When Bobbi Vance was 17, she had a baby boy whom she named Paul Joseph and held for one day.She wanted to keep Paul and bring him home, but her father refused. She was a teenager. The pregnancy was unplanned. The baby’s father was out of the picture.
“Back then, you didn’t do that,” Vance, 74, said sadly. “You didn’t have babies.”
When she married a few years later, her husband tried to find Paul, but his adoption was closed. In following years, the couple and their growing family moved from her hometown in Pittsburgh, Pa., to Hawaii, to Arizona, to Lewiston.
The chance of a reunion seemed to dim as time and distance grew, but science and technology would combine to return son to mother.
In 2017, Dave Wehner, a 57-year-old light rail vehicle operator in Pittsburgh, spit in a tube and sent the results to AncestryDNA, a genetic testing company with services that include ethnicity tracing and matching people with contemporary relatives. Wehner always knew he was adopted and wanted to find his biological family.
“You really can’t understand. My mom and dad took great care of me, but I always wanted to know. They’re upstanding people, and people would say, ‘What happened to Dave?’ ‘He’s adopted,’ ” Wehner said. “I’m not like them. I’m the wild one.”
Wehner started looking for his family in 1983, after serving in the Navy. He obtained his original birth certificate just before Pennsylvania sealed its adoption records in 1984. He learned his original name was Paul and that his mother’s maiden name was Sayers. However, he was unable to find her since she’d married and taken her husband’s last name.
After AncestryDNA processed his results, Wehner began receiving online notifications about probable relatives who also had sent their DNA to the company. Its database is constantly updating. People were also receiving information about him. Last spring a man with a high probability of being a first cousin got in touch with Wehner.
“He said, ‘I have a cousin who was given up for adoption whose first name was Paul,’ ” Wehner recalled. “I said — how do I put this appropriately — something to to the effect of, ‘Holy frijoles!’”
The two talked for a few minutes by phone before the cousin declared him a Sayers. He’d exhibited typical family characteristics: fast-talking, sarcastic, a wild sense of humor.
“That day my nephew called me,” Vance said.
Her nephew told her he had found her son and asked if it was OK to arrange a video chat. She agreed.
“I said, ‘Hi mom,’ ” Wehner said.
“I said, ‘Hi Dave,’ ” said Vance. “He said, ‘You gave me the name Paul,’ and I said, ‘No, your name is Dave.’ ”
Coincidentally, Vance has another son named Dave, David Vance of Viola, along with three daughters, Shari Vance, Lauri Vance and Hollie Posey, who live in Clarkston and Lewiston. As a surprise on Labor Day weekend, her children flew Dave to Lewiston to meet his mother and half-siblings in person for the first time.
“Oh my God, I couldn’t believe it,” Bobbi Vance said about seeing him in person.
“Look at him,” she said, still looking at Dave in amazement a day after he appeared in her living room. “I gave birth to him.”
(In this video, Vance meets her son in person for the first time in 57 years)
“He’s the other brother’s twin,” said his half-sister Lauri. “The other brother talks fast too. He looks exactly like his uncles too.”
“I was kind of hoping they were rich,” Wehner said with a smile. “They’re regular people like me. They’re all like me.”
The family spent the weekend introducing Dave to friends, family and co-workers. They showed him Lewiston’s Spiral Highway and went shooting together at a local gun range, a pastime they have in common.
Other members of the Vance family have tested their DNA to find out more about their roots. Their paternal grandparents were both adopted, and they were curious to discover where the red hair common in their family tree comes from.
“We’re less Italian than we thought,” Lauri said about the results.
Wehner keeps watching the online connections on his genetic profile. He hopes to one day discover a branch that leads to his father’s side of his family tree.