Growing up in Philadelphia, Mississippi, Amanda Holdiness was raised by a single mother, her grandmother and her godparents, but she often wondered about her father.
Holdiness, 31, said her mother had said she wasn’t married when she became pregnant and the man left when he found out. Holdiness lived with that for years, and 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's “20/20.”
Then Holdiness and her husband saw a “20/20” episode featuring investigative genealogist Pam Slaton 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.
“All I did was give her five things about what I knew about my mother telling me what my father was about -- here 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 tracked down a man in Jupiter, Florida, but a DNA test proved he and Holdiness were not related, so Holdiness went back to her mother to ask more questions.
“I said, ‘Can you remember anybody else?’ … she’s like, ‘The only person I can remember is Samuel,’” Holdiness said.
“Samuel” was 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 “20/20.” “It was very shocking and my main question was ‘Why so long?’”
Holdiness and Skinner met and had several phone conversations. 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.
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 that he was not her father, but to her surprise, he offered to remain in her life, be a father 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.
Slaton said he must have felt drawn to Holdiness to want to stay in touch.
“He must have really loved Amanda’s mother and I think he felt that connection,” Slaton said. “I think he really truly wanted to be her father and if he wasn’t her biological father, he cared enough about her to step in and take over as her father anyway.”
Despite his kindness, Holdiness said she wants 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.