Woman discovered family secret that changed her world

Investigates

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) – DNA testing site like Ancestry.com and 23 and Me have been growing in popularity.  They’ve connected people to long-lost relatives and created many happy endings.  But that’s not always the case.

In our KELOLAND News Investigation, we look into how new DNA tests are sometimes revealing old family secrets some wish would have remained uncovered.

DNA technology helped investigators make an arrest in a cold case in the death of Baby Andrew in Sioux Falls from 1981. Police used the baby’s DNA and enlisted genealogy websites like Ancestry.com to piece together branches of a family tree, eventually honing in on Theresa Bentaas. After Bentaas’ arrest, DNA test results from a swab taken from inside her cheek showed she was mostly likely to be Baby Andrew’s mother.

But that’s far from the only case of DNA testing revealing secrets from the past.

Joanna Salmon spent most of her life living a lie.

“I believed that my grandparents were my parents,” Salmon said.

When Salmon was born 75 years ago, having a child out of wedlock was a disgrace, so she was made to believe her mother was actually her sister.

“Grandma told everybody in the family they better not ever tell me that I am not a sister and they were all sworn to secrecy and stuff,” Salmon said.

Even after her grandmother died, everyone kept the secret, until Salmon was in her 30s.

“Then I went to live with my oldest sister, who I found out when I was 37 that she was actually my mother. That totally destroyed our relationship and now that she’s dead I feel really bad I couldn’t forgive her,” Salmon said.

However, she was able to meet her real father–Harold Jacobson.

“I knew immediately who he was by the eyes, because I had his eyes. And I just knew it was him,” Salmon said.

He accepted her and she got to meet half brothers and sisters she never knew she had.  More recently her daughter Michelle suggested they take DNA tests through an ancestry website. It brought up a new connection for Salmon.

Angela Kennecke: A lot of skeletons in this family’s closet.
Salmon: Oh boy they’re jumping out all over the place.

DNA tests linked Salmon to B.J. Olson. According to the website’s family tree, she is Olson’s aunt on his father’s side. Olson has spent nearly 40 years not knowing his father.

“When you’re lied to all your life and you don’t; and somebody rips your whole identity away from you as to who you are–it’s extremely painful. That’s why I can feel for B.J.  It’s painful and it’s still painful. And I’ll probably go to my grave with this pain,” Salmon said. 

Olson has experienced his own pain of family betrayal in his quest to discover who he is. He believes new DNA tests have revealed the truth, but not everyone wants to hear it.

“I feel more rejected now than I did before, knowing that I found all this information and I’m just trying to get to one core person to find out who I am. And now instead of just one person denying me, I have an entire family denying me,” Olson said.

Why would the family Olson believes is his father’s deny him? Coming up on our KELOLAND News Investigation, “The Tale of Two Fathers,” we take on the odyssey of the last 40 years to determine Olson’s father and why there were so many twists and turns along the way; plus the role modern DNA testing has played in all of it.  That’s Friday night at ten.

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