Actress Santana Dempsey Finds Her True Heritage

Family History
30 September 2018
by Ancestry Team

Santana Dempsey is a talented actress and writer, known for her acting roles in Lowlife (IFC Midnight), Megachurch Murder (Lifetime) and Scandal (ABC). Yet, for most of her life, Santana wondered where her beautiful brown skin and curly hair came from. Santana and her biological sister Gala were adopted together out of foster care when Santana was six years old.

The girls knew their biological mother was Caucasian, but they did not know the exact ethnicity of their biological father. They had never seen a photo of him. It wasn’t until Santana took an AncestryDNAⓇ test that she learned more about her ethnicity from her father’s side.

Part Puerto Rican?

For much of her life, Santana guessed her ethnicity was half Puerto Rican. After taking an AncestryDNA test, Santana learned she had a mix of ethnicities ranging from Africa, Spain, Europe and even Caucasus. 

DNA is very different from cultural identity and where one is born. This was something Santana had a challenging time explaining to people, who would continually ask, “but where is the Puerto Rican part?”

However, her real discovery came two years later, when she re-visited her AncestryDNA results.

An Unexpected Connection

Two years after taking the AncestryDNA test, Santana logged back into her Ancestry.com account and noticed a list of possible relatives that she had never seen before. She messaged one, John, noting he was listed as a close match.

Santana knew her birth father’s name was Juan, he spoke Spanish and was not from the United States. She figured he may have changed his name to the English version, John and that she might be contacting her birth father for the first time.

Within 30 minutes John responded with: “I’m pretty sure you’re my half-sister.”

Santana was stunned. “I’ve never thought about other siblings–I was adopted with my sister, there was never room for anyone else in my mind,” she said.

John texted her pictures of himself and their birth father. Santana couldn’t believe how similar she and John looked. “When I looked at the pictures I thought, ‘I have your eyes. I’ve been searching for you my whole life.’”

Feeling More Complete

A month later, Santana and John met for the first time in upstate New York. “It was one of the most emotional, beautiful, and complicated experiences of my life,” she said.

John revealed that Santana’s birth father was from the Dominican Republic instead of Puerto Rico.

“Now I tell people I’m half Dominican and I feel confident knowing who I am,” Santana said. “Your racial identity isn’t everything; obviously I have other experiences that made me who I am. But I do feel a little more complete. It was healing on a lot of different levels. I still can’t believe I have a brother! When we saw each other for the first time, we instantly loved each other.”

What connections can you make? Find out with AncestryDNA.