My Dad Went From Being an Only Child to One of Five

by Rachael Rifkin

For most of my life, I thought my family was small.

Beyond my brother and me, there was my mom, her brother and sister, her sister’s two kids, and her parents.

On my dad’s side, there was just him and his mom.

Or so I thought. Family history research revealed my dad was actually one of five.

The Discoveries Begin

The author's father as a child.
Rachael’s father as a child, well before the discovery.

My dad’s father was alive but he wasn’t around. Neither my dad nor my grandmother said much about that grandfather, so I knew so little about him that he almost didn’t feel real.

And then he died. Every so often, my dad would look up information about his dad and other family members he’d lost touch with.

The information trickled in. First, he found his father’s death date (by coincidence only a day after my grandmother, his ex-wife, had died).

Then he discovered his father had remarried. And then the kicker: He learned the marriage had produced four children.

I was totally surprised! My dad wasn’t an only child anymore – and hadn’t been for more than 40 years.

Maybe I Suspected All Along?

Years before these discoveries, I remember startling myself with the thought that, because I had no idea what had happened to my grandfather, anything could have been possible.

And that included that he went on to have other kids.

What if he did have kids, I wondered, and they lived near me? If I passed them on the street, would I somehow know it was them?

Now that I knew he did have kids, I wanted to meet them. I just didn’t know how to make it happen.

I didn’t know their first names, and our surname was common enough that without any other identifying information (minus their parents’ names), they might be hard to find.

Discouraged, I did some research, but not very much.

Filling in the Family Tree

Later on, I signed up for Ancestry to do some research on my mother’s side of the family.

Occasionally I’d type in my paternal grandfather’s information to see what I could find. For a while, the most interesting find was his army records.

The author's grandfather’s enlistment record.
Rachael’s grandfather’s enlistment record.

Then one day I realized I hadn’t tried searching for his name in Ancestry’s Public Family Trees. What were the chances someone in the family had posted one?

Pretty good, it turns out.

I typed in my grandfather and great-grandmother’s names and birth dates and clicked on the first public family tree that seemed to match their information.

I took a quick look, then did a double take — not only was it the correct family tree, but it included my dad’s siblings’ names.

Excited, I sent this message to the person who posted the family tree:


XX was married to my grandmother, XX, in the early 50s. They produced a son, my dad XX, in 1954.

I know a couple of family stories about my great-grandparents and great aunt, if you’re interested. Hope to hear some family stories from you too!


Rachael Rifkin

Seven minutes later, I got this response from my uncle.

Wow, great to hear from you. Would love to hear more.

What are the odds? I do remember my dad mentioning something about his previous marriage to your grandmother, but not much.

Look forward to hearing from you.

Meeting My Newfound Family

The author's relatives posing for a group photo.
Rachael (front row, center) with her “new-old family”

We chatted, shared stories, and set up a time to meet at a restaurant. Most of the siblings and their families were coming.

I was so nervous on the way to the restaurant — I felt like I was going on a blind date. Would they like me? What if I didn’t like them?

My relatives were at once familiar and new. They all looked a little like my dad, and one or two of them spoke or stood like my brother.

A few of the family stories were the same, but most of them were new. They were able to fill in some blanks, but when it came to certain subjects they knew as little as I did.

They were warm and often sarcastic — in other words, I liked them right away.

The author's relatives eating dinner.
Rachael celebrating Christmas with her newfound family

Since that day, five years have passed. In that time, they’ve welcomed me into the family, and I always enjoy spending time with them. I’ve gotten to know some of them better than others, but I hope to eventually know all of them well.

Sometimes I wonder what it would have been like to grow up with them in my life. How would they have helped shape me? How would I be different? I wish I knew. Luckily, my kids won’t have to wonder.

Might you find new people to share your table at the next family get-together? Find out with AncestryDNA.