Special Report: Son meets father after using DNA test kit

Special Reports

FAULKNER COUNTY, Ark.- We’ve all seen those commercials or ads on social media about DNA kits or ancestry websites, but have you ever actually used one?

A Faulkner County man says one of those kits helped him find his father after 41 years.

“Every little boy wants their dad, wants to have those memories with a man,” says Joe Wilburn. “Learn how to fish, ride a bike, and I didn’t quite have that.”

Something so simple was not so simple for Joe Wilburn. For years, Wilburn has searched for his father.

“Almost 41 years,” Wilburn says. “I didn’t really get a whole lot of answers, I got a lot of ‘Nobody knows,’ or ‘This is what we think happened,’ and speculation, but no real answers. People had passed away, people weren’t talking. After the years of looking and asking questions and no one giving them, I kind of put it on the back burner. I had to move on with life.”

Dead end after dead end, a gift in 2016 ignited hope.

“My fiancee had given me a DNA test as a Christmas present,” says Joe Wilburn.

A 23andMe kit, the process is pretty simple, but doesn’t guarantee a match.

“Waiting on those results to come back, I didn’t get the answer I was looking for,” Joe Wilburn says.

Fast forward to 2019, a message from an apparent match.

“She sent me a message on the 23andMe and basically said in short, ‘Hey, we are related, I got my results back,” Joe Wilburn recalls.

It was Mart Wilburn’s sister. Mart Wilburn currently lives in California.

“You have filled a void that has been missing for such a long time,” Mart Wilburn says.

Those words and a DNA test confirm what Joe has been searching so long for.

“I’ve been in shock,” says Mart Wilburn. “I’ve been in awe. I’ve been absolutely filled, my heart has been filled.”

Mart shared over Facetime that he never knew about Joe. Mart and his wife have three children.

“Seven years ago, my wife and I had lost our 24-year-old son due to the indirect results of a drunk driver who hit our son while our son was a pedestrian,” Mart explains..

The timing of Joe’s “arrival” was of such that he filled a void that has been missing for such a long time.

“If it hadn’t been for Joe doing this three years ago, my sister doing it this year, I probably would have never known about Joe,” Mart Wilburn says.

The two reunited in Arkansas a few weeks ago, with plans to spend Thanksgiving together in California as a family.

A simple DNA test, filling an emptiness in not just one heart, but two.

“I’m proud to call you son,” says Mart Wilburn.

“I love you, Dad,” says Joe Wilburn.

“I love you too, Joe,” Mart Wilburn replies.

Joe’s given last name is Tinkle but after the discovery he legally changed his last name to match that of his father.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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