Bluffton, SC dad reunites with daughter via online DNA test

When Tana Schuler took a 23andMe DNA test along with her brother earlier this year, she was hoping they’d learn more about their mother, who died in 2017.

Instead, she found that she was a biological match to a man in Bluffton named Chris Donelson, a name she had never heard before. The DNA website made it clear that she and Donelson were not distant cousins. He was her father.

“I’m not mad about the time we lost, I’m happy about the time we gained,” she said breathlessly while packing a bag to head to Bluffton and spend Thanksgiving with her biological father.

The 30-year-old Schuler grew up alongside her two brothers with their parents in Iowa, never knowing that she wasn’t their father’s biological child. Finding out the news was a shock at first, and one that Schuler was unsure how to navigate. She explained that since their mother’s death, she and her brothers simply wanted to find out more about their ancestry.

“I hate that I can’t talk to my mom,” she said. “It’s a new chapter. I don’t judge my mom at all.”

Back in Bluffton, when 52-year-old Donelson got the message from Schuler late one night telling him to check his matches from his own test taken earlier that year, he joked with his wife that he could have a long-lost child. Little did he know, he was right.

“I was not expecting any of this, obviously,” he said. It’s been a blessing.”

Chris Donelson, of Bluffton, with his biological daughter, Tana Schuler, who he connected with when the two coincidentally got 23andMe DNA kits. Submitted

Donelson, who moved to Bluffton in 2008 and owns a local air duct cleaning company, said he met Schuler’s mother in the 1990s. He had just gotten out of the Army and was in his home state of Iowa before moving to California to pursue his dream of acting.

“She never talked to him again and he [later] heard she was pregnant and he was like, ‘Phew, dodged a bullet there,’” Schuler said. “I always joke with him like, ‘Hey, here’s that bullet, 30 years later.’”

Growing up, Schuler said she was very close with the father who raised her, like “twins.” When asked about the DNA results, he said he had no idea.

“My dad who raised me will always be my dad,” she said. “He’s very special to me.”

‘I felt whole’

After they matched, the two approached the situation in hypotheticals, but, as soon as they met in Iowa in August, there was no denying it. They have the same nose, ears and the same eyes.

“I knew I had to see her right away,” Donelson said.

The two share a lot of the same mannerisms, quirks and are both entrepreneurs, something he takes pride in. They talk often and laugh about the similarities in their personalities, like how they both jump at the chance to help people, even if it isn’t the most convenient for them. Meeting in August was not awkward or uncomfortable. Instead, there was a sense of calm and comfort, they both said.

“He smiled every time he looked at me,” Schuler said. “It was so natural, so weird, but in a good way. Upon finding out, I felt whole.”

With the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday, they have rented a beach house on Hilton Head to accommodate their growing family.

During the visit, Schuler will meet Donelson’s two oldest children, 24 and 22 years old. Back in August, she met her teenage “baby brother” and 12-year-old stepsister.

Schuler flies out Wednesday morning with her children who have also formed a bond with Donelson. At first, her two girls, 5 and 2 years old, dubbed Donelson “new grandpa.” Now, he’s just Grandpa Chris.

Everyone is excited to be together, and though the past few months have been nothing if not surprising, it all feels like “it was meant to be,” Donelson said.

“I feel like I’ve known him my whole life,” Schuler said. “Either way, I’m not upset because I had a great childhood. These are just new people I get to meet and love and build a family with.”

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After Schuler reached out to Donelson, they arranged to meet in Iowa in August. Now, the two talk almost every day and are planning to spend Thanksgiving together in a Hilton Head beach house. Submitted

Sofia Sanchez is a breaking news reporter at The Island Packet and Beaufort Gazette. She reports on crime and developing stories in Beaufort and its surrounding areas. Sofia is a Cuban-American reporter from Florida and graduated from Florida International University in 2020.

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