Local Doc Gets the Gift of a Family This Christmas

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DNA Ancestry tests have grown in popularity in recent years. Some results may be unsurprising, like finding out you’re 99.9 percent Irish and maybe 0.1 percent Scandinavian. Or maybe you learned that you actually have some Native American ancestry. While those results might be a little less typical, imagine finding out that you have a family member that you didn’t know existed, maybe even a sibling, or in the case of local physician, Dr. Peter Galvin, finding out that you have not one, but seven brothers and sisters that you can now add to your holiday shopping list. In a true Christmas miracle, the well-known doc has found the greatest gift of all—family.

In 1954, Galvin was adopted by loving parents, Mary and Andy Galvin. As their only child, they raised him as their own, sparing no expense, and motivating him to do well, by focusing on his studies rather than television, which Galvin credits for him later becoming a physician. As Irish Catholics, the Galvins instilled the love of their culture in him, which he fully embraced and went on to pick up the bagpipes and march in several St. Patrick’s Day parades. As the only family he knew, and a loving one at that, Galvin says he never pressed on asking them much about his background, and in the 1990s, they both died, taking any information about their adoptive son’s real identity to the grave. With New York adoption records bring heavily sealed and hard to open, the story of Galvin’s past was effectively buried. That was—until—home DNA tests came about.

Galvin says he always had that curiosity about who he was, but as a physician, that curiosity grew since he knows the importance of knowing your own family’s medical history. “Family history is so important, especially when it comes to risk factors like heart disease and Alzheimer’s, so I was wondering if I was at risk and wanted to know more about my background,” Galvin said. So about four years ago, he bought a 23andMe DNA test, which can offer both health and ancestry information through DNA testing. But answers came up short. “It didn’t really amount to anything. I found out I was from a Northern European and Scandinavian ancestry and occasionally I would get messages from people who might be a sixth cousin, but it never really went anywhere,” he said.

One of Galvin’s daughters, Marybeth, convinced him to give it another shot by trying a different test, AncestryDNA. “I said, alright, nothing will come of it, but I’ll do it,” he said. Galvin took the test last summer. And on October 22 of this year, he received a message he never could have expected. “I got a message on Ancestry from a woman who said our DNA was extremely close, as in sibling close. She asked me when and where I was born and I wrote her back,” he said. Her response changed Galvin’s life forever. She wrote, “OMG, you’re my brother! We’ve been looking for you for decades.”

“I was completely shocked. It’s something I never expected. To get any response at all is something and then when this came up, it’s like, holy moly, you’ve gotta be kidding me!” Galvin said. However it was no joke, and there was more. The sister, Betty, wasn’t the only sibling. Through speaking with her, Galvin learned that he not only had a sister, but five of them, and two brothers.

Along with the discovery of this new family, at 64 years old, Galvin learned the truth of his past and how he came to be adopted. “It turns out that my mother, whose maiden and married names were German, had four kids when her husband, who was in the Army, was sent to Korea. They lived on Long Island. While he was away, she had an affair and gave birth to me. I was put up for adoption. Her husband must’ve been a good guy because after he learned of the affair, they went on to have three more kids,” Galvin said. Of his birth dad, Galvin learned that he got his height and red hair from a man named Charlie.

Galvin was told that his mother had always regretted giving him up and she told her children where he was born and what his name was, but they had the wrong name—Gavin—just one letter keeping his family from finding him before two siblings coincidentally took the same DNA test. Galvin learned that his mother died in 2014, so he didn’t have a chance to meet her, but it wasn’t long before he got to meet his newfound family of seven siblings. “For them, it was like finding a long lost brother they always knew they had, but for me, it was finding out that seven total strangers are all of a sudden my brothers and sisters. It’s difficult to wrap your head around,” Galvin said.

But lucky for him, his new family was ready to welcome him with open arms to wrap around him. About a month ago, Betty, who lives in Texas along with five of the other siblings, met up with a brother, Mike, who lives in North Carolina, and made the drive up to Rockaway to meet him. And last weekend, Galvin made the trip to Texas, where he found that everything is truly bigger there, including his family. “They invited me to their big Christmas party in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, where I got to meet about 70 to 80 people. Not only did I get to meet the rest of my siblings, but I found that I’m an uncle to nieces and nephews, and grandnieces and grandnephews that I never knew I had,” he said.

Meeting so many new family members was indeed overwhelming, but the family presented him with a cheat sheet that he got to bring home and study in preparation for the next reunion—a book with names and photos of all of the family members, inscribed with a message reading, “From the family you never knew. We all have loved you from the start.”

For Galvin, getting to meet his family last weekend was nothing short of a miracle. “It seems like there’s some sort of guiding hand in all of this and the fact that it came around Christmastime made it even more amazing,” Galvin said. “This is the greatest Christmas present anyone could ever get.”

And while Galvin will continue to celebrate being Irish (45 percent of his ancestry says his family hails from County Tyrone), he says he’ll also embrace his new German (nine percent) heritage. “I will have to trade in my kilts for lederhosen!” he said.

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