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Edison man finds half sister through DNA test

EDISON – Adopted as an infant from an agency in Illinois and raised as an only child, Ben Turbitt is in the midst of a birth family journey, which has led him to a larger extended family across the United States.

Turbitt, now 35, began the real push of the journey in his later 20s. With a daughter of his own, he wanted to find out his background and if there was any medical background concerns he needed to be aware of.

Turbitt worked with an intermediary service to unseal his birth information, which had been sealed.

“After a while, laws changed and records were unsealed,” he said.

With an original birth certificate, his birth mother’s name and address, and no father listed, a search began. The intermediary service was able to locate a maternal birth aunt and he found out his mom was a twin; however, the trail did not move beyond that point.

“I got what I needed,” Turbitt said at that point; however, he said the burning curiosity of “Who am I?” led him to take a 23andMe DNA test. “Because of my skin tone, I was told I could be a little bit of everything, Italian or Portuguese.”

23andMe Inc. is a consumer genetics and research company and its mission is to help people access, understand and benefit from the human genome, according to its website.

Through the DNA test, Turbitt found out he was indeed a little bit of everything; however, not the results he expected.

“I was a little surprised,” he said, noting as science evolves, the percentages fluctuate.

Turbitt not only learned he is 72.8 percent European with the larger percentages – 36.3 percent Northwestern European, 22.4 percent Eastern Asian and 22.1 percent Native American – he was able to connect with a half sister, Merrillan Melberg.

“She actually messaged me and at first I was skeptical,” he said; however, after messaging and document proof they share the same birth mother, skepticism turned into instant bonding.

They learned they both were adopted and raised as only children.

“Merrillan was born in Indiana and was adopted through a church,” Turbitt said.

They also learned they are two of four children – Merrillan is the oldest, they have a sister Melissa who is one year younger, then Ben who is two years younger, and the youngest is Elizabeth. Out of the four children, Melissa was the only one not adopted.

Melberg lives in Germany where she is a music teacher on a U.S. Army base. Her family lives in Weatherford, Texas.

In August, Turbitt set out on his first trip to Texas with his parents and daughter, Alyana, to meet Melberg and her family on her trip home.

A week before, Turbitt happened to meet Melberg for the first time in person in Boston.

“My anxiety was through the roof,” he said, adding he was shaking. “We had been talking so long that once we met it was so natural.”

Turbitt said being able to meet someone biologically related is surreal and makes the whole process of the DNA test worthwhile.

He said as long as he could remember, his parents, James and Gail Turbitt, were open about his adoption. They were not able to conceive and decided on an adoption route. On Dec. 18, 1983, his dad received a phone call from an agency and in the dead of winter, his parents flew out to Chicago to meet their new baby boy.

“They would read me a book ‘Why Was I Adopted?'” Turbitt recalled, adding he still has the children’s book by Carole Livingston, which provides parents with a tool for helping their child understand the circumstances of their “birth” into an adoptive family.

Turbitt said his parents have been supportive every step of his journey. Turbitt said he believes there will always be the burning question of why he was given up for adoption and he may never get the answer.

“Whether I get that … personally it makes no difference,” he said, adding he learned his birth mother does not want to be forthcoming and he understands she has her reasons. “It’s still tough … it is what it is.”

Overall, through the journey Turbitt has gained another family as well as learned his background has no major medical issues, which was the impetus of starting the journey.

In October, he is planning to take a road trip to meet Melissa and see where the journey leads him.

“I want to put together a family tree and put all the pieces together,” he said.

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