Have you ever seen a “birth” announcement for a 48 year old child’s arrival? No? Well, you have now.
Meet Nahn, son of Bob Thedford. You see, Bob never knew that Nahn existed, and Nahn didn’t know how to find his father.
For 48 years, Nahn dreamed and Bob had no idea…and then one day…that all changed, thanks to a DNA test at Family Tree DNA.
I became peripherally involved in Bob and Nahn’s story in 2013 when Bob’s wife, Louise, contacted me, in shock.
Bob, Nahn and Louise’s story is a bittersweet mix of sorrow and joy. I want to let Louise tell the story. After Nahn’s discovery, Louise created a document chronicling what happened so she didn’t have to write the same information over and over again to various people who wanted to know “what happened.”
Bob’s DNA Story
I want to relate a DNA story that happen in our family that added an unexpected branch to our family tree.
I took my first mtDNA test with Family Tree DNA in early 2006 and received my mitochondrial results in June 2006. In July 2010, I received results from a Family Finder DNA test. Then in March of 2012, I received results mt Full Sequence test.
When I was ordering my mt Full Sequence upgrade, I mentioned to my husband what I was doing. He said, “I want to take a DNA test. Can you order me a kit?” So I placed an order for him for a Family Finder kit. We both received our results in March of 2012. At that time we had no idea of the life changing experience that was in store for us.
A few months later I ordered a kit for my son, our daughter and Bob’s mother. It was worked out between all of us that I would be the administrator of all kits. Checking on matches, following up on e-mails, contacting matchings. Anything that needed to be done to connect with distant cousins.
In September of 2013 we discovered that my husband had a Skin Cancer. It was caught in the early stages and we had hope that with proper treatment he could be cured.
Toward the end of September 2013, I went on-line to check all the FTDNA profiles for new matches. I have to login into each profile one at a time.
I would always check my profile first. On this night I has a few new matches but nothing that really caught my eye at the time.
Next I logged into my husband’s profile. He had a new match near the top of his match list just under our daughter and his mother. I sat there and stared at the screen for a couple of minutes trying to comprehend what I was seeing.
The name on the screen was one I had never heard in the past. But the shared centiMorgans between my husband and this person was in the parent / child relationship range.
Our daughter shared 3,380 centiMorgans with her father. And this person shared 3,384 centiMorgans with my husband. I kept staring at the screen and the thought that was running through my head, the lab has made a mistake!!
I decided to contact Roberta Estes who writes a DNA Blog. I explained to Roberta my findings. I said, “I think I already know the answer, but could there be a mistake by FTDNA in interpreting Vo Hun Nhan’s results?”
Her reply to me was, “I have never seen the lab make a mistake of the kind it would take for this to be in error. Having said that doesn’t mean it couldn’t happen, but the entire process is automated via the tag on the vials. I can’t even imagine how it would happen.”
I had checked our daughter and my mother-in-law’s profile, finding the same name with large amounts of matching centiMorgans. I began to think that the lab had not made a mistake.
After lot of investigation and e-mails to several people, we confirmed that Vo Huu Nhan is my husband’s 48 year old biological son. Without the DNA test we would never know of his existence. My husband had no idea that he had a son.
On October, 15, 2013, Bob reached out to Nahn’s contact, asking how to contact Nahn. Bob served in the Vietnam War from March 1968 to March 1969. Nhan was born in August 1969.
After my husband returned to the States he had 8 months left on his tour of duty. He was sent to Redstone Arsenal, Huntsville, Alabama to finish out his tour. Huntsville is my home and that is where we first came to know each other.
Bob’s tour of duty was over in December 1969 and he returned back home to Fort Worth, Texas. It was not long after he returned back to Texas, that me and my 5 year old son moved to Fort Worth.
Four days after Bob reached out to Nahn’s contact, we received this letter about what Nahn said when he was told that they had found his father.
“I just received a message from Nhan’s best friend (Son Tran who introduced Nhan to me and asked me to give Nhan a chance to have a DNA test) that Nhan was very happy about the news… He said that “he would not be happier if someone gave him a million dollar than give him a father!!”
The results of the DNA test were bittersweet. All of the family was overly excited to have found Nhan but were sad to find out that for all these years we did not know of his existence. Nhan lives in South Vietnam in the Mekong Delta, he doesn’t speak English and does not own a computer.
All Nhan had been told about his father was that he was an American G.I. and his name was Bob. That was after he came home crying and asking his grandmother “Why the kid’s made fun of him and why did he look different compared to everyone else.” He looks more like Bob’s father than looks like Bob. Another thing we couldn’t deny after seeing a picture of him.
How Nhan came to know about the DNA test was through a childhood friend that lives in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). His friend Dang Van Son had heard that DNA kits were being brought to Saigon and that they were looking for “Children Left Behind” to come and take the test.
Nahn and his friend, Son, in Vietnam. Son arranged for Nahn’s DNA test.
Son contacted Nhan and told him he should come and take the test. They only had 80 test kits to go around. I don’t know how many came for the test but Nhan was able to be tested.
After we confirmed that all was legit. Son began to e-mail us and send pictures of Nhan and his family as well as send messages from Nhan. Nhan has 5 children, 1 son and 4 daughters.
Nahn has 3 grand-children by two daughters. This added 9 new family members to my Family Tree. Nhan has been married twice. One marriage ended in divorce and his second wife died of liver cancer about 2008.
Nhan had several jobs in Vietnam so I was told by his friend Son. Porter in market, rescue diver, worked on a floating market boat.
On Christmas morning of 2013 we received a call from Vietnam. It was Nhan calling to wish us a Merry Christmas. His friend Son’s daughter translated. Then we received an e-mail picture of the family. We were able to Skype with him one time before my husband passed away.
In 2014, Louise and Bob discovered how difficult Nahn’s life had been. Nahn’s friend, Son, sent them the following:
You can learn about the lives of mixed American and Vietnamese children in this YouTube video, along with information about Trista Goldberg who founded Operation Reunite and partnered with Family Tree DNA to reunite these families.
On April 17, 2015 before Bob passed away a few days later on April 26, the Washington Post published an article “Legacies of War” Forty years after the fall of Saigon, soldiers’ children are still left behind. They profiled 5 children still looking for their father’s. The lead story was about my husband and Nhan.
There is a picture in the article where they are sitting in front of the computer. The reporter is Skyping with our daughter Amanda for the story. That is Amanda on the screen. The second story is about Nhan’s childhood friend Dang Van Son that has been such a help to us and Nhan with keeping us in touch with each other.
Amanda and Nahn Skyping.
On the day Bob passed away, our local paper, the Fort Worth Star Telegram’s front page story was the story about my husband and Nhan from the Washington Post, Legacies of war connect Vietnam, Tarrant County.
It was so surreal to be walking to the coffee shop and pass all the newspaper’s boxes and see Bob and Nhan’s picture in the window of the boxes. Bob was in hospice at the hospital and we knew it was a matter of time, and shortly he would not be with us anymore.
By the time these articles were published my husband was to the point of non-communication. The Washington Post had wanted to Skype with me and Bob but it was not possible. Bob passed away on Sunday night, April 26, 2015.
I knew that Bob was critically ill, then Louise informed me that Bob had passed away. I was just heartsick that Bob and Nhan never had the opportunity to meet in person. It seemed that a dream for both Bob and Nahn, so close, finally within reach, had just slipped away. I thought, at that time, that this was the end of the story, and certainly not the ending any of us wanted – but it wasn’t the end after all.
Twenty-one months later, I heard from Louise again, this time with very unexpected news.
A Visa for Nahn
Again, from Louise:
In October of 2015 we received an e-mail from Trista Goldburg the person with “Operation Reunite” who bought kits from Family Tree DNA and took them to Saigon for testing.
She had received an e-mail from Franc Shelton, Country Fraud Prevention Coordinator, Mission Vietnam FPU, U.S. Consulate General Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.
I hope you are well. I would like to encourage you to reach out to the family of Robert Thedford and urge the daughter of Mr. Thedford to consider undergoing another DNA collection, and to pay for a collection here at the consulate for Mr. Vo, at one of the approved labs from the list I sent you.
We just had a case in which we were able to close out because the parties involved proceeded in the manner which I discussed with you—in that case, the American father is practically indigent, but fortunately there were Viet Khieu benefactors in California who generously paid for the testing. I moved that case to the front of the line and expedited all our procedures-we collected the alleged son’s sample here on 30 September and had the results back 2 weeks later (99.99%). I hand-carried the results to the immigrant visa unit and strongly encouraged them to expedite their own processes (I have no control over that however).
Amanda was going to take a second test and we would pay for the test. The lab closest on the AABB Accredited Relationship (DNA) Testing Facilities list was, University of North Texas, Fort Worth, Texas.
When Amanda contacted them she was told they no longer did DNA testing. She replied back to Trista and let her know what she found. There were a few more letters exchanged. Amanda never did take a second test. We did not hear anything more for several months until July of this year when we received and e-mail from Nhan with a copy of his and his daughters Immigration Visa’s.
I have to share with you two letters Nhan sent to me. I feel sure his friend Son wrote the letter as Nhan dictated them. They are so sweet.
DEAR MU USA MUM,
ALLOW ME TO CALL YOU AS MY USA MUM.
IAM HAPPY THAT I HAVE TWO MUM IN THE WORLD
- USA MUM,
- VIETNAMSE MUM,
HAVE GOOD MORNING MY USA MUM.
MAY GOD BLESS US
MY WARMEST REGARDS TO YOU AND THE FAMILY,
STEP SON OF LOVED HUSBAND OF YOU.
VO HUU NHAN.
1/JULY 2016 DEAR MY USA MOTHER,
And another letter.
I DO THANK TO EVERY-ONE WHO HELPED ME IN DNA TESTING RESULLT, AND BASING ON DNA TEST RESULT I KNOW YOUR HUSBAND IS MY BIOLOGCAL FATHER,
DEAR MY USA MOTHER WITH YOUR HELP TODAY I WILL OWN FOR EVERYTHING YOU HAVE DONE TO HELP ME,
I WILL WORK TO BE COME AN US CITIZEN AS SOON AS I CAN,
I ALWAYS AM PROUD OF MY US FATHER
I PRAY FOR HIM DAILY AND NOW HE HAS HIS LIFE ON THE HEAVEN IT IS THE BEST LIFE FOR HIS SOUL
AND I THINK HIS SOUL ALWAYS SHOW ME THE WAY TO GO TO ——–
THANK US MOTHER!
APPLICANT: VO HUU NHAN
A Christmas Surprise
As these events unfolded, I was pulling for Louise and Bob, and rooting for Nahn, but without understanding the immigration process, there was little I could do to help. In fact, I didn’t think there was much anyone could do to help Nahn.
When Louise’s update e-mail arrived a few days after Christmas in 2016, it was with pictures – of Nahn – here – with her in the US. I was amazed, to put it mildly. A miracle had happened.
Nahn and his American Mom, Louise
Not only that, but Nahn arrived with his mother and his youngest daughter – and not just to visit, but to live in the US permanently.
Nahn, his Vietnamese mother and daughter in Texas, a few days after arrival, visiting Louise.
I asked Louise how Nahn’s arrival felt, for her and Amanda, given that Bob was gone and had so much wanted to meet Nahn. In a very real way, they were living Bob’s dream for him.
Yes it was a bittersweet reunion without Bob being here to enjoy it with us. Our daughter, Amanda, was excited about the meeting. She is my and Bob’s only child and now she has two half brothers.
Nahn and Amanda, half-siblings, meeting for the first time in Texas. I love their smiles. They look so happy!
Amanda has lived such a different life than Nhan. Nothing extravagant, her father has a hard-working police officer and worked a second part time job for 23 years to allow me to stay home with Amanda. Amanda earned her own way through college, but had so many more opportunities than Nahn. It’s so sad that Bob never knew Nahn existed.
Nhan has been able to prove he has an American father. Nhan, his youngest daughter, 12 year’s old, and his mother have been granted immigration visa’s. Nhan, his mother and daughter arrived at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport on Tuesday night December 20th, 2016, thirty-six hours after leaving Vietnam.
I thought that Nahn and his family came for a visit, but that’s not the case, according to Louise.
My understanding is that Nhan, his mother and daughter plan to make Texas their new home. Currently they are living in Dallas, which is an hour or so from where I live. I am in contact with their Refugee Resettlement Case Worker at Refugee Services of Texas.
The case worker told me the night they arrived it was very cold, they came with one small bag of clothes and the clothes they had on. Clearly they weren’t prepared for winter. The next day, helping them settle in, she took them to a Walmart and said they walked in and their eyes got big and they said “WOW”!!!!!!!!!
Their case worker said her next goal is to help Nahn find a job. She will also help him learn how to ride a bus for transportation.
Nahn and his family have so many obstacles to overcome living here. The major one is the language barrier. None of them know any English except “Thank You, Hello” and “WOW” although they are already taking English classes.
Nahn and his daughter – their first Christmas in Texas, a few days after arrival.
In many ways, Nahn, his mother and daughter represent the journey of so many of our ancestors who arrived with the hope of making better lives for themselves and their children. They too arrived without knowing the language and with few, if any, belongings. The difference is that they often arrived in a group of other immigrants from the same country – so they had extended family and help – and others who could speak the language. Nahn and his small family arrived in a group of just 3.
I can only think how difficult the life they left must have been to warrant this kind of foray, really a leap of incredible faith, into an totally unknown world where an entirely uncertain future is more attractive than one’s current life. Nahn, his mother and daughter are incredibly brave. At some level, they must certainly be unspeakably frightened too.
I would be terrified, wondering how I would eat, how I would live, where I would live and would I be able to find work to provide for myself, my mother and a daughter with special needs.
One thing is for sure, Bob would be busting-the-buttons-off-his-shirt proud of Nhan.
How to Help
Knowing my blog readers, I know your next question will be how you can help Nahn and his family. I’m not sure what they will need from day to day, and what has already been taken care of. Please feel free to contact Nhan’s case worker, below, if you know of a job or want to help in another way.
Kate Beamon at Refugee Services of Texas
9696 Skillman, Suite 320 Dallas, TX 75243
Phone, (214) 821-4883
A heartfelt thank you to Louise for sharing this very personal story of her family’s journey.
Louise conveys a special thank you from her family to Bennett Greenspan at Family Tree DNA.
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Love this! Last weekend I watched a musical that I knew all the songs to, it was MISS SAIGON. I’m still hoping that the couple of half Vietnamese who matches me will find their father soon. Or maybe they already have. Thank you for sharing this wonderful story!
What a special treat just in time for Christmas! Love it!
I knew you would like this one:)
Love that story! I’m in the process of trying to help my husband find his family. His adoption was due to the Korean conflict. He doesn’t know who his parents are. It’s a challenge for sure. I’m so glad for Nanh! It makes my heart happy!
Love that story! I’m in the process of trying to help my husband find his family. His adoption was due to the Korean conflict. He doesn’t know who his parents are. It’s a challenge for sure. I’m so glad for Nhan! It makes my heart happy!
I am a Family Finder DNA match to another half Vietnamese, whose account Trista Goldberg manages. The story of Bob and Nhan is very encouraging. Thank you for sharing it.
I really enjoyed this heartwarming story. I called my sister-in-law, who has Thedford ancestors. Bob Thedford was her cousin. What a small world! I forwarded this email to her. Now she has new cousins!
Sent from my iPhone
War is an ugly affair that produces lots of collateral damage. For all the wives of American military veterans, two quotes keep resonating in my head from my own experience as an illegitimate child;
If you could read my mind love
What a tale my thoughts could tell
“If you can’t get rid of the skeleton in your closet, you’d best teach it to dance.”
George Bernard Shaw
God bless the Thedford clan.
I am the wife of a Vietnam War vet, who is fully supportive of doing all we can to learn if he left children in Vietnam, in particular, an Amerasian young man who as a teenager, looks extremely like my husband. As a vets wife, I believe that all people have the right to know who their family is, and to have a relationship with their family if and when they are found. Catie Gentz, wife of Larry Gentz
Great story, and I’m so glad they were able to come to the U.S. I got lost somewhere along the line – how does Bob’s daughter have 2 half-brothers instead of one?
Louise had a son from a previous marriage.
I found this story both moving and a bit close to home. I have a friend who is AmerViet and was born the same year that I served in Viet Nam. He does not know who his father is, he has photo and we did a family finder with ftdna and found a few 2nd cousins. I emailed several with no reply.One can only imagine the implications that could be created within a family unit with a bit of unknown news that may shock the very foundations of the family unit. He understands that and was happy to find out that he is of Norwegian decent and does have living relation in USA . He and his wife have lived here with thier 3 boys for 12 yrs. It would be nice if he could find his family. In the meantime I m very proud and happy with my semi-adopted family of 5 as they give me much joy and laughter. Both are successful and the boys are excellent students. Maybe someday Hai s search will end and he will find his family, he ask for nothing more.
First I have a comment to Bob Harris then a comment for your blog. To Bob who mentioned his experience as an illegitimate child, there’s no such thing. All children are legitimate. It’s just that some were born out of wedlock. Shame on any society that would classify a precious child for something beyond his or her control.
To you, Roberta, what sweet thoughts this story tells. Without focusing on choices in anyone’s past lives, you’ve captured a moment of rejoicing for us all. I am a Vietnam era veteran. Though I never went overseas, I have had a Vietnamese friend and former military buddies who told me of life in Vietnam before and after the war. I’m also familiar with hardships in other countries. I have a Chilean daughter-in-law and a Mexican son-in-law. He experienced trying times before obtaining his American citizenship.
Roberta, you’re so right. How can we not think of our others who’ve come to this country in the past seeking refuge. Except for Native Americans, all who live here have a similar family history. This is what America is about. Thanks for such a heartwarming story.
Thanks for sharing. Peter Maurin of The Catholic Worker encouraged people to gather for the clarification of thought.
In genealogy circles, I’ve been taught to use terms like illegitimate child and non-parental event (NPE), are their more appropriate euphemisms I’m not aware of? I’m was never called a bastard based on my birth status. I have been called a lot worse for offensive comments or behavior.
Roberta’s article brings to mine an exchange I had with relatives of the man that sired me. Why don’t you call him Dad, he was your father. Dad is a term I saved in my childhood imagination for a man that never appeared.
Back to the DNA trail,
Roberta, this is such a heartwarming story! Thank you for sharing it with your readers. I wish them all the best of everything.
The Hallmark Channel and some of Roberta’s articles stir the emotional pot. Where’s the box of Kleenex?
You have me in tears. I was thinking of that haunting song from Miss Saigon “Bui Doi.” That feels like a story but here it becomes real people.
Roberta, thank you for sharing Louise, Bob and Nahn’s story, I cried, sad and beautiful, I wish Nahn and his family an easy transition to their new life!
Very cool article Roberta. Family Finder shows that I am 5th cousins with a Mr. Nguyen. We only share 26cM. It makes me wonder if we share a common ancestor similar to like Bob and Nahn story. Not aware of any family in Vietnam. Nobody in my immediate family served in Vietnam.
You probably wouldn’t know a 4th cousin, which is what his parent would be to you, if 5th cousins actually is accurate. But it does make you wonder, doesn’t it.
Roberta this was indeed a very powerful, loving story to read. It truly brought tears of joy to my eyes learning how he found his American family thanks to his close friend. Also how his American family embrassed and welcomed him into the family with open hearts and arms. It was sad his American father did not live to see his son he never knew about. I hope Nahn can bring his friend to America too.
What DNA testing did for Nahn it did for me too and I too was welcomed into the family with open and loving arms. A truly wonderful story. I wish them much happinesss and welcome to America. Hugs, Kathy.
Thank you for this heartwarming/wrenching story.
If folks are wondering about other ways to help refugees, please check with local social service agencies, your library or your community college, to see if there is a program to help refugees learn English, or to resettle. In 1994 I began coordinating matches between refugees and volunteer English tutors in the community. (A high percentage of my early tutor/learner matches involved Vietnamese refugees who’d worked with the American government.) I now teach English as a Second Language at my community college.
To all that have left comment with you kind words included. You comments brought tears of joy to my eyes.
When we first learned about Nhan and begin to receive messages and pictures from his childhood friend Son. I sit and cried many time reading about some the trials and tribulations he had endured. And his dream to find his father that he knew little about, only knowing that his name was “Bob” and he lived in the USA. But that did not keep him from finding other resources to continue on his journey. And it finally paid off with the swab of his cheek.
An update on our first meeting. I only knew about a week before Christmas Eve that the family would be arriving on December 20th. It was not until the 22nd that their case worker was able to find me. They had incorrect information on my address and phone number. So the next step is to turn to FaceBook!!
I was at my computer and I received a private message. “hi! My name is Kate and I work with Refugee Services of Texas-Dallas. I am looking for the Louise Thedford who was married to Robert Thedford. I am resettling Nhan Huu Vo and he listed Louise Thedford as his United States tie.” I replied back to her and we made a phone call. She updated me on how they were helping him and gave me contact information for him. That was the beginning of a new chapter in our lives.
I had already planned my Christmas gathering for midday Christmas Eve. Kate let them know that I would be picking them up that morning about 9:00 a.m. It’s a 60 mile drive from my house to where that live in Dallas. I went by-my-self and had no idea how we would communicate. When I arrived and knocked at the door, Nhan open the door with a big smile on his face and gave his “USA MUM” a hug. I walked in and received a hug from his mother and daughter. I guested we need to go, Nhan rode in the passenger seat. It was a quite ride back to my home. Except for the music that was playing on my car radio. I was playing oldie 50 ~ 60’s music. Nhan seemed to really enjoy the music he was tapping his foot to the rhythm and on certain song would give me a “Thumbs Up.”
We arrived back at my home, I needed to begin preparing my meal. I didn’t do the traditional holiday meal. I had found a recipe online for “Philly Roast Beef” sandwiches and I built a meal around those. When I went to the kitchen Nhan followed me and was gesturing what could he do to help me. I got out the cutting board, knife, onion, bell pepper, and mushrooms. And he chopped those for me and stirred things cooking.
I had planned a small gathering there was 11 of us including Nhan’s family. Me, my daughter, her husband, my granddaughter and her family. We ate our meal, Nhan and his family appeared to like what I had chosen to cook. At least they tried it. We exchanged gifts and visited, there was a lot of gesturing, pointing and other types of communicating. Seeing all the smiles let me know that everything would work out. I left about 3:30 taking them back to Dallas. His mother and daughter fell asleep before I could get out of my neighborhood and slept all the way home. It was one of the best Christmas of my lifetime. We only wish that Bob could have been here to enjoy it with us.
Refugee Services of Texas has all of the family enrolled it ESL (English as a Second Language) classes, they have sent for Social Security card of all of them. Kate hopes to get Nuong (the daughter) enrolled in school this week. They have had a meeting with a bank to help him learn about finances in America.
Me and my family want to say a big “Thank You” to Roberta for sharing our families amazing adventure.
We also want to say “Thank You” to Trista Goldburg, Jimmy Miller, Bennett Greenspan, Dang Van Son, and a few other involved too help make this reunion possible.
I’m so happy to hear about updates with your family and Nhan. Many blessings and hope he received my care package to help his daughter to adjust to school.
I am glad that Nhan finally made it to United States and resettle in Dallas near his dad. I am sorry to hear that Bob has passed away before seeing his only son. Too bad that our government was working too slow to making it happens. I hope Nhan find good new life in US.