now known as AT&T) where he spent the majority of his working life. He married relatively late at the age of 40, and he and his wife Lucille had one child whom they named Donna Lucille.
In the meantime, Marilyn and her husband watched their litter grow with over three families on Marco, one in Naples, one in New York, and one in Oklahoma City. Life ran its normal course until fairly recently, just after registering with Ancestry.com, Marilyn received a message from a fellow participant who thought they might be connected. He suggested she take the Ancestry.com DNA test, and a while later called her back to tell her, “I don’t know how to say this to you, but you’re not in that DNA.”
“What he was basically saying was that my father was not my father. It was kind of mind-boggling,” Marilyn said.
Earlier this year, she also took the 23andMe test, and the upshot was that Donna Lucille popped up as her half-sister.
“So we were anxious to meet up,” Marilyn said. “Some of my best friends had moved to the same town (near Asheville) in North Carolina, so I called them and they checked out where John lived. It was only 12 minutes away. Another twist was that my friend’s name was also Donna.” Marilyn and her husband flew up to North Carolina, found their way to John Donald Wilson’s door, and knocked.
“At the door, I froze,” Marilyn said. “My husband William introduced us and he invited us in. Then, John said: ‘So, you’re Marilyn. You’re my daughter from Florida.’ I didn’t know how he knew, but he then said, ‘Donna told me, I’ve been waiting for you.’ We hugged, and it’s been great ever since. He filled me in on family, and I tried to fill him in too. I just wish I could have met my own grandparents.”
Thinking back about her mom Flo, Marilyn said they’d lived a pretty normal family life, and had been happy. “She was a fun person, and very loving,” Marilyn said of Flo, who eventually died in 2004.