The following story was contributed by Linda Carol Trotter, president of the Eftychia Project a nonprofit organization that helps Greek adoptees searching for their roots and Greek families searching for children lost to adoption, which we are proud to support. More information on the organization follows below.
Greek-born adoptee Merrill Jenkins, of Cedar Hill, Missouri, wasn’t expecting much when the results of his latest DNA test were ready. After all, he’d gotten nothing closer than distant cousins with the other popular DNA tests he’d done over the past 9 years, including uploading one of them to the MyHeritage platform. But he certainly wasn’t prepared to find a first cousin once removed — the child of his first cousin.
“I was speechless,” Merrill recalls. “I just sat there and stared at the computer screen. I couldn’t believe it.”
It did seem almost too good to be true. Greek families had previously come forward on several occasions, including after his appearance on Fos Sto Tounel with Angeliki Nikolouli in 2018, several articles in Patras newspapers, and a plea by a priest at a Good Friday service at the Pantanassa church in Patras in 2019. But none of the DNA tests matched, and each time he was left with the only clues he already had: a report from the Patras police that he had been left on the Pantanassa church steps and a note that said his name was Mitsos. But this new DNA match was the closest yet and his best chance of finding the answers he had been seeking for over a decade.
Finding their voices
Merrill is just one of the thousands of Greek children adopted by Americans in the scandal-ridden Cold War decades of the 1950s and 1960s. These adoptions, while given the coating of legality by the Greek courts, were often done in a matter of few months with questionable procedures and with little or no oversight by either the Greek or American governments. Thus, these Greek children often arrived in America with very little documentation and little hope of ever finding their way back to their origins. Now these adoptees are finding their voices in ever-growing numbers to demand their birth and identity rights from the Greek state. And many, like Merrill, are feverishly searching for their roots.
Merrill made contact with the DNA match, and established that the father of the match was likely Merrill’s first cousin; however, he was deceased. The trail went cold, and that’s how it stayed for over a year. Merrill is a board member and treasurer of the Eftychia Project — so he himself had been helping other adoptees search for their roots. He asked his colleagues at the organization for assistance.
“Eftychia is in Greece about six months out of the year and Toula lives there,” he said of Linda Carol Trotter, president, and Panagiota Vrisiotis, vice president of the organization. “So, I asked them to see what they might be able to do with what little information I had. Having boots on the ground in Greece is key in something like this.”
With little more to go on than the name of a village provided by the DNA match, the Eftychia Project visited the village and a related area in search of potential biological family who might be willing to do a DNA test. The project distributes free DNA tests to Greek adoptees and families in collaboration with MyHeritage, which is home to the largest DNA database in Europe. Through a truly miraculous set of circumstances, they located two presumed first cousins, Niki and Efthymios, who agreed to take DNA tests and were excited about the prospect of a first cousin in America.
The proof is in the pudding… or the DNA
The Eftychia Project arranged a meeting with the two in Patras, who were accompanied by other family members eager to learn Merrill’s story. DNA samples were collected using MyHeritage DNA kits, and Merrill and his potential cousins enjoyed a video chat. As they chatted with a little translation help, Merrill and the family couldn’t contain their excitement. Niki and Efthymios repeatedly asked, “When are you coming to Greece?” After the chat, Efthymios exclaimed that he had a photo of himself as a soldier in the Greek army that looked exactly like Merrill. Merrill was hopeful and thought it sounded promising, but he’d been disappointed before.
“The proof is in the pudding,” Merrill says. “Or, in this case, in the DNA.”
A few short weeks later, the DNA results arrived and there was no doubt — Niki and Efthymios were Merrill’s first cousins. And they were just two of 7 first cousins, to be exact.
Merrill wasted no time in buying a ticket to Greece and was met by Eftychia at the Athens Airport on Halloween. After more than six decades of separation, he would be reunited at last with his biological relatives. The Eftychia Project coordinated communication with the family as they planned a grand celebration to welcome Merrill to their family.
That night, at the Perivola Taverna in Patras, more than 40 family members gathered to welcome their prodigal son back to the homeland from which he was sent some 67 years ago. There were hugs and handshakes, smiles and tears, good food, and good wine, and the love in the room was palpable. It was an incredible night full of fun and, most importantly, family. Watch their joyful reunion in the video below:
During the trip, some of Merrill’s siblings took the DNA test, and with this information, they were able to determine the identity of Merrill’s father.
“It was far more than I had ever hoped for,” Merrill said, getting emotional. “If it hadn’t been for the Eftychia Project’s presence in Greece, I might have floundered around for months without finding anything. My journey is proof that there is always hope, so adoptees should never give up, because miracles happen when you least expect it.”
Yes, indeed, miracles do happen. Welcome home, Mitsos. Welcome home to your beloved Greece.
The Eftychia Project is a nonprofit organization that assists, free of charge, Greek-born adoptees searching for their roots and Greek families searching for their children lost to adoption. Their president, Linda Carol Trotter, a Greek-born adoptee who found her biological family in Greece in 2017, founded the organization in 2019 to help other Greek-born adoptees find their biological families and experience the same joy of reconnecting with their cultural roots, as well as a sense of peace and closure. To date, the Eftychia Project has facilitated the reconnections of 19 adoptees. In addition to search and reunion assistance, The Eftychia Project seeks to advocate on behalf of all Greek-born adoptees with the Greek government to affect change on vital issues such as transparency, access to records, and restoration of citizenship. In July 2020, the Eftychia Project launched a DNA kit distribution program, aimed at increasing the number of Greeks in Greece in the DNA pool by providing DNA kits to Greek adoptees and Greek families, free of charge. A few months later, after learning of the Eftychia Project’s efforts to reunite adoptees and biological families with DNA, MyHeritage partnered with the Eftychia Project, providing MyHeritage DNA kits and other support. Since July 2020, the Eftychia Project has distributed approximately 200 DNA kits.
For more information or to contact The Eftychia Project, visit www.theeftychiaproject.org or email email@example.com.
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Source: My Heritage