Minnesota genealogist helps reunite Texas family with daughter after 51 years

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Over the Thanksgiving weekend, Alta Apantenco hugged her daughter Melissa Highsmith for the first time since 1971.

Fifty-one years ago, Apantenco left her daughter in the care of her roommate at their Fort Worth, Texas home. According to the family, the roommate handed off Melissa to a babysitter, and the child was not seen in the many decades since.

“I can’t describe my feelings. I’m so happy to see my daughter that I didn’t ever think I would see again,” Apanteco said.

A break came when the DNA Melissa Highsmith’s dad submitted to online ancestry databases showed a new lead earlier this month, according to loved ones.

“I’ve never seen her this happy. She’s beyond happy — she’s ecstatic,” Sharon Highsmith said about her mother, Apanteco.

Sharon Highsmith and her sister, Rebecca Delbosque, told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS they were alerted of a couple of new relatives possibly connected to their dad’s DNA. It wasn’t their missing sister Melissa but people that could be related to her.

“It’s been a whirlwind. Everything is very overwhelming,” Delbosque said.

That’s when the family and those connected to the search reached out to Lisa Jo Schiele, a genealogist from Cherry, Minnesota, to help them interpret the results.

“I was grateful somebody was listening to us,” Sharon Highsmith said.

“At first glance, you look at these matches, but I’m like, ‘Holy cow, is this too good to be true,'” Schiele said. “I’m very happy to help them navigate all of this.”

Schiele said she mined the DNA results the sisters had found with public records, which were then used to help find Melissa.

“I was able to use what we call traditional genealogy to find marriage records and things like that to find where Melissa was right now,” Schiele said.

“I keep having to pinch myself to make sure I’m awake,” said Melissa Highsmith, who didn’t know about her family until last week when they reached out.

Melissa said she was raised by another woman but ran away from home when she was just 15 years old.

Melissa lives in the Fort Worth area, which is about 20 minutes away from where her birth mother lives.

“It’s a miracle,” Apantenco said.

“A Christmas miracle,” said Melissa.