Woman reconnects with long-lost Central Texas family using DNA kit

Travis County

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Have you ever gotten a Facebook message that changed your life? What Tanner and his dad, Russell Koehler, first thought might be a scam, did just that.

This story doesn’t start with a Facebook message, though, it dates back decades.

After being released from serving in the Army, Russell found himself couch surfing and bouncing between friends’ houses in Illinois, where he grew up. We won’t get into too much detail, but Russell got himself into a bit of trouble after sleeping with his buddy’s girlfriend.

Long story short, Russell was threatened at gunpoint by that friend. He never spoke to the two again because, as he puts it, “there’s no woman worth being shot.”

Russell Koehler Army photo
Photo of Russell Koehler, who served in the Army as a young man (courtesy Russell Koehler)

Turns out, that interaction was more complicated than Russell realized, in fact, it produced a baby — one Russell didn’t know he had until a couple weeks ago.

“I got a message from this woman… I thought it was kind of a scam, ya know, you get scammed all over the place now. She was trying to reach a guy named Rusty, and I was like, yeah, I think I know the guy,” Tanner, Russell’s son, said. He passed the information along to his dad.

“The message that she sent me was, ‘I did a DNA test and I believe you’re my dad, but if you don’t want anything to do with me I’ll understand and never bother you again.’ And I got on her and said, ‘by all means I want everything to do with you’ and haven’t stop talking to her since,” Russell followed.

That’s where Ashley Welker, who still lives in Illinois, comes in. Welker had done a box DNA test, found Russell’s son, who turned out to be her brother, on Facebook and ended up connecting with a family she didn’t know she had.

KXAN was there as the new-found family video chatted for the very first time, seeing each other’s faces and speaking to each other in real-time. They are working to plan an in-person visit as soon as possible.

“Sorry, I’m staring, because it’s just overwhelming,” Russell said at the beginning of the call. This was also the first time Russell and Tanner saw Welker’s two kids and her husband — also family members the Central Texas men didn’t know they had.

Everything from how they decorated their houses to what pets they had to football teams (there was some Cowboys versus Packers smack talk happening) — there was decades of catching up to do.

Tanner as a child and his father Russell Koehler (left) and Ashley Welker current (right) (Courtesy Koehler and Welker)
Tanner and his father Russell (left) and Ashely (right) (Courtesy Russell and Ashley)

As for what happens next, the family said this is a lifelong relationship that won’t be broken again.

“I want to see my daughter, my grandkids, my son-in-law and who knows,” Russell said. “It’s scary, exciting, really nerve-wracking.”

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