How a DNA Test Unexpectedly Connected This Mormon to a Father Who Didn't Know She Existed

by | Feb. 08, 2018

Mormon Life

Whatever we expected from the DNA test, it was not this:

“Confidence Extremely High: Rudger Warner is your father,” it read.

My mom experienced detached curiosity and more than a little disbelief. This was an error or a glitch. This stranger’s last name was so close to her own married name: Rudger Warner, Judy Wagner. She looked at the statement again. There was something so odd about a computer matter-of-factly revealing the name of the man who had fathered her, a mystery she had grown up with and accustomed herself to for almost 49 years.

And now it was no longer a mystery. It was simply a name.

The Beginning

Image title

The Shaffers, 1968. From left to right: Mark, Nancy, Royce, Judy, Velta, Brenda, Kathleen, Michael.

My mom was born in Klamath Falls, Oregon, on March 29, 1968, to a 20-year-old, unmarried woman named Judy. She was adopted through LDS Adoption Services by Royce Gamble Shaffer, an electrician and the local LDS bishop, and Velta Lewis Shaffer, his devoted wife. Velta was 42 years old at the time and already the mother of five adopted children.

Naturally, Velta was hesitant. She felt too old to adopt a newborn when they already had three girls and two boys in the house.

But my grandpa felt impressed to adopt the baby girl, and Velta eventually agreed. When my mom was brought home, there was a discussion about what to name her. Having heard the name spoken in a whisper by their parents, my mom’s siblings suggested “Judy.” They had no idea, of course, that this was the name of my mom’s birth mother. Velta and Royce weren’t thrilled at the choice, but the siblings were adamant. And so she was named Judy Shaffer, and on March 27, 1971, my mother was sealed in the Oakland temple to her parents and siblings.

Image title

Image title

Judy with her adopted family.

Though my mother knew about her adoption, she had no desire to search out her birth parents until she left Klamath Falls to attend BYU. It was there, under the prodding of a curious roommate, she searched out her birth mother. She found an address and phone number, and the two Judys, birth mother and daughter, exchanged a few letters, but my mother wasn’t ready for a deeper relationship.

While at BYU, my mom met and began seriously dating fellow student Jim Wagner, and the two were married in the Oakland Temple in August 1988, in the very same room she had been sealed to her adopted family.

Image title

Royce, Judy, Jim, and Velta in 1988.

Following Promptings

If anything, my mom’s parents taught her to follow promptings, which became a powerful spiritual gift. When my Grandma Velta was going through chemotherapy, my mom flipped through a calendar and, seeing the date June 22, 1993, she felt strongly that would be the day Velta would pass away. My Grandma Shaffer did indeed pass away June 22nd, and my mother’s prompting brought our family peace and prepared us for the grief that awaited us.

Years later, we spent a week in Oregon before my oldest brother went on a mission. As we were leaving, my mom made us turn around, drive to the electrical shop, and have Kevin say goodbye to Grandpa Shaffer one last time. Though he was 83, my Grandpa Royce was in good health and still working full-time. My mom was in tears when she asked my dad to turn the car around. “I think it will be the last time Kevin gets to see him,” she said. She was right: my grandpa passed away about halfway through Kevin’s mission, in August 2009.

I often wondered why my mom delayed having a DNA test so long. As her kids, we talked about it idly, wanting to know her genetic makeup. But my mom treated the test with an entirely different attitude, as if she knew that this test would have more significance than it did for the average user.

And it did.

But, acting in faith, my mom submitted her DNA in December 2016, and when the results came back, we were all shocked.

Somewhere in iCloud messages, our family texts of “What!” “Who is Rudger Warner?” “This is crazy!” go on for quite a while.

“I feel like Luke Skywalker right now,” my mom wrote. (In all caps.)

After the initial disbelief wore away, she was mentally and emotionally prepared to follow this prompting all the way through.

Comments and feedback can be sent to feedback@ldsliving.com