VANCLEAVE, MS (WLOX) - Over the last year or so, online DNA test kits have risen in popularity, with people discovering more about their ancestry. The kits require a person to take a saliva swab, mail it back to the company, and then the results of the DNA test are sent back to the person, revealing his or her family history.
A call from your dad might be an ordinary thing for many, but this time a year ago it wouldn’t have been possible for Vancleave man Joey Cunningham. He grew up knowing he had a father who wasn’t around, but not much else about him.
“I knew the name and that was really it. I knew his name was Stephen Dunn, he was in the Navy and in his 60s. That’s really all I knew,” Cunningham said.
With that limited information, Cunningham spent years looking for leads to connect him and his dad.
“I just kind of wanted to know what he was like,” Cunningham said.
After almost giving up the search last summer, Cunningham’s wife suggested he use the 23andMe DNA service.
“I signed up, got a kit in the mail,I spit in a tube and two weeks later I found my Dad that I had been looking for 20 plus years, and I found out that I have five extra sisters,” Cunningham said.
A complete family, his newfound dad Stephen Dunn was living in New Mexico. Cunningham reached out to Dunn with an email and the two quickly struck up a relationship and talked regularly on video chats.
“I finally had a face to the name,” Cunningham said.
After months of talking and sharing family pictures of years gone by, Dunn made a trip to South Mississippi over the holidays to visit his newly discovered son. When the two met face-to-face for the first time, they were both filled with joy.
“It was almost like he felt the exact same way I did,” Cunningham said.
It didn’t take long for the new family to start connecting.
“An hour after he actually got here, my daughter was sitting on his lap, my son was calling him grandpa and he was completely fine with all of it,” Cunningham said. “It just tickled me to death.”
When Cunningham and his son Christian saw pictures of Stephen Dunnn as a child, they saw a striking resemblance between Christian and his grandfather, a man he’s just getting to know.
“It was just amazing knowing that I had a pawpaw on my dad’s side,” said Christian Cunningham. “I always thought one day he’d find him.”
Persistence paid off for Joey Cunningham. He found the family he was looking for, making the years of searching worth it.
“As of right now I can’t really expect anything more," he said.
Cunningham said he would like to meet his five newly discovered sisters as well who live in different places around the country.