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Finding family, using science

Group tracks down womans father using DNA


By Jessica Stanton, Graphic news intern

After 22 years of searching, pulling from every resource she knew, Cynthia Phan Standley finally found what she had been looking for: a connection to who she was.

Five months ago Phan found her birth father, a discovery only completed by a DNA test with Family Tree DNA and a passionate third cousin, Beverly Horttor of Newberg.

Phan grew up in Qui Nhon, Vietnam, and was raised by her mother, Thu Ha, whom suffered severe trauma from the war. Ha was so traumatized she is unable to remember the day her daughter was born.by: SUBMITTED - DNA sleuths - Cynthia Phan Standley (back row, second from left) met the women whom her DNA matched in February. From the DNA test her first match is Francis Miles Willett (front row) and Beverly Horttor (back row, third from left) was her second closest DNA match. Tamera Wadleigh (back row, first on left) and Teresa Hill (back row, fourth from left) are Horttor's daughters that have matching DNA with Standley. Sharon White (back row, right) is Francis Willett's daughter. Because of DNA testing Standley now knows her paternal family line.

Phan went through life not knowing her birth date or who she belonged to. She is one of thousands of Asian-American children born of United States soldiers deployed during the Vietnam War.

“Many of the children were homeless and no one took care of them. We didn’t look Vietnamese,” Phan said.

It was during the American presidency of Ronald Reagan that Phan immigrated to the United States with her mother through the Orderly Departure Program in 1991. Phan was 19 years old when the search for her father really began.

“I knew there was no point looking for him in Vietnam since he was American,” she said.

The only clue Phan had was a photograph her father left with her mother. On the back was a simple hand-written note: “I love and miss you so very much. I will be back about 21 March. Will you miss me? I will miss you.” The note was signed “Stand Ley.”

Phan’s first attempt to find her father began by her asking Oprah to tell her story, a request Oprah denied. Phan still clung to hope and began searching the Internet and Facebook, but she didn’t have enough information about her father and her search lead nowhere.

“It was all fruitless. All I knew was that he toured in Vietnam. He might have worked in food service in the Army and his name could be Stand Ley,” she said.

After years of digging with no answers she put her search on hold and would only share her frustration with the customers who patronized her nail salon, Venus Beautiful Nails in Spokane, Wash. She kept the photograph of her father in her nail shop, hoping that one day someone would walk in and know the mysterious face taped on the wall.

When Phan’s son joined the Army and began to ask questions about his grandfather, Cynthia began the hunt anew. It was July 2013.

She was introduced to the anchor on KHQ-TV in Spokane, which lead to a live broadcast of Phan and her mother asking for help to find her father. Yet, there were no results, no answers and Phan continued to feel as if pieces of her were missing.

Four months after the interview one of her co-workers in the organization, Ameriasian Without Boarders, suggested Phan take a DNA test.

Originally, Phan thought there would be no point in the test; she already knew she was Asian-American, that much was obvious, but her co-worker convinced her to take the family finder test through FamilyTreeDNA.com.

“It was the best possible test she could have taken,” said Horttor, Phan’s third cousin.

Horttor, who lives at Friendsview Retirement Community in Newberg, has been doing family tree research for as long as she can remember. “I became interested in doing DNA testing with my family because paper trails were leading nowhere and I felt, like Cynthia, I belonged to a certain family. The DNA test helps to break brick walls when the paper trail is cold,” Horttor said.

Horttor has had all of her children, her late husband and as many of her family members who would say “yes” take a DNA test. She even asked her 97-year-old aunt, Francis Willett, to take a DNA test to ensure that was a database of three generations of DNA material.

On Nov. 7, when Phan logged into her FamilyTreeDNA account, she had a possible match identified. It was Willett.

“I went numb. I thought, ‘What am I going to do with this lady I am related to?’ My life is going to change. Will the family deny me?” Phan said.

Phan called and texted her family asking, rejoicing and questioning what she should do next. She needed to do something soon, because the woman in the picture was well past her 70s and she didn’t want to miss out on the opportunity to get answers to her questions.

Phan sent an introductory e-mail and hoped Willett would hold the key to who her father was.

Horttor received a copy of the email and knew that only a phone call would be the best way to explain the match.

Both women shared their connections to the genealogy website, but more family researching had to be done. While Cynthia knew she found a lead, she still didn’t know who her father was.

“Do you know the name Stand Ley; they are a part of my family,” Phan told Horttor.

It was up to Horttor to do what she loves: research family heritage.

“She is an angel on Earth. Without her, even though I took the DNA test, the rest of the family had to be found and Beverly did it,” Phan said.

Horttor narrowed the search down to four people that could be Phan’s father.

“I had a cousin in southern California looking at tombstones in case he was deceased,” she said. The women were lead to discover that Phan’s father’s name was Standley, not Stand Ley, like they thought.

Now with a full name they could track the family heritage. Horttor discovered that the Standley’s were from Carrollton, Mo., and searching for the man they thought was Phan’s father became easier and easier. They quickly found a high school photo and then found a Facebook page.

Both Horttor and Phan knew they had to be delicate in contacting the family. Once they sent the first message a flood of email and phone calls from lost family members poured in after they began conversing with the wife of Loren Ray Standley Jr.

“What was beautiful about the whole thing is that he told all his children about her,” said Horttor. Phan’s lost family knew they had a sister who was Vietnamese and had been waiting for the day they would meet.

Thirteen days after Phan saw the results of her DNA test, she knew who her father was, but it the news was bittersweet. Phan’s father had passed away six years earlier, but he left behind the greatest gift of all, a memory he had of his daughter born in Vietnam. He was not ashamed of her. In fact, he too had been looking for her the past 40 years.

“I was surprised he even knew about me,” Phan said. The family later discovered an old journal with Cynthia’s birthdate scribbled in her father’s hand writing, the first time in her life she knew the actual day she was born.

Phan also learned that her father had friends in the Army that knew Thu, Cynthia’s mother, and that she was pregnant. His friends kept him informed and the journal entry was proof that he had not given up on Cynthia after all.

“Can you imagine for the first time discovering your birthday at 40 years old,” Phan said. “He gave my life to me. I know who I am. I now have 10 more siblings. It was wild. I knew nothing before and now I am instantly accepted into the family. My family wants me and that is a beautiful thing.”

Horttor was just as elated. “Euphoria is the only way I can describe what helping Cynthia find the rest of her family (means) — euphoria,” she said.

Phan changed her legal name to match her fathers, Standley, and will meet the rest of her family sometime at the end of May. Both Horttor and Phan knew they had to be delicate with contacting the family. Phan was very clear that her only intentions were to know who her father was.

Cynthia Phan Standley is only one of the 3 percent of Asian-Americans that find their families in the United States, according to SmithsonianMag.com.

“There are still many Asian-American’s that are looking for their families. So if you think you have a connection, I encourage taking a DNA test at FamilytreeDNA.com,” Phan said.



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