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Kiski Valley woman discovers close relative through genetic testing

Mary Ann Thomas
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Submitted
Family resemblance? Tim Fisher’s senior photo and Patty Ameno in 1984.
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Newly discovered “close relatives” Tim Fisher and Patty Ameno.

They both love God and law enforcement and found they had even more in common after genetic testing on Ancestry.com.

In October, the website had quite a surprise for Patty Ameno, 67, of Hyde Park and Tim Fisher, 40, of Hagerstown, Md.

The explosion of DNA testing unveils some of the mysteries of family relations, which may be a welcome revelation to some or an illumination of dark corners to others.

DNA testing services by the score, commonly using saliva samples, offer reports on genetic heritage have become popular gifts. Holiday specials abound.

For example, on this Cyber Monday, a business press release promoted between 21 and 50 percent off of DNA test kits from 23andMe, Ancestry, National Geographic and My Heritage.

Companies sell not only genetic testing services but also the option to learn about people with similar genetic backgrounds who might be related to you, along with consent to contact them.

While DNA testing is becoming commonplace, the results and the accompanying surprises are still, well, a surprise.

“On the surface this sounds innocuous and entertaining, but it certainly can raise questions that people might not be ready for,” said Sheldon Krimsky, the Lenore Stern Professor of Humanities and Social Sciences at Tufts University, in the Jan. 26, 2018, edition of Tufts Now.

Fisher joined Aancestry.com around 2015-16 with an interest in family history. It was shortly after learning that the man who had called himself his dad confessed during the waning days of his life that he was not his biological father.

“Once he told me that, he confirmed something I had felt,” Fisher said.

Fisher wanted to learn something about his ancestry several years ago and joined Ancestry.com.

He ran it as far as it could go — or so he thought.

Fisher was getting ready to cancel his subscription in October, the month of Ameno’s birthday.

Back in Hyde Park, Charles Ameno, the son of Ameno and her partner Nedra, asked Nedra what Patty wanted for her birthday.

“She wants to know if she is black,” Nedra told her son.

By sight, at least, Ameno appears Mediterranean.

But a genetic test might show other ancestral background.

So Ameno was gifted with a membership to Ancestry.com, to which she swiftly sent her DNA sample.

The result: The bulk of her ancestry was not surprising — 89 percent Italian, 8 percent Middle Eastern, then an unexpected 3 percent French.

The surprise came on Oct. 30. Both Ameno and Fisher received messages from Ancestry.com identifying each other as “predicted close family” based on the amount of shared DNA.

The possible range could be a first cousin or other close family members with statistical variations ranging from two to four degrees of separation.

Ameno and Fisher did what any two people trained in criminal justice would do: they cyber-investigated each other.

Ameno is well known as an environmental activist whose campaigns included spearheading federal lawsuits on behalf of several hundred Apollo-area residents that settled for more than $80 million for alleged radioactive emissions causing cancer and property damage. She also holds a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from the Indiana University of Pennsylvania and was an investigator when she was in the military.

Fisher, married with two children, was set to work as a police officer before taking up Bible school. He currently is the pastor of the Church of God in Hagerstown, ministering to a parish of 300.

Fisher saw on Ameno’s Facebook page a photo of her from 1984 looking like a short-haired Jennifer Beals from “Flashdance,” dark-eyed with a long nose.

“I saw the resemblance,” he said, “and I thought, ‘I need to reach out and see what this was.’ ”

Ameno also spotted a family resemblance and sent him other family photos. They juxtaposed older photos of each other and saw more similarities.

Fisher visited Ameno last week to meet in person at her Hyde Park home. She took him on a tour of the area, including stops at Vandergrift’s G&G restaurant and the nuclear waste dump in Parks Township, where she has been pushing for a long-delayed cleanup that is under way. Ameno marveled over their mutual admiration given some of their stereotypical differences: “He’s a pastor. I am gay,” Ameno said, referring to some of the religious intolerance toward homosexuals.

She also remarked on Fisher living south of the Mason-Dixon line, known for its history of racial discrimination, and her longtime partner, Nedra Ameno, being African American. “I think it is beautiful,” Ameno said.

Although he never knew his biological father, Fisher’s discovery of Ameno has brought contentment, he said, adding, “I will continue to search for possibilities.”

Mary Ann Thomas is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Mary Ann
at 724-226-4691, [email protected] or via Twitter @MaThomas_Trib.

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