Gilbert resident Greg Zatcoff never expected that some saliva sent off as part of an at-home DNA test kit would forever change his identity.
Zatcoff, a retired sergeant with the Arizona Department of Public Safety, was 56 when he found out that the man who raised him was not his biological father.
“I took the test just like everyone else – to find out more about the breakdown of my heritage,” said Zatcoff.
About a month later, he received an email saying his DNA results were in and that’s when he got the first of many surprises.
“I was a little confused at first,” said Zatcoff. “The results came back showing I was 50 percent Jewish, 42 percent English, and 8 percent Irish. I had no idea about being English and Irish. I always thought I was 100 percent Jewish.”
With both parents deceased, Zatcoff was left on his own to ponder the large portion of his DNA involving two ethnicities he knew nothing about.
“I couldn’t just call up my parents and ask them more about their family history and see if maybe there was something I just hadn’t known about,” said Zatcoff.
He began looking at the matches his DNA results showed through the website. He said he was puzzled that he wasn’t linking to any relatives who shared his last name other than his sons.
“I found it a bit odd,” Zatcoff recalled. “But at that point I just shrugged it off and figured maybe none of them had taken a DNA test.”
He decided to take the other popular brand of at-home DNA testing and see if the results were any different.
A few weeks later, the second test not only confirmed the same DNA breakdown as the first but also showed close DNA matches to people Zatcoff had never heard of or met before.
It was at that point that he turned to his sister for help.
“I had been sharing the results with my sister who was instantly intrigued by it all,” he said. “It became clear that she or my brother were the missing link. I had to see if their DNA matched mine in order to confirm if this was something that we all didn’t know about our genetics, or if I was the odd man out.”
Zatcoff’s sister, Teri Peterson, said his DNA results sparked her curiosity but that she was a bit skeptical at first.
“When he shared the findings, it seemed like there was a mistake,” said Peterson. “I thought, ‘how accurate can this be?’”
Peterson took a DNA test for herself and after a couple weeks of anticipation, the results showed she was 100 percent Jewish, exactly what Zatcoff expected his to be.
“I was a bit surprised when we compared our results,” said Peterson. “But regardless of our DNA, we will always be brother and sister.”
Because the DNA results had linked Zatcoff with relatives on his mother’s side but none on his father’s, he said he knew it meant he had no biological relation with the man he thought to be his dad.
“It all felt a little gut-wrenching,” said Zatcoff. “I don’t know if it’s because I feel bad that my dad didn’t know, or if it’s because I feel a little out of place. Probably both.”
Soon after that realization, Zatcoff began making contact with the strangers the DNA site showed as his closely related family members.
“I went from having lost both my parents more than 20 years ago, to discovering that I still had a living biological parent and four half-siblings, all only a state away,” said Zatcoff. “They were as stunned to find out about me as I was about them.”
Although eager to learn more about his new family members, Zatcoff said he knew he had to tread lightly.
“Naturally, they were skeptical, guarded, and shocked,” he recalled. “But I was persistent in letting them know that I was the victim, a mere product of an affair in which I had no part in. I deserved to know this part of my story.”
Finally, last Feb. 2, almost a year after taking the first DNA test, Zatcoff spoke on the phone to his biological father for the first time.
“I was a little nervous,” said Zatcoff. “I was hoping he would be open to getting to know me, but I wasn’t sure how it would go. We ended up talking for around an hour. He was very pleasant and I could tell he was a family-oriented man.”
Lisa, Zatcoff’s wife of over 36 years, said this whole ordeal has profoundly impacted her husband and their family.
“It took away everything we thought we knew about his sister, his brother, his mom, and his dad,” said Lisa. “He really wants to build this relationship with his biological father because it might pull everything together for him after feeling like it was all pulled apart.”
In the year that has followed, Zatcoff has been in touch with one of his half-sisters and a brother-in-law, and he and his biological father have started discussing the idea of meeting face to face for the first time.
“I hope we have the opportunity to meet in person and continuing developing a relationship with my newly discovered family,” said Zatocff, adding:
“I want to get to the point where we can talk on a regular basis and meet more frequently. I don’t know how much longer he’ll be around so I want to take this opportunity to get to know him while I still can.”