WINCHESTER — Until two weeks ago, Winchester native Christine "Chris" Ashby thought her birth father was dead.
But a DNA test purchased online revealed that her biological father, Anthony “Tony” Hoover, was not only alive, he was living in Winchester.
On Sept. 21, the 46-year-old Ashby met Hoover, 65, for the first time at Hopscotch Coffee on Millwood Avenue to get to know her dad and learn about her past.
Ashby grew up in downtown Winchester with her mother, Linda Palmer. She never developed a great relationship with her stepfather, who came into her life when she was 6 years old. He died a few years ago.
“He was just married to my mom,” Ashby said. “It was very distant.”
About 30 years ago, when Ashby was a teenager, her mother said her biological father wanted to meet her, but she was warned that he was on his deathbed. Ashby was told his dying wish was to meet her and her younger sister Sandee, who also was his child. He passed away the day she met him.
Earlier this year, Ashby decided she wanted to learn more about her ethnicity, as her mother had always told her she had some Cherokee ancestry on the mother's side of the family.
In June, a friend bought Ashby an AncestryDNA.com DNA test for her birthday. The test uses DNA sequences to infer family relationships with other Ancestry DNA users and to provide what it calls an "ethnicity estimate." It also can provide lists of potential DNA matches and link users to others who have taken the AncestryDNA test. The results are often used for family history research.
Ashby mailed off her saliva sample in a tube and set up an online account to build a family tree. On Sept. 19, she received a message on Facebook from Hoover, who said he also did a DNA test and that he would like to talk to her. Ashby asked him what his results were, and he replied "that you are my child.”
When she logged back into her account and clicked on matchups, it said “Tony Hoover parent, 100 percent match.”
Ashby recalled hearing Hoover’s name mentioned a couple of times growing up and that he and her mother had dated, but she never thought anything of it. When Ashby told her mother about the DNA match, she was shocked and said “that’s crazy.” Ashby's mother believed the father of her two daughters was the man who died decades earlier. It turns out he was Sandee's father, but he wasn't Christine's father.
“I said, ‘Mom, DNA don’t lie,’” Ashby said.
Two days later, Ashby and Hoover met for the first time and brought photo albums filled with decades of pictures.
Hoover said he met Ashby's mother in the early 1970s through a friend who was dating her. They all went to Handley High School in Winchester. Hoover’s friend didn’t have a vehicle, so Hoover would often give him rides to Palmer’s house.
After the friend and Palmer split, Hoover and Palmer dated for awhile. They saw each other frequently during the summer of 1972, but they broke things off in August or September when Palmer decided to get back together with Hoover’s friend. In June of 1973, Palmer gave birth to Ashby shortly before she turned 17 years old.
“So when Chris[tine] was born at that time, I thought, I could be the father,” Hoover said. “But her mother told me that I wasn’t. She said it was my friend’s baby. And then through the years I had wondered and asked questions around but wouldn't get any answers until recently.”
Ashby said her mother really believed that Hoover’s friend was her father.
Hoover worked for 36 years at the Jim Stutzman automobile dealership in Winchester, retiring on April 1 of this year. Twenty-five years ago, he met Ashby when she came to the dealership to get a key made.
“All through the years I didn't know what to do because I wasn’t definitely sure [I was the father] and I didn’t want to interrupt anybody’s life and be wrong and cause problems,” Hoover said.
As the years went by, Hoover said people told him they suspected he was Ashby’s father. He became Facebook friends with Ashby, and when he saw a post on her Facebook page that she was doing an AncestryDNA test, he decided to take a test too to see if he was her father. The test told him Ashby was his daughter, with a 100 percent match.
Ashby said she accepted Hoover's Facebook friend request because she had heard his name growing up and knew he and her mother dated. She said the revelation that he is her father is still sinking in.
“My mom caught me crying,” Ashby said. “She said, ‘If I had any idea, I would have told you.’”
Ashby now lives in Hedgesville, W.Va., with her husband. She has three children, Stephanie, Courtney and Braylon, and some grandchildren.
“The kids are excited to know they have a whole other family,” Ashby said. “It’s not just me finding a dad, but them finding a grandfather, aunts, uncles, cousins.”
Hoover has a 36-year-old son, Bobby, who lives in Stephens City, and a 43-year-old daughter, Tara, who lives in Alexandria. Ashby said they were all accepting and excited about the revelation.
“We have a lot of making up to do,” Ashby said. “I’m excited to meet Tara and Bobby.”
After talking for two hours at the coffee shop, Ashby asked Hoover what he was doing for rest of the day, and he said he was going to a Handley football game. She replied, “I like football,” and the two went to the game together. They went to another Handley game on Sept. 28, and Hoover visited Ashby's house on Sept. 29, where he met her family and saw Palmer for the first time in 46 years.
“I made dinner, and we watched football and hung out at the creek,” Ashby said.
Palmer posted on Facebook, “It’s a shock to all of us, but it’s a good shock.”
Although the two missed 46 years of hanging out together, Hoover said, “We have now, and we have the future.”
“People say, ‘You missed out on so much,’ but I really don’t look at it that way,” Ashby said. “I think this is the perfect timing in both of our lives. I think how different my life would have been if I found out years ago, but things happen for a reason. I believe that with all of my heart.”