Chat with...John Suggs, a forensic genetic genealogist who reconnects families
WESTPORT—After 49 years of nebulous uncertainty, Amy Huckeba nervously dialed the phone number of a nursing home in Tonganoxie, Kan., with the hopes of finding her birth father.
She left a message with one of the nurses and later heard the kind, soft voice she had been longing for so many years. Huckeba and her father, Trey Francis, shared stories and enjoyed each other’s voice on the phone for another couple of weeks until Francis died.
“Spending your life not knowing where you came from and who your blood relatives are is hard and having those answers brings peace,” Huckeba said. “To talk to him before he died and to have a relationship with him changed my life.”
As a result of Westporter John Suggs’ efforts, Huckeba, who later was reconnected with her birth mother in her home state of Arizona, has clarity on who her parents are. Using the results from three DNA tests Huckeba took, Suggs, a forensic genetic genealogist, dug through piles of records and, within six weeks, found the phone number of the Kansas nursing home Francis was living in and guided Huckeba through the reunion process. She now sees her mother regularly.
For over 10 years Suggs, who also serves on Westport’s Representative Town Meeting, has been reconnecting families all over the country. In 2014, he founded his firm in Stamford, Family Orchard. A former high school history teacher and Jesuit in training who eventually chose not to pursue the priesthood, Suggs said those experiences were formative primers for his current job. Suggs also said his work as an advocate for the homeless and as a lead investigator for the Los Angeles City Ethics Commission helped shape him.
“That’s been the thread all of the way through my life. I have a passion for history, a passion
for research and for getting to the truth,” Suggs said. “Everyone has a story.”
When he completed his master’s degree thesis on anonymous genetic testing at New York University in 2002, he saw a need and a want for the services he provides and decided to pursue the practice.
Suggs said there is a deep pain and “trauma” when a child is separated from his or her birth parent and an innate desire to know one’s birth parents.
“As a result, there’s always this ache in an adoptee’s heart. ‘Where did I come from? What is she doing? What were the circumstances behind my conception?’” Suggs said.
Seeing the families reunite, the 55-year-old explained, is what fuels his passion.
“Every case is special and powerful. I think what I love the most are the reunions,” he said. “It’s so humbling to work with them and I always make a huge point of saying ‘This is your journey. I’m just accompanying you,’”