Editor’s note: This story first appeared in the March 16 print edition of the Haysville Sun-Times. Subscribe to get Haysville news every week – call 316-540-0500.
By Sarah Gooding
One woman’s curiosity about her family and heritage helped unite the Jacobs family in Haysville with a cousin they never knew they had.
Wichita resident Lana Koker said she became very curious about her background because of a long-term estrangement from her family. A few months after taking a DNA test, a near match was identified with Thomas Bross, who resides in Pennsylvania.
“I was adopted and did not know my real parents,” Bross said. “In 1990 I found my real mother’s name, but she passed away before I could see her.”
However, there was no information regarding who his biological father might have been.
Bross’ wife, Beverly, encouraged him to do DNA testing, both for genealogical research and to determine if any unknown family health concerns might be passed on to their children and grandchildren.
“They put the information on these websites and people can look at it and see if they might be cousins,” Bross said.
He matched with Koker, who had become aware of her ties to the Jacobs family.
“Lana convinced my real cousin to do the DNA test and we came up almost a perfect match,” Bross said.
Larry Jacobs, Bross’ cousin, said when an unknown family member (Koker) showed up asking to do a DNA swab, he thought it was a scam.
“She said she was Larry’s sister’s granddaughter,” said Larry’s wife, Brenda Jacobs.
However, the group had a good visit and Larry contributed his DNA to the master list, where it showed up as a 99.6 percent chromosomal match with Bross.
“I was raised an only child and didn’t really have any blood relatives,” said Bross. “I had a great family who raised me, but these are my first real blood relatives that I met. It’s an overwhelming experience that’s hard to put in words.”
He made contact with the Jacobs and began planning a time to meet.
Within a week, the families were celebrating together. Both Bross and the Jacobs said it was as though they had known each other their entire lives, and Cathy Wiggins, who serves as the Jacobs family historian, said they enjoyed looking through photos of Bross’ father, Bill Jacobs, and others, noting the family resemblance.
“When I heard about Tom, I got busy and scanned the rest of the pictures we had from my Uncle Bill,” Wiggins said.
The families also organized a birthday party for Bross, who celebrated turning 71 with the family he never knew he had.
For the festivities, Brenda Jacobs coordinated a birth announcement introducing a new Jacobs boy, age 71, weight 180 and height 5-feet, 9-inches.
While Bross was in town, they took an abundance of pictures, visited Bill Jacobs’ grave and gave Bross his father’s dog tags.
“I guess I’m a romantic, but to know my uncle got to have a child he never met … At the graveside, I said, ‘Bill, you would have liked this guy,’” Wiggins said.
Koker said it can be challenging to approach strangers and ask them to do a DNA test, but she is glad she did.
“If there’s anybody out there who has thought about finding their family, do it,” Brenda Jacobs added.
Bross said he is grateful to have more answers about his background and to also find his biological family.
“They were just so gracious and wonderful,” he said. “Within a minute or so it was like we knew each other for life. We’ve been staying in touch with pictures back and forth. If you had told me last year I’d be going to Kansas, I would have laughed, but my family is there.”