State Sen. Brian Langley to meet sister for first time this month



From Ellsworth, where he owns the Union River Lobster Pot restaurant, Sen. Brian Langley became a chef like his father Ernest Langley. He holds a photo of his father who served in the U.S. Army.
ELLSWORTH AMERICAN PHOTO BY KATE COUGH

ELLSWORTH — As home DNA test kits have become increasingly accessible, so too have surprises in the family tree: previously unknown half-siblings, children born with donor sperm, fathers who turn out not to be biologically related to their children.

In exchange for $99 and a vial of spit, many of the genealogically curious, such as Sen. Brian Langley (R-Hancock County), have discovered long-buried family secrets.

“The technology is here and lays all of this stuff wide open,” said the state senator.

Langley, owner and chef of the Union River Lobster Pot restaurant in Ellsworth, was approaching 60 when he began investigating his family tree.

“It was fuzzy. There are dark secrets that people don’t want to divulge.” So Langley signed up with Ancestry.com, which returned his results several weeks later.

Langley’s ethnic heritage was “pretty predictable,” he said. “European, Irish, Spanish, Italian.” But Ancestry.com also offers to connect users who have a high probability of being related. In Langley’s case, there was one that stood out: a woman living in Kansas whose name was Susie. Ancestry told him the DNA match was so close that she was likely a first cousin.

“I knew all of my first cousins,” Langley said.

Ancestry provides a messaging network through which potential relatives can contact one another, and Langley exchanged notes with the woman. She told him she had been born in Stuttgart, Germany, in 1956.

Raised by a stepfather in Kansas, she had always wondered about her birth father, who had stayed with her mother until just after Susie was born. She knew his name but had never tried to find him, she told Langley in an email.

“I didn’t want to disrupt another family.”

“I knew my father had been in Stuttgart,” said Langley, shaking his head. “I knew my father had been in the Army. I knew my father had been a cook.”

Susie sent an email with the only photographs she had of her father, taken in Stuttgart in the mid-1950s. The pictures were creased along the edges. One showed a young man, dressed in white, standing in front of three stainless steel vats, blowing on a ladle of soup. In another, the same young man is standing at the bottom of a winding staircase wearing a plaid suit jacket, its top button undone, smiling and looking into the distance. The sun is shining, but bare trees suggest a chill in the air.

Langley replied to Susie’s email less than an hour later.

Ernest Langley worked as a cook at the U.S. military installation in Stuttgart, Germany during the 1950s.
PHOTO COURTESY BRIAN LANGLEY

“That is definitely our father,” he wrote. He attached a picture of what is unmistakably the same young man, sitting on the floor with a young Brian. Langley signed the email: “Your brother, Brian.”

“There’s no question really of who’s who,” said Langley. His father had, as far as Langley knew, never said anything to anyone about his German daughter. His parents divorced acrimoniously years ago and both had since passed away, as had Susie’s mother and stepfather.

Susie told him she had had a rocky relationship with her stepfather, and “had always wondered about her real father,” Langley said. “I assured her that she had not missed a glamorous childhood of riches, fame and fortune.”

“I can’t picture it in my world,” said Langley. “Did [he] ever think about her?”

“I would want to ask why he never said anything.”

Surprising though they may be, stories such as Brian and Susie’s are not that uncommon, said Ellsworth Public Library Genealogist Charlene Fox Clemons.

“The rule of thumb,” said Clemons, is “if you aren’t prepared for the results, don’t take the tests. You can think anything you want to, DNA does not lie.”

In her work helping people explore their family history, Clemons said she has seen many discoveries of half-siblings, first cousins — even a woman who discovered that her biological father was a best friend of her parents, a husband of a couple the family was close with throughout her childhood.

“You need to be prepared to find out that maybe Daddy or Momma wasn’t as perfect as you thought they were,” said Clemons. “It’s human nature.”

Clemons, who has had several DNA tests done through different sites, said she has found relatives she was unaware of and that her first cousin was not her cousin.

“I think everybody should do it,” said Clemons, who said she doesn’t worry too much about the privacy or ethical issue surrounding DNA testing, since participation is voluntary and testing is done with a number, rather than a name. “I think it’s fun.”

“A lot of people do it just for the ethnicity,” Clemons added. “That’s a part of it. But it’s also connecting with other family members.”

As for Langley, he is headed to Kansas to meet his half-sister in mid-November. He isn’t nervous.

“For me it’ll be spending time,” Langley said. “She’ll be doing most of the asking.”

Kate Cough

Kate Cough

Digital Media Strategist
Kate is the paper's Digital Media Strategist, responsible for all things social, and the occasional story too! She's a former reporter for the paper and can be reached at: [email protected]
Kate Cough

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