A DNA test might seem like an unusual Christmas present for a husband to give his wife, but for a Hays woman, it turned into a life-changing gift.
Maria Biskie’s life has been through many twists, especially in just the last few months.
Born in the Philippines in 1973, she never knew who her father was. Her mother, Nora, told her he had died when she was a baby. She was raised by her grandmother until the age of 9. Her mother had two other children and had remarried. She collected Maria from her grandmother, and the family moved to San Diego, Calif.
Maria ran away from home when she was 15. At 22, she had a daughter. Two years later, she was working full time, attending nursing school and raising a toddler.
As the years passed, she married, had three more children, and divorced. She’d lived in Las Vegas for 13 years.
Then she met the man she said is her soulmate. Two days after signing up on the dating website eHarmony, she got notice of a match with a man in Kansas, Scott Biskie, owner of Main Street Gym and Fitness, 806 Main.
“We started talking, and a couple days later he said, ‘I’m going to come visit you.’ We met and we knew,” Maria said.
“She’s very creative and has some drive, and that’s one of the reasons we clicked so good,” Scott said.
In the early part of their marriage, Maria still lived in Las Vegas and Scott in Hays.
“I looked at moving there,” Scott said. “Between my business and some other stuff, it just didn’t work out so she ended up coming here.”
Maria moved to Hays last March. Her children remain in Las Vegas — her oldest daughter is in the Army Reserves and the three other children live with their father.
She has been pursuing a nursing degree with North Central Kansas Technical College and will soon open her own business, Pulse Medical Apparel, next to Scott’s gym at 810 Main.
A straight-up match
Even though life turned to a good path after some rocky trials, Maria said she still felt an emptiness not knowing who her father was.
For Christmas last year, Scott ordered a DNA test for Maria through 23 and Me, a personal genetics company. His intention was to help her learn if there were any genetic health concerns as well as learn something about her heritage on her father’s side.
She received the results a couple of weeks ago, and it showed she had a 50 percent European mix — British, Irish and German.
The report also showed potential genetic matches to family members. Maria and Scott hoped it would lead to information about who her father was.
“I found second, third, fourth cousins from his side, and I was really excited. I wanted to meet some people who could tell me about him,” Maria said.
“When it started listing third and fourth cousins, we thought that was opening some doors,” Scott said. “Somebody’s got to know about him, at least what kind of man he was.”
Then Maria found GEDmatch, a website for genealogy research. Users can upload results of DNA tests and search for matches in its database.
A few days later, on Feb. 12, Maria logged into the site, curious if there were any matches.
There was one.
The site’s analysis showed the match was related one generation back.
“It can’t be him. It’s an uncle,” Maria told herself.
The site’s analysis, however, indicated a parental connection.
“Everything was a straight-up match,” she said.
The information included a name and email address.
She quickly sent an email.
“I got freaked out and I started looking for him,” she said.
She found several matching names on Facebook, but one profile photo jumped out at her — a tall, red-headed, bearded sailor standing on a ship, with the caption dating the photo to 1973.
She sent him a message.
The stars align
Bill Tittle was on a trip driving through Baja California, with a friend and was in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, when he got Maria’s message.
He responded that he had been in the Philippines in 1973.
“He said ‘Yeah, I had a girlfriend named Nora,’ ” Maria said.
“The tears went down my face,” Maria said.
Tittle friended Maria on Facebook, where she found photos of him and her mother among his pictures there. She started messaging him with questions.
“I vomited all these emotions out,” she said with a laugh.
Tittle was in the U.S. Navy during the Vietnam War when he met Maria’s mother. He left the Philippines without knowing she was pregnant.
“It was during the war, and she assumed he must have died,” Maria said.
Tittle returned to the Philippines to look for Nora before leaving the Navy in 1974.
“I couldn’t find a trace, other than someone told me she had a baby girl with curly hair,” he said.
“My mom’s town where she lived was about three or four hours from where they met,” Maria said, “so when she got pregnant she went back home. He didn’t know where she was.”
Tittle returned to the U.S., where he worked various jobs in construction and then made pens for Paper Mate. He later worked for Chevron, starting as a mechanic and then a supervisor, traveling to different parts of the country. He retired after 27 years at 54.
“I was never married, so I retired early,” he said.
He spent part of his years with Chevron in Venezuela, and returned there after retiring for about another eight years until 2014. He now lives in Venice, Calif.
Several years ago, he started working on his family tree.
“I got to a point where I had DNA testing done to find out my origins,” he said.
Initially, he had uploaded only the data for his Y chromosome — the male lineage — to a genealogy database. A couple years ago, he added the mitochondrial data — the female lineage from his genome.
Last year, he crashed his motorcycle and broke a rib.
“I couldn’t be very active until my rib healed, so I spent a lot of hours in front of the computer,” he said.
During his rehabilitation, he dove into his geneological research, which later helped Maria start finding pieces of her genetic puzzle.
“The stars aligned,” Tittle said.
A week after their initial contact, Tittle returned home from Mexico, and father and daughter spoke for the first time.
“And then we Facetimed and we just looked at each other,” Maria said.
“Like two little birds,” her husband said with a laugh, imitating a bird turning its head from side to side.
The last two weeks have been a whirlwind for Maria. In addition to her father, she has connected with Tittle’s niece and other relatives in Denver.
“I was a hot mess for days,” she said. “My brain would not shut up. It was a like a runaway train.”
‘My search is ended’
On Monday, Maria and Scott waited anxiously at Hays Regional Airport for a plane to arrive. They spotted the white-haired man in a flannel shirt on the stairs and waved as he crossed the tarmac. After Tittle stepped through the door to the terminal, father and daughter embraced for the first time.
Tittle neither married nor had any other children, so meeting his daughter and learning he’s also a grandfather in a short amount of time has been a bit overwhelming, he said.
“I told her many times I’m not an emotional guy, but it gets to me,” he said, wiping his eyes occasionally as his daughter spoke.
But he’s also taking the change in stride.
“I have no other kids, and it was good news to me. I tell people I got the email a young man fears and an old man looks forward to,” he said with a soft laugh.
Tittle said he didn’t doubt Maria was his daughter, especially after seeing the DNA match.
“There’s no doubt. When there’s a match, there’s a match,” he said.
Maria’s mother wasn’t so easily convinced, however. Maria said her mother was in shock and denial at first.
“After it sunk in, she said, ‘I’m so glad you found him,’ ” Maria said.
Tittle has spoken to Maria’s mother, and has plans to visit his grandchildren in Las Vegas.
He will head back to California on Thursday, but in the meantime father and daughter are making up for lost time.
“There were a lot of times in my life which were very rough and very hard for me and I could only wish he was there,” Maria said. “But going forward, I told him, I just wanted to hug him and never let him go.”
Tittle will have a new branch to add to his family tree, but for Maria, she is satisfied with what she has discovered.
“My search is ended. I really don’t care about looking,” she said. “When I went online to meet (Scott), in a couple days he was my match. God said, ‘Here, you’re done.’ And when I did that for my dad, within that week — ‘Here you’re done.’
“I found everything I’ve been looking for in my life.”