A Remarkable Reunion: Johannes Discovers Biological Family Through DNA Quest

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Johannes Nielsen grew up knowing that he’d been adopted as a baby from South Korea. But he knew nothing about his biological family — not even where to begin looking. Through DNA Quest — MyHeritage’s pro bono initiative to help adoptees reunite with their biological families — Johannes was finally able to piece together the extraordinary circumstances that separated him from his biological family. This past July 2nd, Johannes traveled to the United States to reunite with his biological mother and brother for the first time in 43 years.

A year ago, Johannes applied to take part in MyHeritage’s pro bono initiative, DNA Quest, which offers free DNA kits to adoptees searching for their biological families. MyHeritage sent Johannes a free kit, and he did the test.

A month later, his results came in and he discovered a DNA match — a 2nd or 3rd cousin who had a big family tree. He contacted her, and though she knew nothing about the story, she was excited and eager to help. She had a hunch that Johannes was related through her maternal grandfather’s side of the family. Johannes then started mapping out potential fathers on that side of the family tree.

There was one more clue: a doctor had told Johannes as a teenager that he believed Johannes was of mixed ethnicity. His MyHeritage ethnicity estimate confirmed this: it showed that he is half Korean and half west European. Based on this information, Johannes guessed that his father was an American soldier. “I knew that in the 1970s, the US navy still had a base in South Korea, so I started looking into the family tree for males who were 18-25 years old in 1974.”

Later, he received an even closer DNA match, and through that information he was able to narrow down a possible father in his family tree. Johannes googled his name and found an obituary of him from 2006. “In the obituary there was a name of a small town where he lived,” says Johannes. “I found a Facebook group of this town and asked the group members if someone knows this man. I went to sleep, and in the morning I got a reply from a woman who said, ‘I knew him, he was my uncle. Why do you ask?’”

At the beginning of the conversation, Johannes was very careful. “I didn’t want her to panic, so I asked general questions about him. My last question was if he served in the Vietnam War.”
“Yes he did,” the niece replied. “He was based in South Korea.” As the conversation continued, Johannes revealed that he thinks her uncle was his father. She mentioned that her father had told her that her uncle and aunt had left a child named John behind in Korea due to health issues. Johannes explained that he was born with a harelip (cleft palate) as well as tuberculosis as a baby. The niece couldn’t believe her ears.

“She was in shock,” says Johannes. “She told me that she once heard from her father that his brother once had a child who they believed suffered from tuberculosis in Korea.”
And then she gave him the most wonderful news of all: “Your mother is still alive and living in the USA.”

Then the unbelievable story of Johannes’s adoption unfolded. During the Vietnam War, Leonard was an American soldier stationed in South Korea. He met a young woman named Chong, and they fell in love. They eventually married in South Korea and had 2 children together. Their second child was Johannes.

Leonard and Chong, Johannes’s biological parents
Leonard and Chong, Johannes’s biological parents

When Johannes was 3 months old, Leonard was sent back to the United States and was allowed to take his wife and children with him, but when the authorities found out that Johannes was suffering from tuberculosis, they barred him from going with them until he had recovered. Leonard and Chong were forced to leave their son under the care of a family friend. They would then return as soon as possible to retrieve him when he was well.

Johannes’s parents wrote countless letters to the family friend but they remained unanswered. When Chong arrived back in Korea soon after, Johannes was gone. Chong was told that he passed away from tuberculosis. She went back to the U.S. and mourned the death of her son.

15 months after arriving in the U.S. for the first time, Leonard and Chong had another child, and they remained happily married until Leonard’s death in 2006.

Leonard and Chong visiting Korea a few years before Leonard’s death
Leonard and Chong visiting Korea a few years before Leonard’s death

After her conversation with Johannes, Leonard’s niece decided to pay Chong a visit and give her the big news — the son she thought she lost was still alive.

“She told me that she couldn’t stop crying for a week,” says Johannes.

Thanks in part to MyHeritage DNA, Johannes was reunited with his mother and two brothers.

 Johannes Nielsen and Johannes’s older brother Len are strikingly similar
Johannes Nielsen and Johannes’s older brother Len are strikingly similar

On July 2nd, Johannes flew to the United States to meet his family for the first time and celebrate Independence Day together.

Chong meeting Johannes for the first time since he was three months old
Chong meeting Johannes for the first time since he was three months old
Johannes and his biological brothers visit their father’s grave together
Johannes and his biological brothers visit their father’s grave together

The family is overjoyed to have found each other after all this time. After a lifetime of searching, Johannes couldn’t be more thrilled to have found his biological mother and brothers through DNA Quest and MyHeritage DNA. He treasures his biological family and is delighted to begin this new chapter with them.

Are you looking for biological family? Find out how you can discover new relatives with MyHeritage DNA!

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  • Linda king


    October 6, 2019

    My mother was adopted in 1925, before the adoption act, she never knew her parents but I discovered her original birth certificate with her mothers name and address from that I found out her mothers family but having no contact with them, I wondered who her father was, in 2018 I took a DNA test and was almost immediately contacted by a very strong match and found I had numerous half cousins and now I know who my grandfather was, it came as a shock to them, but a photo has revealed that my mum and me look like him. I dont know their story but although my mum died in 1996 I have found him for her.