Like all new technologies, DNA testing has a good side, a bad side, and, as author Margaret Atwood said, a “stupid side you hadn’t conside...





Like all new technologies, DNA testing has a good side, a bad side, and, as author Margaret Atwood said, a “stupid side you hadn’t considered.” Eight years ago, 72-year-old Washington native Alice Collins Plebuch made a decision that would change her life forever: She sent samples of her saliva for a “just for fun DNA test.”


Source: Facebook / Museum of the City of New York / Twitter

Seeing as both her parents were devout Irish American Catholics, Alice thought she had a good idea about what the DNA test results would say. But when the test results came back, Alice was shocked. She wasn’t who she thought she was. This revelation sent Alice and her siblings on a years-long journey to uncover the mystery surrounding their identities.

He Has Nothing

Questions about her family had preoccupied Alice for years. Her mother, who was also named Alice, was into genealogy. She kept an old family book with the handwritten names and births and deaths of their relatives. Alice found her mother’s side easy to follow, even before genealogy records were available online. Her mother was Irish on one side, and Scottish and English on the other.


Source: Facebook

Some of her relatives had even been in America as far back as colonial times, and Alice was able to trace some of her mother’s ancestors back to the 1500s. But with each update to her mother’s lineage, Alice felt guilty because her father’s side of the family was a different story. “My dad had nothing. He had no history,” she told journalist and author Libby Copeland.

Unknown Beginnings

Her father, Jim Collins, was the son of Irish immigrants. He knew little of his family history. His mother had passed away when Jim was just a baby, and his father was unable to care for him and his older siblings. So, he gave them away to a Catholic orphanage.


John Collins with his children, Kitty, Jim, and John circa 1914. Source: Facebook

For most of his life, Jim didn’t know what year he was born in, believing he was a year older than what he really was. As her father grew older, Alice decided that it was time to dive into his lineage and discover where he came from. Before she began the project, she had already known some of the details of his childhood. She knew that living in the orphanage had been hard.

Picking Up Bits and Pieces

Alice knew that her father had most likely been malnourished while living there because a doctor later told him that this most likely explained his small build. She also knew that he had left the orphanage in his teens and was a rebel before he joined the US Army Corps of Engineers and married her mother.


Alice Collins. Source: Pinterest

She also knew that her father had a sister, who had died when she was younger, and a brother he was not close with. Jim was also a devout Catholic who cooked a wicked corned beef on St. Patrick’s Day. But what Alice didn’t know was where he came from and what happened to his parents.

Growing Up in the Orphanage

When her father died in 1999, Alice couldn’t really tell him more than what he already knew. In the years that followed, however, Alice was able to find some sort of paper trail. Jim was born in a working-class neighborhood in the Bronx, New York. His father, Josef, worked as a driver, and his mother, Katie, passed away at the age of 32 when Jim was only nine months old.


Source: Pinterest

She also found the name of the orphanage where he grew up. It was the St. Agnes Home and School, and although the school was no longer around, she was able to find the names of some of the sisters who worked there. Alice wrote them a letter, asking if they had any helpful information about her father.

Hitting a Dead End

Besides Jim’s admission and discharge dates, the orphanage couldn’t provide Alice with any other helpful information. Years passed, and Alice’s research came up fruitless. Then, in 2012, at-home DNA kits became available. Alice was elated.


Jim Collins. Source: Reddit

She had just discovered what she thought was her father’s family’s village in Ireland, and she was considering a trip overseas to see where her grandparents had come from. Alice knew that an at-home DNA test would make her research a whole lot easier, so she put her name down on the company’s waiting list.

A Complete Mix-Up?

When the tests finally arrived, she and her sister Gerry swabbed their cheeks and sent in their tests. But when their results came back a month later, Alice and Gerry were more than a little confused. Only less than 50 percent of the sisters’ DNA results were of Irish, Scottish, and English descent.


Jim Collins. Source: Facebook

The other half of her DNA was an unexpected combination of European Jewish, Eastern European, and Middle Eastern. This was odd, Alice thought because both of her parents were from the British Isles. Surely someone at the testing lab had messed up her results or accidentally switched them with someone else’s. Alice wrote the testing company a letter explaining their mistake.

Making Sense of It All

She decided to take the test again. But when the same test result came back for a second time, Alice knew that the report was correct. Several questions popped up in her head. Who were her parents? Did her mother have an affair?


Source: Twitter

Alice was determined to get to the bottom of whatever family secrets had been kept from her. If her parents weren’t who they said they were, that meant that Alice, by extension, wasn’t who she thought she was. The DNA test results were only the beginning, as they provided Alice with the what, but not the why.

Who Was My Father?

While intense research and analysis might intimidate some people, Alice was not thrown off. She had worked as an IT manager at the University of California before she retired. “I did data processing most of my life, and at a fairly sophisticated level,” she said in 2017.


Jim Collins, his wife Alice, and brother John Collins. Source: Facebook

Alice likes to find patterns in chaos and answer big questions with complex answers. After getting over her initial shock, Alice got straight to work. Maybe her mother had an affair? Or her grandmother? But this scenario seemed unlikely.

Many Lingering Questions

Cheating was out of character for Alice’s mother, and all of Alice’s siblings shared her father’s eyes. Still, the question lingered in the back of her mind. “My father, he was in the Army, and he was all over the world, and it was just one of those fears that you have when you don’t know,” Alice told author Libby Copeland.


Author Libby Copeland. Photo by Alisha Jucevic, The Columbian / Source: Amazon

Alice and her sister had a gut feeling that the lineage came from their father’s side, especially since he was adopted. Were her father’s grandparents secretly Irish Jews? Or maybe Eastern European Jews who said they were Irish when they immigrated to America?

Not Really Family

As a precaution, Alice had two of her cousins, one from each side, take a DNA test. The results from her maternal cousin came back normal. The two shared 12.5 percent of the same DNA, meaning that they were first cousins. But the test results from her paternal cousin were peculiar.


Illustrative Photograph. Source: 123rf / Juran Ontakrai

The test showed that Alice and her cousin, whose mother was Jim Collin’s sister, shared no DNA. In other words, the two were complete strangers, genetically speaking, and weren’t actually cousins. This also meant that Alice’s father’s sister wasn’t actually his sister.

Her Lost Identity

Alice was frustrated with the results, to say the least. Not only was she back to square one, but she was scared of being rejected from her dad’s side of the family since they weren’t biologically related.


Alice and her family. Source: Pinterest

With the data results in front of them, Alice and her sister Gerry came to the conclusion that their father Jim was not related to who he thought were his biological parents. “I really lost all my identity,” Alice said in 2017. “I felt adrift. I didn’t know who I was, you know, who I really was.”

Feeling Like an Outsider

But for her Gerry, the test results confirmed a feeling she had had for a very long time. For years, Gerry had thought that Jim’s father bore no resemblance to anyone in her immediate family. And when she traveled to Ireland in the ’90s, she realized that no one looked like her 5-foot-4, dark-haired father.


Illustrative Photograph. Photo by Granger / Shutterstock

Gerry carried this feeling around with her for years, but with the DNA test results in front of her, her hunch turned to fact. With their father and his parents long dead, Alice and Gerry knew they had to unravel their father’s mystery by speaking with the living.

Were There Others?

Did their father have any biological siblings? Did those siblings have any children? Was there a chance that Alice and her siblings had long-lost first cousins? By 2013, the Collins children were finally getting closer to solving their father’s mystery.


Illustrative Photograph. Source: Pinterest

They had their father’s birth certificate, and they had also learned that Jim had been sent to an orphanage by the New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. Maybe, Alice wondered, her dad had somehow been confused with another child when he was taken from his home?

Switched at Birth?

Maybe the orphanage mixed up her father and another baby? Going on this hunch, Alice sent a forensic artist pictures of her father sitting on his father’s lap when he was just under a year old along with photos of Jim when he was an adult.


Illustrative Photograph. Photo by Geoffrey White / Daily Mail / Shutterstock

Alice wanted to know if the people in the photos were the same people. But, again, this line of thinking was a dead end. The forensic artist ruled that it was, in fact, the same person, meaning that the orphanage hadn’t confused her father with another baby.

Narrowing It Down

So, Alice began thinking of a different idea. Maybe, she thought, her father was switched at the hospital? Was there a chance that the hospital had made a mistake? Alice decided to take a closer look at all of the babies who were born in the same hospital as her father in 1913.


Illustrative Photograph. Photo by Photofusion / Shutterstock

But this was no easy task. Not only was the list of children who were born in the Bronx in 1913, 159 pages long, but it also was not ordered by date, nor did it differentiate between home and hospital births.

Losing All Hope

After carefully scanning through the file, Alice was able to narrow the list down to the names of children born around the same time as her father, that sounded either Jewish or ethically neutral. Alice’s list totaled 30 babies.



Her hope was that one of those babies on her list had living relatives who shared the same DNA as Alice and her siblings. Alice went through all 30 baby names, but, again, nothing came up. Alice then combed through more than 6,000 people who were tagged as potential biological family members, according to the DNA’s online database.

The Waiting Game

She searched for two and a half years, but couldn’t find a match. Alice began to lose hope. All she could do at this point in time was to wait for someone to reach out to her. Then, on January 18, 2015, Alice’s life changed forever.


Illustrative Photograph. Source: 123rf / Antonio Guillem

It was a Sunday morning, and she was feeling particularly down. She decided to write to her cousin (whom she wasn’t biologically related to) to update him on her stalled search. After sending her cousin an email, Alice randomly decided to check his list of DNA relatives on his genealogy account.

A Stroke of Luck

This was something that Alice rarely did, especially since new relatives rarely showed up. But, on this day, Alice decided to check her cousin’s genealogy account anyway. Much to her surprise, there was a new person on the list of relatives.


Alice Collins Plebuch. Photo by Alisha Jucevic / The Columbian

A stranger had sent in her DNA sample, and her results showed that she was a close relative to Alice’s cousin. Alice then decided to message the stranger to ask if the test results were what she expected. “I was actually expecting to be much more Ashkenazi than I am,” the woman wrote back.

Sharing Similar Stories

The stranger, whose name was Jessica Benson, took a test on a whim, hoping to learn a bit more about her Jewish roots. Instead, Jessica said, she discovered, “that I am actually Irish, which I had not expected at all.” Alice felt chills going down her spine.


Source: Museum of the City of New York

She immediately wrote back to Jessica that her grandfather was born at Fordham Hospital on September 23, 1913. Had anyone in Jessica’s family been born around that date? Jessica quickly replied: Yes, her grandfather, Phillip Benson, was born around that time.

Finally, an Answer

Alice began to cry. She had a feeling that she knew what had happened, but first, she needed proof. So, she combed through New York City’s birth records from 1913. There was no “Benson” born on that day in the Bronx. But a few hours later, Alice finally found what she was looking for.


Source: Flickr

There was a Philip Bamson born on the same day and at the same hospital as her father, Jim. This had to be Phillip Benson. Alice knew in her bones what had happened to her father. There was no family mystery buried by shame.

An Unsettling Mix Up

Someone at the Fordham hospital had made a mistake that day, a mistake that could only be uncovered with new technology. Somehow, a Jewish baby had been sent home with an Irish family, and an Irish baby with a Jewish family.


Illustrative Photograph. Source: Pinterest

The two women were stunned. They compared the birth certificates and discovered that Jim and Phillip were processed one after the other and signed by the same doctor. Alice then began to research how hospitals used to keep track of newborn babies, and what she found shocked her.

No Real System

Alice found that hospitals didn’t really have a system at all. Most of the newborn babies were kept in the same cart or crib, making it very easy to switch a baby by accident. When Jim was born in 1913, hospital births were still pretty unusual.


Philip Benson. Source: Twitter

At the time, most hospitals had yet to come up with a way to identify babies. Some hospitals kept newborns in a crib next to their mothers’ hospital beds, but others kept newborns in nurseries. This meant that families had no way of tracking their newborns.

Typical Hospital Protocol

While it’s hard to know for sure the type of practices that were in place at Fordham Hospital (because it was closed in 1976), it’s safe to assume babies were kept in nurseries. In fact, it wasn’t until the late ’30s that hospitals gave mothers and their newborns identifying bracelets.


Illustrative Photograph. Source: Pinterest

Back in 1913, nurses typically relied on the nurses’ memory or the mother’s recognition of her newborn. Can you imagine not knowing if the baby you took home was actually your biological newborn? Either the hospitals didn’t think mix-ups could happen, or they just didn’t care.

It Finally Makes Sense

After the truth was revealed, the Benson and Collins families exchanged pictures, which made the entire situation very clear. Jim Collins looked much more like Phillip’s 5-foot-4 father and 4-foot-9 mother than 6-foot Phillip did.


Illustrative Photograph. Source: 123rf / Steve AllenUK

“My grandfather came to my dad’s shoulders,” Phillip’s daughter Pam Benson said. The Collins sisters also had their own explanation about why their father wasn’t as tall as his siblings. They always just assumed that Jim had been malnourished while growing up in the orphanage. After all, that is what the doctor told them.

Meeting Her Cousins

Never in a million years did Alice think that her father wasn’t biologically related to his brother and sister. It’s a mystery that only DNA technology could have uncovered. Alice soon discovered that she had a biological first cousin named Phylis Pullman, who was the daughter of the sister Jim never knew he had.


Alice Collins Plebuch and Phylis Pullman. Source: Twitter

In 2015, Alice decided to fly to Florida to meet her. Sitting on opposite sides of the couch, the two women could have been mistaken for sisters. They definitely shared the same DNA. Phylis shared a story about when her tall uncle Phillip was dating his first wife, her observant Jewish parents didn’t believe that he was Jewish.

Coming to Terms

“He had to bring his birth certificate,” Phylis told author Libby Copeland. “Little did we know it wasn’t his birth certificate.” The two families have kept in touch over the years, but neither of them can shake the “what if” questions that linger in the back of their minds.


Illustrative Photograph. Source: 123rf / Jovan Mandic

On the one hand, the two families are happy that they found each other, but, on the other hand, the revelations feel like a loss. How could Alice and Pam come to terms with the fact that their fathers weren’t who they thought they were. And then there were the questions about religion.

What Could Have Been?

Was Jim Collins Jewish because he was born that way? Or Irish because he was raised that way? And what does that mean for his daughter Alice? Alice and her sister agree that if their father was still alive, it would have been the right thing to tell him. But they consider it a blessing that Jim wasn’t alive during the era of at-home DNA testing.


Phillip with his wife, son, and parents standing behind them. Source: Twitter

“My dad would have lost his identity,” Alice said. “He’s been kind of spared that.” Alice and her siblings also think about what would have happened if their father had gone home to his biological family. As the Bensons and Collins families exchanged photos, Alice felt a sting of jealousy. Jim wasn’t supposed to end up in an orphanage.

Choosing to Move On

Alice wondered what kind of life her father would have had had he been raised by the Bensons, his biological family. Well, for starters, Alice thought, Jim would have been raised in a solid home. He would have graduated high school and definitely done something with his gift for mathematics.


Illustrative Photograph. Photo by Photofusion / Shutterstock

Instead, Jim dropped out of high school, served in the army, and later worked as a California prison guard. At the end of the day, Jim made a decent life for himself, but Alice and her family can’t help but grieve for their father as a child.

A Lapse in Attention

“In the orphanage, my father got an orange for Christmas,” Alice said. Yet, had the switch not happened in 1913, then Alice and her siblings would not have been born. The Collins children owe their life to a simple mistake (with complex consequences) made by a nurse’s lapse in attention.


Alice Collins Plebuch. Photo by Alisha Jucevic / The Columbian

It was a terrible mistake, but how can Alice resent what happened? And yet, were it not for what happened in 1913, Alice Collins Plebuch would not exist. The Collins children owe their lives to administrative oversight or a nurse’s momentary lapse of attention.

Now this next man’s world was turned upside down when he went looking for his biological parents. Little did he know that he would find them in the most unexpected of places.


Deland McCullough spent his entire life knowing that he wasn’t biologically related to his family. Yes, he still had a mother and brother who supported him in everything he did, but Deland still felt like a piece of him was always missing. His adoptive mother didn’t know where Deland came from, where he was born, or what his biological parents’ names were.


Source: Pinterest / Photo by Ruddy Roye, ESPN

But with the birth of his fourth child, and Ohio announcing the release of previously sealed family records, Deland finally decided it was time to find out where he came from. After years of wondering, Deland found his family in the most unexpected of places and was finally given the chance to know the parents he never knew.

This is Deland’s story…

A Sense of Mystery

Kansas City Chiefs running backs coach, Deland McCullough, knew from a very young age that he was adopted, but it wasn’t until he started having a family of his own that he began the search for his biological parents. Already 44 years old, Deland realized that it was about time he started asking questions about his biological family’s background, even if his adoptive parents didn’t know where he came from.


Source: Twitter

Deland couldn’t help but wonder where he got his deep voice and height from, and from which parent he inherited his introverted personality. As his own family grew, he wondered which family member passed on their muscular build onto his son Dason, or who else in his biological family had glasses like his other son, Daeh.

From the Beginning

Up until now, the only mother that Deland ever knew was Adelle Comer. She, along with her then-husband A.C. McCullough, adopted Deland when he was only six weeks old. At the time, Adelle was living in a three-bedroom house in Youngstown, Ohio, with her husband, a popular radio host at the time, and their young son, Damon.


Photo by Ruddy Roye / ESPN

The couple had just tragically lost their second son, Alex, to an intestinal birth defect at just 28 days when they received a call from an adoption agency in Pennsylvania. The couple had been serving as foster parents for some time now, and after the death of their newborn son, Adelle and A.C. were ready to adopt. The adoption agency informed the couple of a six-week-old baby that was looking for a new home.

Love at First Sight

Adelle still remembers the first time she met Deland, who was named Jon at the time. It was January 1973, and baby Deland was sound asleep in a bassinet. But when the adoption agency worker put him into Adelle’s arms, he immediately woke up and locked eyes with his new mom. “It was an instant connection,” Adelle told ESPN in an interview. “Love. Mother-son love.”


Source: Twitter / @coachdmc

Just two months after their first meeting, Deland was living with his new parents, Adelle and A.C. At first, life at home was great for the McCullough’s. They visited church frequently, went to BBQs, and hosted parties at their house. Adelle and A.C. were working together to create a great family home for their children. Sadly, this didn’t last.

A Rocky Past

Deland had been a member of his adoptive family for only two years when his parents’ marriage began to fall apart. Adelle’s father had a stroke, and she brought him to live with the family, even though A.C. objected to the idea. A.C. thought it would be better for both Adelle’s dad and his own family if his father-in-law was put into a nursing home.



Adelle didn’t listen and brought him to live with them anyways. Soon, their marriage began to deteriorate, and A.C. moved out, leaving Adelle to care for her dad and two young children alone. When Adelle reflects on this time in her family’s lives, she said that her two sons went through a particularly difficult time.

Playground Bullies

A.C. moving out was really hard for Deland, especially when he started elementary school. One day, Adelle came home from work and found that Deland had cut up a couch that she had just spent the past two years paying off on layaway. The other kids at school had been teasing Deland about his dad walking out on his family and about being adopted.


Source: Twitter

They would tell Deland that his mother didn’t love him or that she loved him less than her biological son, Damon. As a young boy, Deland was devastated. He went to his mother and asked her if she loved him less than his brother. Adelle explained to Deland that she loved both boys differently. She loved Damon because he came from her belly, and she loved Deland because she chose him.

Rocking the Boat

Deland said that after he asked Adele about which son she loved more, he never really brought up the adoption again, and soon, Deland was acting out in school again. The stress of his father walking out, combined with being adopted, was starting to get to him. But then something else added to Deland’s emotional turmoil. Ever since A.C., she started having relationships with other men, many of whom were abusive.


Source: Pinterest

In a few incidences, his brother Damon would have to physically protect their mother, but when he left for college, Deland felt hopeless. He didn’t know how to defend himself or process what he was feeling at the time. The only thing Deland knew how to do was to keep his head down, tune out the violence, and focus on getting out of Youngstown.

Working-Class Struggles

Adelle saw a change of behavior in her boys and decided to take them to therapy, hoping that this will make things calmer at home. But sadly, it didn’t. As a single mom, Adelle was forced to work multiple jobs to support her family. She became a waitress, switchboard operator, social worker, and a short-order cook at the local bowling alley.


Source: Twitter / Deland McCullough

The McCullough’s were forced to move around a lot, making it hard for Deland and Damon to make friends. Adelle also struggled to make rent and pay the bills. It got so bad that at one point, Adelle was forced to choose between electricity and a working phone. Needless to say, life at home was really hard for Deland.

Hard at Work

With a single mother’s salary, Adelle couldn’t provide much, but it was still important to her that she provide her boys with the best childhood she could. This started with their education. Even though she was juggling multiple jobs, Adelle still found time to check Deland and Damon’s homework every night to make sure they were taking school seriously.


Adelle Comer and Deland in 1996. Source: Pinterest

The single mother of two also used her monthly child support money for Sunday school and made her kids donate to the church every week. Adelle also somehow found time to take her sons to extracurricular activities, from acting and theater programs, to basketball and track practices. Although he focused on these activities a little bit, Deland still needed something to distract him from the drama going on at home.

Love at First Whistle

After trying almost every extra-curricular activity and sport imaginable, it was football that really stuck with Deland more than anything else. Deland said that his passion for football started at a young age when his mother signed him up for a pee-wee league. The first time he heard the announcer say his name on the loudspeaker, a light went off in his head. Young Deland was in love.


Photo by Jevone Moore / CSM / Shutterstock

From that day on, the future Kansas City Chiefs running backs coach carried a football with him everywhere he went. At that point in his life, football was more of an escape than anything else. When Deland was out on the field, he didn’t think about his mother’s newest boyfriend or the electricity getting shut off.

Sound of Glory

As Deland got older, his love for football grew. In an interview with ESPN, Deland explained, “You didn’t even think about anything… You were just out there balling, doing your thing, and competing and bonding with your friends.” Soon Deland began dedicating all of his time to football, earning him a significant amount of playing time. Adelle noticed how important football was for her son and she quickly became a one-woman cheering section.


Source: Facebook

She would bring signs and run up and down the sidelines, yelling out his nickname, “D-MACK! D-MACK!” One time, her ride didn’t show up, so she took her son’s motorcycle to the game. Still wearing her helmet, Adelle ran into the stands and started cheering for Deland.

A Change of Pace

As Deland neared the end of high school, he needed to start thinking about what was next. Deland had two options: join the Navy or play football for a small college. But then, one day, everything changed. At the start of his senior year, Deland was given the opportunity to try out for his high school’s running back position.


Photo by Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times

Deland not only got the position, but he gained the attention and respect of many college recruiters. Almost immediately, the head coaches from Youngstown State, Kansas State, and Miami of Ohio began actively pursuing Deland. Finally, Deland had options. He just needed to decide which school he wanted to play for, not knowing at the time that this decision would completely change his life.

Ticket to Ride

The now 48-year-old still remembers the first time he met Sherman Smith, the running backs coach at Miami University. He was looking out of the window during his high school English class when a bright red Mercedes pulled up in front of the school. The man driving the car got out and walked towards the school’s entrance.


Source: Deland McCullough

A few minutes later, Deland was called down to the office where the man was waiting for him. He had a deep voice, broad shoulders, and muscular arms. As soon as Sherman saw Deland, he smiled, put out his hand for a handshake, and introduced himself. Maybe it was the car or the lack of a father figure, but Deland knew one thing for sure: he was drawn to Sherman.

A Star Is Born

Sherman, who played for the Seattle Seahawks before retiring and becoming the coach, came to convince Deland to play for his team in Miami. Even though he had just met Sherman, Deland knew that he wanted to come and play for him. “He had things that I hadn’t seen out of a man or mentor,” Deland told ESPN. “He was on top of his details. He was successful. He had played in the NFL. He got his degree. I wasn’t around that type of person.”


Deland and Sherman. Source: Pinterest

Sherman, who was also from Youngstown, knew that recruits from the area were good, but coaches told him that Deland was special. After not much convincing, Deland signed with the University of Miami, and Sherman became his new mentor.

A Place to Turn

It was important to Sherman that all of his players knew they could count on him for anything. He would tell players that even if they weren’t looking for a father, he was going to treat them all as if they were his sons. Sherman wanted to be a good influence on all of his players’ lives, which was exactly what Deland needed at the time.


Source: Twitter / @coachdmc

There was just a certain type of energy that Sherman had, and the whole room would just gravitate towards him. But sadly, Sherman left the University of Miami after Deland’s first season. Although he went on to coach at a different school, his and Deland’s bond remained strong and the two kept in touch.

A Change of Pace

After Sherman and Deland parted ways, Deland went on to have a very successful college career where he even made it into the hall of fame. He was eventually signed to the Cincinnati Bengals, and then to a few teams in Canada before a knee injury put his professional football career on hold indefinitely.


Deland and Sherman in 1991. Source: Twitter / @coachdmc

Although his career as a football player never really took off, his love for football remained as strong as ever. After Deland got married and began to grow his family, he decided that he too, wanted to become a football coach. But as he started his coaching career, unanswered questions about his biological family took over his mind. Deland needed to find out where he came from.

A Haunting Past

It was actually the birth of Deland’s fourth child that really pushed him to find out who his biological family was. Each time he and his wife, Darnell, welcomed another baby into their family, the couple could only provide a medical history for Darnell’s side of the family. Deland, who didn’t speak about his adoption, was reminded every time that something from his life was missing.


Source: Twitter / @coachdmc

Deland found himself at 44 years old with a wife, four kids, and a promising football coaching career, but he still had no idea who he was or where he came from. But then in 2015, Ohio and Pennsylvania finally opened adoption records, giving Deland hope he was one step closer to finding his parents.

A New Hope

By now, Deland couldn’t get the idea of finding his biological parents out of his head. Deland already had a loving and supportive mother at home, but now that he was a parent himself, Deland felt the void of not knowing his family history deepening. This motivated him to fill out all of the necessary paperwork to obtain his adoption records.


Photo by Ruddy Roye / ESPN

Then in 2017, more than a year after he submitted his request, Deland received his adoption papers in the mail. The moment of truth was finally here. After years of waiting, he was finally going to figure out who he really was. Deland opened the envelope, and for the first time in his life, he saw his original birth certificate.

One Name Missing

Anxiety took over Deland as he read his birth certificate. It was complete with his original name, Jon Kenneth Briggs, and the name of his mother, Carol Denise Briggs. There was, however, no information about his father. Deland reread all of his adoption papers over and over again, hoping that he missed his father’s name the first time through.


Photo by Sarah Spain / ESPN

Unfortunately, he couldn’t find his father’s information anywhere. So Deland decided to do what any of us would do in that situation and reach out to his birth mother, Carol. He wasn’t sure how she would react to him reaching out, but it was Deland’s only choice. She was his only link between him and the rest of his biological family history.

Questions Unanswered

Through the unsealed adoption papers, Deland discovered that Carol was also from the same Ohio town, but he still wasn’t sure how to contact her. Should he send a letter? Go and visit her face to face? In the end, Deland went with the modern route and sent her a Facebook message. A few days before Thanksgiving, Deland sent a one-sentence message asking Carol if she had given birth to a baby boy in 1972 in Allegheny County.


Photo by Ruddy Roye / ESPN

He pressed send and anxiously waited for her response. It was in her hands at this point. If Carol wanted to be found, she would answer. If she didn’t, then Deland would have to just carry on with his life the same way he had before. But to his surprise, Carol answered him right away.

Unexpected Surprises

Carol Briggs had just gotten home from work when she sat down and opened her Facebook. To her surprise, she had a message from an unfamiliar man asking her if she had given a baby up for adoption in 1972. Carol was shocked, to say the least. She thought of that baby every day since she had given birth 44 years prior.


Carol and Deland. Source: Pinterest

Speechless, Carol immediately called her older brother, who was the only other person alive that knew about her secret pregnancy, to tell him the news. Her brother was skeptical of the message and warned Carol that it could be a scam or extortion, but she responded to Deland anyways. After a few back and forth messages, Carol agreed to speak with Deland on the phone.

Filling In the Blanks

In the days that followed, Carol Googled Deland’s name numerous times and read any and every article she could find about him. Carol learned that she and Deland actually lived just a few miles from each other all throughout his childhood. Her thoughts began to race as she realized that the two most likely shopped at the same grocery stores. They may have walked by one another on the sidewalk without knowing who the other one was.


Source: Twitter / @coachdmc

Carol’s father, who was now deceased, was a huge football fan and most likely read about his own grandson’s high school football achievements without knowing the two were related. When the day finally came for Carol and Deland to speak, Deland got right to the chase. Almost immediately, he asked her who is father was.

A Past Revisited

Carol was only 16 years old when she found out she was pregnant. At the time, teens and unmarried women were sent to give birth in secret homes, far away from their families. Carol was ultimately sent to the Zoar Home for Mothers, Babies, and Convalescents in Pennsylvania, where she stayed until she gave birth in the middle of the night during a snowstorm in December 1972.


Source: Twitter / @TTGRMACarol

Her parents and brother drove in that day to be with her at the hospital, but as soon as she was discharged from the hospital, they took her back to her life as a “normal” 16-year-old high school honors student. Other than her immediate family, no one else knew about Carol’s secret pregnancy, not even the father of the baby.

Taking the Blame

Carol never thought of sharing the news with the father of her baby until she was filling out the adoption papers, but she ultimately decided against it. The two had a summer fling before he went off to college and she didn’t want to burden him with the news of her pregnancy.


Source: Twitter / @TTGRMACarol

Carol felt as if it was her fault she got pregnant, and she didn’t want to ruin the baby’s father’s chance at finishing school and making something of himself. Carol still felt like a kid herself and was in no position to raise a child. She thought that putting her baby up for adoption was the best option for everyone, including her unborn baby.

Will He Come Back?

Carol was told by the adoption agency that her baby was going to be sent to a doctor and his wife in Ohio, but little did she know that was not the case. That was Carol’s last interaction with the adoption agency, but it was not the last time she thought of her baby. She frequently searched adoption agency websites for her baby’s name and wished him a “Happy Birthday” on her Facebook every year.


Source: Twitter / @coachdmc

Carol never married or had other children and would often joke with her family that her baby was going to show up at her door one day and find her dancing around the house alone like a crazy person. Now, she was on the phone speaking with her child for the first time, and he was asking who his father was.

The Truth Revealed

Carol took a deep breath. She hadn’t spoken his name in decades, and only two or three people knew he was the father of her baby. If he was ever going to find out he was a father, it was going to come from Carol, not through the grapevine. She hesitated for a moment, but finally told Deland, “Your father’s name is Sherman Smith.”


Photo by Ruddy Roye / ESPN

Deland, who was leaning up against the wall while he spoke on the phone, felt as if he was going to fall face-flat onto the floor. Memories flashed back like a movie reel of the times working with him during his first year at the University of Miami and the countless times he called him for advice. The only question remained: Did Sherman know?

Is He or Isn’t He?

That next morning, Deland called Sherman to break the news, but Deland didn’t know how or where to start. After fumbling over his words, Deland just spat it out and told Sherman that he was Deland’s father. Sherman instantly became silent. He hadn’t thought about Carol since their fling before he went off to college.


Sherman and Deland. Source: Pinterest

At 63 years old, Sherman was happily married to his girlfriend from college for 42 years, and the couple shared a son and daughter. The news came as a shock and Sherman needed some time to process everything. He asked Deland if he could call him back in a few days because there were some things he needed to figure out. Was Carol lying? Was there proof? How was he going to tell his family?

Touching Bases

Even though he only found out about Deland just now, Sherman felt guilty about not being there for Carol 45 years ago. His whole career was about making a difference in young mens’ lives and teaching them about responsibility and accountability. How could his athletes look up to him when Sherman himself didn’t practice what he preached?


Photo by Ruddy Roye / ESPN

The 63-year-old found himself even hoping that a paternity test would prove that he wasn’t the father, which made him feel even guiltier. After thinking everything over, Sherman decided that he wanted to speak with Carol. He may not have all the answers now, but Sherman hoped that speaking with Carol would soothe some of his anxiety about the situation. So, after not speaking for 45 years, Sherman called Carol.

A Game of Catch Up

Carol was dreading this conversation with Sherman. She was embarrassed and ashamed that she hadn’t told him about his son all those years ago, and she didn’t know how Sherman would react. But there was no need to worry. Sherman was calm and the two spent a long time catching up before they even got to the subject of Deland.


Source: Twitter

When the topic was finally brought up, Carol apologized and explained why she kept the pregnancy a secret. Sherman understood and explained to Carol that their son was a good man, and she had nothing to worry about. After the conversation, both Carol and Sherman felt a sense of relief. Finally, Sherman was ready to speak to his family.

Like Father, Like Son

Sherman sat down with his family and told them the news. He explained how Sherman recruited Deland all those years ago and how the two shared a special bond on and off the field. He explained how everyone on the team would tease the two, laughing that Sherman and Deland looked and acted like the same person.


Source: Twitter / @coachdmc

He also showed his family pictures and news articles about Deland while everyone sat there in awe. The resemblance between the two was uncanny. After speaking with his family, Sherman realized that he really cared for Deland and felt bad for what he went through. In a complete 180-degree turn, Sherman hoped that the paternity test would prove that he was Deland’s father. He wanted to be there for him.

Long Time Coming

The paternity test results came in a few weeks later, confirming Carol’s story. Sherman was indeed Deland’s father. Sherman, who recently relocated to Nashville, invited Deland over to the house to celebrate.


Photo by Ruddy Roye / ESPN

Deland had visited Sherman countless times, but this was the first time he was coming over as a family.

When the two embraced for the first time as father and son, Deland said that he finally felt whole again. Fast forward two years and Sherman is still a huge part of Deland’s life. “When I look at Deland, the type of guy he is, it was a gift to us,” Sherman told ESPN. “And to think, Deland Felt we were a gift to him.”

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