- Associated Press - Saturday, November 10, 2018

Two years of age separate brothers Curtis Cochran and Roy Gunter, but it took 63 years of life for the pair to meet.

One brother wanted to answer questions about his family history, and one was taken by surprise when he was the answer. Both think their Ancestry.com DNA tests provided a solid return on investment.

Roy “Chip” Gunter, 63, took the first DNA test after his children gave him an Ancestry.com kit for Christmas in 2017.

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Gunter, the former sheriff of West Carroll Parish, wanted to take the test out of curiosity about his ancestry. He was looking for the big picture of historical migration of his ancestors, not an in-depth search for distant cousins or long-lost family.

“I’m a horrible sweater. I sweat like crazy,” Gunter said. “I said my people have got to be from Scandinavia. That’s the first thing that popped into my mind. Sure enough, Scandinavia, Ireland, Scotland and around through there, and honestly, that was all I was curious about - just to see where they were from, just to verify what I was thinking.”

It took about six weeks for Gunter, now a West Monroe resident, to receive his results. He put them aside after learning what he wanted to know until they popped back up several months later.

“I always told myself I wasn’t going to look for my birth parents or relatives until after my parents passed away because I didn’t want to hurt their feelings in any way,” said Curtis Cochran, 65. “Last fall, my father - my mother had been gone for 19 years - passed away in September (2017) at 99.”

In Fort Worth, Cochran signed-up for Ancestry.com in April. He was adopted immediately after his birth in 1953. He registered with Ancestry.com to learn more about his family history.

At a minimum, he wanted to know more about their health so he could finally answer doctors’ questions regarding a family medical history, but he also hoped to find out who his birth family was and his own personal history.

“I joined it and waited for the results and, ‘boop,’ out pops a close match,” Cochran said.

At first, the match seemed to be a cousin but additional research into the DNA results pointed to a more direct link. The possible options were grandfather, uncle or half-sibling, and Cochran started reaching out to Gunter to pinpoint the connection.

Before he sent the first email, Cochran felt it might be an awkward situation for the family on the other side. He knew he was adopted, but he didn’t know if anyone else was aware he existed.

When Gunter initially responded, he was vague. He had never considered the possibility of a relative tracking him down through his DNA submission and said he was concerned the emails might be a scam.

“The third time he contacted me, he said: ‘You don’t have any idea how close related we are, do you?’” Gunter recounted. “I said, ‘Not a clue. None.’ He said ‘According to our DNA, we are half-brothers.’”

“What?” was the word that followed in Gunter’s mind as conversations accelerated, and he discussed the possibility of a half-brother with his sister.

The two started looking at their father’s life after he left college at LSU and joined the Air Force. At some point, their father, also named Roy Gunter, returned home to northeast Louisiana and Cochran was conceived. The doctor who would later deliver Cochran played cards with his adoptive father, Gunter said.

Cochran was born in 1953. In 1954, Gunter’s parents married, and Gunter was born in 1955.

“I don’t think Dad knew,” Gunter continued, “because he was terminal for a year and a half. I feel like if he would have known, he would have said something to my sister and I. Not a word. This came totally out of left field.”

As Cochran and Gunter continued to email and later began to converse over the phone, Cochran also tracked down his maternal family through a cousin match but found his birth mother had also died.

Cochran has spoken to a half-sister by his birth mother on the telephone in addition to reaching out to Gunter.

In mid-October, the two brothers met at a Cracker Barrel restaurant in Longview, Texas. Both describe the meeting as surreal and say the similarities don’t stop there.

“When I was sitting across the table looking at him, it was like I was looking into my dad’s eyes,” Gunter said. “It was ‘boom,’ and I was going ‘This is plum spooky.’”

Cochran said there a lot of funny details personality-wise that match up, like a love of yard work and high energy levels.

“It’s kind of like meeting a friend,” Cochran said. “Because you haven’t met this person ever in your life, but you have all of this in common. The more we talked (I thought) ‘I can’t believe he does this and this, because it sounds just like me.’ … Even though we grew up in two different states, two different environments, it’s that gene pool that comes out in the end.”

Gunter said the pair regularly message each other now and speak, and he is sure they will be reconnecting in the future.

“I can’t tell you how happy I am to find him, or for him to find me is the proper terminology,” Gunter said. “I think it’s great.”

Cochran said it’s important for adopted children to realize the journey to find out more about themselves doesn’t change who they are.

“Your parents are always going to be your parents, and I wasn’t ever going to replace them, regardless of if the birth parents are alive or not,” Cochran said. “…They were the ones who were there for me every day, helped raise me, sent me to college and supported me in good and bad.”

He encourages anyone in his position to take advantage of the DNA registries that are available to answer any questions they have had in the back of their mind for years.

“They might not like the results,” Cochran said, “They may be very pleased and fortunate like I was, but to at least know about their history as far as health and also for their children’s benefit on what to look for and what not to look for, I think is invaluable. … And you may get lucky and find a brother like Chip.”

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