A search for family, decades in the making, comes down to a single strange of shared DNA.
On a whim, a Greenville man decided to take a DNA testing kit a year ago and discovered more than just his European heritage.
An email from MyHeritage changed Allen Henderson’s life.
“Oh a brother, I have a brother!” Henderson told NewsChannel 6’s sister station 7News.
For Henderson it was the surprise of a lifetime. For Andre Gantois it was the end of a lifetime search.
“He had no idea that we were here and, of course, I wasn’t looking for him, because I had no idea that he was there,” Henderson said.
Henderson says he began to piece together how it could be he had a brother in Nancy, France that he didn’t know about. “And then it just [dawned on me], my dad was in World War II. He was part of the D-Day invasion and in June of 1944 he got up to France. So I started thinking well that’s kind of possible that, that could have happened.”
Henderson told 7News his father, Wiburn “Bill” Henderson, met Andre’s mother, Irene Gantois, while overseas. At the time, Irene was part of the French Resistance. Henderson says as the story goes, Irene never told Bill she was pregnant, so he returned home to the U.S. and started a family never knowing about Andre.
For decades, Andre combed through the little details his mother told him of his father before she died when he was 15-years-old.
“He didn’t even know his father’s name,” Henderson told 7News.
For nearly 72 years, Gantois searched for the American soldier, but his search came up empty.
“He prayed all his life that he would find his family,” Henderson told 7News. “Gantois son, Alexander, who is an attorney in Nancy, France, [together they] would take [Gantois] granddaughter to the coast every year since she was born, she’s 5, and look out across the ocean and he would say somewhere over the ocean, in America, we have a family that loves us and we’ll pray for them.”
At the suggestion of family members, the men decided to take the same DNA test by the same company, that would flag the same system as a match.
“It was like a needle in a haystack,” Henderson said.
Since then the families have started catching up on decades of stories and lifetimes of memories, but always with a translator nearby. Henderson jokes he has to freshen up on his French and Gantois on his English.
The brothers have discovered there’s more than DNA that connects them to one another.
“We both wear plaid shirts,” Henderson joked. “We even have the same cat, they have a black tuxedo and so do we! It’s kind of hilarious how many similarities there are, even though they’re in France.”
Henderson says his father passed away in 1997, still never knowing about Gantois. He tells 7News they also have a sister, who is just as excited about the new family she has in France.
MyHertiage is working on flying Henderson to Nancy, France to have the families meet in person.