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DNA match introduces Grass Valley man to his daughter for the first time

Caryl Barnes (from left), Olivia Robles and Gary Barnes meet for the first time. Robles, who had searched for her real father since she was 10 years old, found her dad, Gary Barnes, through a DNA sample she submitted to Ancestry.com.
Submitted photo |

Amid the thousands of people arriving at the Reno airport Thursday, Gary Barnes’ daughter was getting off a plane from Florida.

Barnes, a 78-year-old Grass Valley resident and Vietnam War veteran, was waiting at an arrival gate, ready to meet his only child for the first time in person.

Just months prior, he hadn’t even known she existed.

“It was the greatest anxiety that I’ve ever felt,” Barnes said. “I was a nervous twit, realizing that my daughter was going to be coming through that gate after all this time.”

“It just all fell together, like that missing piece of the puzzle all my life. It was amazing.”— Olivia Robles

Fifty-year-old Olivia Robles learned her father’s name at the end of September, after Ancestry.com notified her that a DNA sample she’d sent to the genealogy company in 2014 showed a strong match with Barnes’ cousin.

Diana Barnes, who lives in Alabama, submitted a DNA sample to the same company in June. When Diana’s genetic data was uploaded to the site, the system notified Robles that the woman’s DNA makeup was a close match with her own.

Robles reached out to Diana, not knowing exactly how she was related to the woman, in hopes of filling in some of the holes in her family tree.

Robles was born in the Philippines in 1967. At the age of six, she moved to the U.S. with her mother and stepfather, who raised her throughout her childhood. At age 10, Robles found out that her mother’s husband wasn’t her biological dad. From that moment on, she began a quest to find her birth father.

Through her initial conversations with Diana, which began at the end of September, Robles learned that Diana’s cousin, Gary Barnes, had been in the Philippines in 1966 while serving with the U.S. Navy in the Vietnam War.

Robles had a hunch that the connection wasn’t just a coincidence.

“The timeline fit together,” Robles said. “And then Diana sent me a picture of him. My youngest son has such a resemblance to him that I thought, ‘He has to be my father.’”

Robles decided to give Barnes a call.

“I was really nervous at first,” she said. “I didn’t know how he would react.”

But when she talked to him for the first time, at the beginning of October, she felt “at ease and comfortable,” she said.

“It was like I’d known him all these years.”

On Nov. 4, Barnes submitted his own DNA sample to Ancestry.com. When the results came back, the site confirmed that Robles is, in fact, his daughter.

Barnes said his memories of the mid-1960s are fuzzy. He’d traveled to the Philippines a handful of times for “rest and relaxation” while he was off duty during the war, he said. He’d met Robles’ mother there, but lost contact with her shortly thereafter.

Last week, Barnes and his wife, Caryl, whom he met years after his service in Vietnam, drove to Reno to pick up Robles and take her to their home in Grass Valley for a week-long stay.

“It’s so hard to describe the feeling,” Robles said, recounting those first moments at the airport. “It just all fell together, like that missing piece of the puzzle all my life. It was amazing.”

Robles has three sons and a grandson, and Barnes is already planning a trip out to Florida to meet the rest of his kin for Christmas.

“I went from nothing to a great-grandfather,” Barnes said. “It is such a blessing.”

This story has been updated to clarify Gary and Diana Barnes’ relation.

To contact Staff Writer Matthew Pera, email mpera@theunion.com or call 530-477-4231.

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