In 2013, thinking that the DNA analysis technology is cool, Simon Smith sent a saliva sample to a DNA testing company to learn more about his family history.
The DNA test results reveal a family history beyond his wildest imaginations.
The results led Simon Smith’s family to discover that their ancestry was strongly connected to a fertility clinic in London during the Second World War, which was run by a Dr. Mary Barton and her husband, Bertold Wiesner.
They found out that Wiesner donated his own sperm to many of their clients, linking him to around 600 children born over the span of about 20 years. These children include Simon’s mother, Adrianne Smith.
When Simon submitted his DNA sample, he agreed to be contacted by people who discovered they were related to him. He then received dozens of messages from supposed fourth-degree cousins, though he eventually stopped opening the messages because they got too many to manage.
But in December 2014, Simon received an email from a certain Lyssa McGowan who claimed to be his first cousin.
No one in Simon’s family had heard of McGowan, although some of the details of her story felt familiar. Separate DNA tests showed that Adrianne, Simon’s mom, and Lyssa’s mom, Caryl Blumenthal, were born in the UK. They also found out that both were predominantly Ashkenazi Jewish.
Furthermore, Lyssa confirmed that her mother was also born through an assisted fertility program. At this point, Simon’s family still did not know that Adrianne’s biological father was not the father who raised her.
Adrianne’s parents, Louis and Millicent Pitt, were a loving couple so it was inconceivable for the family to consider that Louis might have had a secret affair that resulted in a secret family in England. Also, Louis had poor health, so it did not make sense for him to be recruited as a sperm donor.
It was Simon who corresponded with the McGowan family for months before Adrianne finally wrote to Caryl Blumenthal. Adrianne, 75, who lives in Toronto, said that she was not distressed but was intensely curious and wanted to know more of her real family history. Caryl responded to Adrianne’s email within hours and the two became fast friends.
The Biological Dad of 600
In one of their conversations, Caryl remembered the name “Barton” but was not sure who the person was or what the name even meant.
Then in 2015, Adrianne’s daughter Louise happened to watch a documentary about Mary Barton and her fertility clinic in London, which she ran from the 1940s to 1960s with her husband, Bertold Wiesner.
The maker of the documentary himself, Barry Stevens, 68, spent years trying to look for his own biological father, leading him to Mary Barton’s fertility clinic. To test his theory, he tracked down the couple’s son and requested for a DNA test, which then revealed that they were half brothers.
Barry Stevens also found out that his biological father, Bertold Wiesner, was biologically linked to up to 600 children, which he documented in two films, Offspring and Bio-Dad. It is believed that Wiesner himself provided the sperm for around ⅔ of the clinic’s clients.
Mary Barton and Bertold Wiesner
Barry Stevens went around to speak with some women who knew Barton. They all recall being told by Barton to keep the procedure a secret. This is because in 1945, the British Medical Journal published an article about the couple’s work.
The British parliament was talking about criminalizing artificial insemination, claiming that it was an awful procedure that encouraged adultery and interfering with nature.
In 1948, the Archbishop of Canterbury put together a religious commission that concluded that artificial insemination was wrong in principle and was a breach of marriage. Then in 1958, a House of Lords committee said that children conceived from artificial insemination should be considered illegitimate.
Barry clarified that he was uncertain whether Mary was aware of her husband donating most of the sperm in the clinic. However, if she indeed knew, there would be more reason to demand secrecy.
Adrianne’s family reached out to Barry and the two eventually met in 2016. After taking more DNA relationship tests, the results revealed that they were also half siblings and that Bertold Wiesner was also Adrianne’s biological father.
While the results revealed that the man who raised Adrianne was not her real father, she claims that her feelings about him did not change and that she doesn’t love him any less.
During the last five years, Adrianne was able to find more than 40 half siblings with ages ranging from 50s to 70s. They keep in touch over email, collectively referring to themselves as “halfies,” and have developed a protocol for welcoming new people to the group.
Adrianne is now part of a growing political movement, getting involved into the Donor-Conceived Alliance of Canada. The group advocates to ban anonymous sperm and egg donations, calling for the long-term preservation of donor medical records for the benefit of donor-conceived children.
Today, donors in Canada are required to answer a questionnaire about their health. However, this information is required to be preserved for only 10 years, which means that a donor-conceived child, or their parents, should be able to request to access the health history within 10 years.
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