Bismarck man finds half sister thanks to DNA test – Bismarck Tribune



A Bismarck man’s Christmas present a year ago led him to an even bigger gift: a half sister.

Jake O’Connell’s 2021 Christmas present was a 23andMe DNA testing kit. His wife and parents-in-law had taken tests earlier, and he was the only one left who didn’t know his ancestry. 

“(My wife) would ask about my background,” O’Connell said. “I’ve been told I was Scottish and Irish, but we never really knew.”

O’Connell took the test, which consists of filling a collection tube with saliva and sending it to a lab to get analyzed.

“When it came back my wife noticed there was a match for relatives,” O’Connell said.

23andMe offers an opt-in feature that compares a person’s DNA to other 23andMe users and predicts a relationship based on the amount of shared DNA. The vast majority of relatives found share a common ancestor within the last five to 10 generations, but there is the possibility of finding a much closer relative, according to the company.

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Over 1,000 miles away, in Bowie, Texas, Ronna Quimby Huckaby grew up knowing she was adopted.

“(I was) raised by awesome parents, awesome family and no siblings,” she said.

Ronna Quimby Huckaby

Ronna Quimby Huckaby


But she was always curious about her birth parents.

She had done a DNA test through a company called Ancestry to answer some questions but found most of her answers while writing a book about her adoption experience.

“My birth father, who was listed in my adoption records, goes by Ducky. He was a beach boy, and my birth mother lived in New Jersey,” Quimby Huckaby said.

She also did the 23andMe DNA test several years later out of health concerns because it offers an option for health service.

Oddly, she and Ducky’s family didn’t appear to match in each other’s 23andMe DNA relatives database.

“They were all talking about being on 23andMe and I was thinking I don’t remember seeing them as relatives,” Quimby Huckaby said. “I figured they were like second or third cousins removed and they might be using a different name because they are a well-to-do family and maybe they don’t want their name out there.”

Quimby Huckaby finally got an email in early 2022 confirming a DNA relative in the database. But the email was sent to her husband from Jake O’Connell: “DNA doesn’t lie: Ronna and I share a father.”

Jake O'Connell

Jake O’Connell



O’Connell grew up knowing who his dad was, but only from a distance. His parents were Hawaii residents when they divorced; he was an infant. O’Connell and his mother moved back to the contiguous United States after the divorce. O’Connell interacted with his father in person only a few times after that. 

Sam Sanford was a radio DJ and restaurateur known for his pranks and outrageous sense of humor. He was a well-off New York native who was kicked out of Yale his sophomore year. He had several wives during his life.

Sanford moved to Hawaii in 1957, after serving in the Air Force and later working in the hospitality business in Haiti and the Virgin Islands. He spent the next 20 years working in radio.

“He was an interesting individual that was better suited to be in entertainment than a father,” O’Connell said.

Sanford died in his home during the early hours of Dec. 20, 1997, after suffering from liver disease. He was 68.

Who is the father?

After reading the email from O’Connell, Quimby Huckaby was prepared to give her new half-sibling the shock of his life. O’Connell had mentioned his dad, Sanford, as the parent that they shared. But she was convinced that O’Connell had the wrong father.

She had written a book and looked at adoption records that all pointed at Ducky as being her father. It took several hours and some online research for her to realize that O’Connell was correct: Sanford was their father. 

“It felt like the rug got pulled out from under me,” Quimby Huckaby said. “For 20 years I was in understanding that I was (Ducky’s daughter).”

Similarities and differences

It’s difficult to tell that O’Connell and Quimby Huckaby are siblings when they’re side by side. He is 6 feet tall and she is 5-foot-6. He has fairer skin and she has olive tone skin.

“I look very much like my mother and she looks like my father,” O’Connell said.

Quimby Huckaby is happy to finally find where she comes from.

“I never knew where my nose came from because I knew it didn’t come from my mom or ducky,” she said. “My nose is the same as Sam’s, our birth father.”

The future

O’Connell and Quimby Huckaby met each other for the first time last summer during a Christmas in July event. Jake, his wife and two children went to Forth Worth, Texas, where Quimby Huckaby lives.

“We all hit it off right away,” O’Connell said.

The group spent nearly a week lounging about the pool getting to know one another. The O’Connells also got the full Texas experience by going to the stockyards and rodeo, and having a cookout with Quimby Huckaby’s friends and family. O’Connell brought pictures of the family and handwritten letters from Sanford.

“We just tried to celebrate and get to know each other,” Quimby Huckaby said.

The siblings now make sure to keep in touch. They make time to talk every weekend, albeit virtually.

Quimby Huckaby plans to visit Bismarck in the spring, when she’s sure that the snow and cold weather is gone.

O’Connell uses DNA often in his law enforcement job, and he is appreciative of the technology. 

“I’m not an overly emotional guy but it’s kind of nice to know that you have another family member out there,” he said.

Reach David Velázquez at 701-250-8264 or


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