How a Mississippi woman finally found and met her long-lost biological father for the first time in 32 years

Amanda Holdiness meets her biological father Larry Herdt for the first time during an interview with ABC News "Nightline."PlayABC News
WATCH Mississippi woman's years-long search to find biological father: Part 1

Two years after a Mississippi woman launched a search to find her biological father, she has finally reunited with the man she longed to meet face to face.

“I finally have another piece of my heart that has been mended,” Amanda Holdiness said. “I knew something was missing and I finally … found it.”

Watch the full story on ABC News "Nightline" tonight at 12:35 a.m. ET

Growing up in Philadelphia, Mississippi, Holdiness, 32, was raised by a single mother, her grandmother and her godparents, but she often wondered about her father. Her mother, Vivian Thomas, had offered very details.

“She described him having dark brown hair and I was thinking about Elvis,” Holdiness said.

She said her mother told her she wasn’t married when she became pregnant. Holdiness was told her birth father wasn't happy when he learned he would become a dad. Her mother moved from Cheyenne, Wyoming, where she had been living with her sister at the time, back home to Mississippi.

“I was told I couldn't have any kids,” Thomas said. “It was a miracle. She [Amanda] was a miracle.”

Holdiness lived with that knowledge for years. Her father’s absence really hit home on her wedding day.

“I’ve always seen ladies walk down the aisle with their father, and I never got it,” she told ABC News.

Then Holdiness and her husband saw a ABC News “20/20” episode featuring investigative genealogist Pam Slaton, who is an ABC News consultant, reuniting a mother with the daughter she had given up for adoption almost 50 years ago. Holdiness decided to get in touch with Slaton to see if she could help track down her biological father. ABC News has been following every step of her search.

“All I did was give her five things about what I knew about my mother telling me what my father was about -- where he lived, when they met, how old he was when they met -- and just a few things and she went from there,” Holdiness said.

Based on her mother’s description, Slaton first tracked down a man in Jupiter, Florida, but in the end, a DNA test proved he and Holdiness were not related, so Holdiness went back to her mother to ask more questions.

Holdiness’ mother revealed she was with more than one man at the time her daughter was conceived.

“I was wild when I was young,” Thomas said. “I guess in a way I was looking for that love too that I didn't have.”

Thomas offered up another name for a second possible biological father -- Samuel Skinner, whom Slaton found outside New Orleans. Skinner was a retired mechanic and had been a firefighter in the military. When Holdiness called him, he was stunned.

“She thought that I was her father,” he told ABC News at the time. “It was very shocking and my main question was, ‘Why so long?’”

Holdiness and Skinner had several phone conversations and eventually met in person. Skinner said after he and Thomas parted ways, Thomas never told him she was pregnant. After all, back then, she didn't think he was the father.

As Holdiness had done before, both she and Skinner submitted DNA samples for testing to Family Tree DNA, a Houston-based genetic testing company that keeps a national database of DNA samples.

But unfortunately, for a second time, Holdiness' hopes of finding her father were crushed. In reviewing the DNA test results with her, Slaton delivered the bad news that Skinner was not her birth father.

“That had to be one of the most difficult things I had to do was to know that it wasn’t a match and to have this girl who was so excited to finally put this behind her,” Slaton said. “To give her this devastating news that it wasn’t a match was not an easy job to do.”

Holdiness called Skinner to tell him he was not her father. To her surprise, he offered to be a father figure to her and a grandfather to her kids, while encouraging her to keep searching.

“I hope you don’t stop your search, and I hope you keep continuing and find what you need,” he told Holdiness over the phone.

But despite his kindness, Holdiness said she wanted to keep looking for her biological father. Family Tree DNA CEO Bennett Greenspan told her “thousands and thousands” of new samples are added to their database each month and they could still find a match one day.

The next step was to have Holdiness’ mother take a DNA test, and put her DNA and Amanda’s DNA in multiple databases, including Ancestry.com. This would help Slaton sort through the dozens of relatives on Holdiness' Ancestry.com DNA results.

Using a method called “triangulation,” Slaton took all of the matches that came up for Holdiness' DNA and eliminated the relatives Holdiness and her mother's DNA had in common so that the only matches that were left would have DNA Holdiness had in common with her father. After running the results, it left her with only two second cousin matches on Ancestry.com, and something else emerged – a new last name: Herdt.

It was a huge breakthrough. Slaton ran with it, compiling a short list of about half a dozen age-appropriate men in Wyoming and sent Holdiness a list of names.

Elated, Holdiness started searching through Facebook. One profile in particular stood out to her: a man named Larry Herdt. She decided to message him to ask if he knew her mother, Vivian Thomas.

Herdt told her he knew her mother in the 1980s, but didn't know she had gotten pregnant. He then asked if her mother was in the Army National Guard. When Holdiness said yes, Herdt replied, “Amanda, I’m probably your dad.”

“I wanted to cry, I wanted to jump up and down,” Holdiness said.

Herdt is a truck driver working out of Casper, Wyoming. Even though Thomas said she didn’t remember him, he agreed to do a DNA test for Holdiness.

After two and a half weeks of waiting for the test results to come back, Holdiness finally got her answer: Herdt was her biological father.

“You know that gut feeling? I just had that gut feeling he was the one,” Holdiness said.

They shared the news first in a tearful phone call, and then Holdiness traveled to Wyoming to meet her father for the first time. As soon as they saw each other, they immediately embraced – a feeling Holdiness had longed for all her life.

“The chapter is closed now,” Holdiness said. “I have a daddy.”

ABC News' Eric Strauss and Lauren Effron contributed to this report.

Comments