208 MAY/JUNE 2019 | BETHESDAMAGAZINE.COM
Hightower and her
dad, Edward, shared a
passion for music. He
played the piano; she
takes guitar lessons
daughter, who’d undergone successful surgery to
treat Crohn’s disease, was contacted by 23andMe
because the company wanted to collect her DNA
for a study on the condition. When her results
came back, she was listed as one-quarter Ashke-
nazi Jew, which sparked her father’s curiosity.
“;ere was no history of Jews in our family,” says
Wigell, who lives outside of Pittsburgh. “How I got
to be 50 percent Ashkenazi Jew was a total mystery
It was a mystery that Dorie Hightower would
soon help solve.
Following the bombshell from her cousin that
her father’s childhood osteomyelitis—a bone infection—had likely rendered him infertile, Hightower
got in touch with Karen, the woman who had
claimed to be her half sister. After studying her
DNA matches for countless hours, as well as the
matches she had in common with those matches,
Karen had concluded that she and her half siblings listed on Ancestry.com were the product of
a sperm donor named Robert (not his real name).
She’d hired an Ancestry genealogist who specializes in cases of “misattributed parents” to help her
figure it all out.
“[My mom] was shocked and in disbelief,” says
Hightower’s son, Jesse.
Hightower later called another person identified
by Ancestry as a relative—a half sister, Nancy (her
name has been changed), who lives in the Pacific
Northwest. “It was kind of like a blind date,” High-
tower says of the call. “Her voice sounded kind of
familiar, like a friend of mine’s who lives here. ;at
was weird. We were interested in what each other
had done for careers and how many kids we had.
We were looking for things we had in common.
...All three of us were brought up Jewish and we
all married non-Jewish men. We’re all fairly short.
;ey’re shorter than I am. I’m 5’ 3. ;ey’re like 5’ 1.”
“;ere’s so many mixed emotions because you
don’t really know who you are anymore,” she says.
“I was left with questions about why they never
shared this with me. Did my mom even share this
with my dad, or did she just sneak o; and get preg-
nant without telling him? I don’t know.”
For the thousands of people who continue to
discover through these tests that their familial
backgrounds aren’t what they thought they were,
a new reality can be jarring, says Philip Cohen, a
sociology professor at the University of Maryland
and an expert on how family influences identity.
“We don’t exactly know how much of the shaping that families do for us is genetic,” the Takoma
Park resident says. “If our parents make us who we
are, that’s literally by making us who we are and
also by shaping us after we’re born and developing.