Local man meets siblings for first time in 65 years
By Bret Nye
Dennis Snyder was at a ballpark watching his grandson play baseball when his daughter called and asked him if he was sitting down.
Luckily, he was.
Snyder’s daughter, Kari, proceeded to tell him that through some genealogical sleuthing, representatives from Ancestry.com had discovered his biological parents had gone on to have many other children with new spouses after giving Snyder and his siblings up for adoption. He’d never met any of them, and he’d never even known they existed before the call.
“I went from having an adopted brother and adopted sister to suddenly having 17 new brothers and sisters,” Snyder said.
“It’s been quite a rollercoaster ride since then.”
Snyder’s biological parents divorced when Snyder was 4 years old, and he and his three siblings were given up for adoption. Snyder wouldn’t find out until more than a half-century later, but his younger brother, Bob, and younger sister, Becky, were adopted by a family near Fostoria and his older brother, Dale, was adopted by a family in Attica.
Since his birth certificate relates that Snyder, who was adopted by the Snyder family of Melmore, was born in Martin County, Kentucky, he always assumed his biological family resided somewhere thereabout. But, in fact, his biological siblings lived in Seneca County all their lives, mere miles apart from each other.
Dennis is certain he and Dale must have played against each other in basketball, when Bloomville and Attica high schools competed on the court. But it is impossible to know how many other times the siblings crossed paths without realizing it.
“I wonder how many times we were in the same town at the same time growing up, or if we ever walked right by one another at a restaurant or grocery store,” Snyder said.
The other 14 new brothers and sisters Snyder found after more than 60 years are half-brothers and half-sisters from his biological parents’ later marriages. His biological father had four more children and his biological mother had 10 more. His living half-siblings range in age from 49 to 64 years old.
“And all of the brothers and sisters I’ve met, they’ve all been good people,” he said. “I haven’t met a single one of them that I haven’t hit it off with.”
This chapter of Snyder’s life began in earnest when his daughter, Kari, had children and wished to learn about her biological grandfather’s family, for the purpose of knowing about her family’s medical history. She set Snyder up with a 23andMe.com profile, but Snyder said it hadn’t produced anything concrete in six months. After running some information through Ancestry.com, however, Kari was eventually contacted by one of Snyder’s half-sisters and the ball got rolling from there.
“It turned out that my birth family was from the Bettsville area,” Snyder said. “After connecting with my half-sisters over the phone, a half-brother of mine contacted me about meeting and we went to his house.”
Snyder and his wife, Judy, said they had fun at that first family meet-up, and the atmosphere was relaxed.
“Even at our first meeting, it was like we’d known each other all our lives,” Snyder said.
This first meeting led to more visits to half-sisters and half-brothers and then larger gatherings throughout the area over the following months with the different arms of Snyder’s family. There’s Lorri in Sandusky, Lynnette in Burgoon, Ron in Kansas, Darlene in Fremont, and four half-siblings he’s yet to meet: Stephen in Bettsville, Patty and Brenda in Kentucky and Jim in Louisiana.
Snyder also met his biological brother and sister this June, some 65 years after they were adopted by different families.
He and his wife Judy were a little nervous about the visit, he said, and partly because he was still unsure about the verity of the new family connections at that point.
“I invited my biological brother, Bob, and biological sister, Becky, to our house, because I was still a little uncertain about all of it,” he said. “And when I first saw Bob, I told him, ‘we don’t look like each other at all,’ though Becky insisted we did.”
But Snyder convinced Bob to take the blood test he had taken himself, and it confirmed they were, in fact, brothers.
“Every time we’ve met each other since, we’ve loosened up a little more,” he said. “Now, it’s like we’ve always been a family, without a doubt.”
The more they get to know each other, the strands of connection between Snyder and his biological siblings appear to stack up.
“The connections we’ve run into are unbelievable,” Snyder said. “We’ve all known the same people, and some of my siblings have worked for people that are very good friends of mine.”
“You notice the differences between us because of the way that our adoptive parents raised us, but there are many similarities.”
Some of their similarities could be chalked up to coincidence, by nature of proximity (“we’re all diehard Ohio State Buckeyes and Cleveland Indians fans,” Snyder said) or having grown up in the same region, but some likenesses seem more intrinsic, like their affinity for music. Snyder played drums and sang in a band for years and deejayed at a variety of area functions after that, and he said Bob and Becky showed a similar inclination for music.
“Apparently my biological father was also a guitar player for many years and later got into gospel music,” he said.
And from all accounts, there is a correlation of temperament between the siblings. As Judy puts it, “they’re all a bunch of jokesters.”
As this story unfurls, though, every new revelation also brings more mystery and complexity.
There are some half-siblings Snyder has never met, having passed away decades ago. And there is also Snyder’s older biological brother, Dale. Growing up in Attica and Melmore, respectively, Dale and Snyder played basketball against each other in high school without ever knowing they shared biological parents.
Snyder has a photograph of Dale in his military uniform, taken days before starting out on a tour during the Vietnam War. The resemblance is unmistakable, the young face in the photo providing a perfect image of what Snyder must have looked like at the beginning of his 20s.
“Everyone says we do look alike,” Snyder said.
Snyder recently found out Dale died while on that tour, and that he’d died a war hero.
“They had quite a program for Dale at the American Legion in Attica, apparently, because he was a hero,” he said. “There’s a book called ‘Facing the Wall’ written by a man Dale saved during the war, and in it this man goes into Dale’s actions in detail.”
Dale was awarded two Purple Hearts and a Silver Star, posthumously, for his service.
Snyder also was in the military during the Vietnam War era, but he wasn’t deployed to Vietnam.
“I feel bad that I didn’t go but I’m also glad I didn’t go, especially knowing that my brother was killed there,” he said.
“I also didn’t visit the traveling wall when it came to
Tiffin a few years ago because I’d already seen the names of the people I knew on there, in Washington,” he said. “But if I would’ve known Dale’s name was on there, it would’ve been a different story.”
Snyder recently spoke to one of his Bloomville classmates who had gone to the same church that Dale did.
“Once I told her we’d been blood brothers she said somehow she’d always known,” he said. “She told me he walked and talked and looked just like me, and she always thought there had to be some kind of connection.”
Snyder said he realized earlier this year that some of his classmates knew about the siblings living so close to each other at the time.
“Back then people kept quiet about things like that, they didn’t want to mess things up,” he said.
“To find out that Dennis thought his family was somewhere in Kentucky all those years and not right in this area, all this time, it’s sad really,” Snyder’s wife Judy said. “Thinking about all that time they lost together.”
But having found each other in 2019, after 65 years, Snyder is prepared to make the most out of the future.
“My parents who raised me will always be my parents, and that will never change,” he said, referring to the couple that adopted him and brought him up in their house outside Melmore, a house Snyder and his wife Judy eventually took possession of and live in to this day.
“But my siblings all have their history, and I have mine, and those histories should’ve been combined along the way,” he said.
Going forward, Snyder hopes to travel to Kentucky and meet his half-sisters Patty and Brenda someday soon, and he knows there are still more people to find, more stories to uncover.
“At this point, I’ve gotten a lot of answers, but there are still a lot of questions left,” he said.