Roger Tilles is a prominent Long Islander with an impressive background in public service, business, and philanthropy, and he currently serves as a member of the New York State Board of Regents. He is also one of my closest paternal line DNA matches in the Family Tree DNA database, which is what led me to connect with him in February 2012.

A few months earlier, I had submitted a sample to Family Tree DNA in an attempt to learn more about my biological roots. As an adoptee, I didn’t have much information, and I yearned for more. I had found my birth mother several years earlier and was somewhat certain I had found my birth father, but I wasn’t satisfied. And when I received my first results, I was fascinated.

I had started with a Y-DNA test using 67 markers, meaning that a Y-chromosome test was conducted and 67 markers were compared with other results in the database to determine whether there were any close matches. My results showed that I had a genetic distance of 3 to Roger Tilles, or that 64 of the 67 markers were a match.

So what does that even mean? According to Family Tree DNA, the match between Roger Tilles and me meant that statistically there is a 91.27 percent chance that we shared a common ancestor within the past 12 generations. That percentage increases to 98.03 percent for 16 generations, and beyond that, it’s pretty much a guarantee. That may seem like a long time, but in reality it’s probably not much more than 300 or so years.

When I reached out to Roger, I received a response almost immediately from the Jewish Genealogical Society of Long Island. They had asked him to submit a DNA sample to Family Tree DNA as part of a genealogy project that they eventually presented in October 2011, and they sent me the PowerPoint presentation that was used for the event. I felt like I hit the jackpot!

The information included in the PowerPoint was so thoroughly researched and well thought-out that it immediately piqued my interest and had me imagining ancestors from my paternal line living somewhere in Eastern Europe a couple hundred years ago. Lithuania, Belarus, Poland, Ukraine–those were the countries with the most matches. And most were Ashkenazi Jews. What were their lives like? How did they fare during the Holocaust? Until that time, I had never even known that I had any Jewish ancestry, and suddenly all these thoughts were flashing across my mind.

Shortly after I received the PowerPoint, Roger contacted me and indicated that he would be happy to meet with me the next time he was in Albany for a Board of Regents meeting, which was in about two weeks. We met for lunch at Jack’s Oyster House, which has quite a history of its own, and talked for a while about genealogy, adoption, and more. He couldn’t have been nicer. He seemed to understand my thirst for knowledge about my ancestry and roots, and although he wasn’t adopted, he seemed fascinated by his own roots and ancestry as well.

Since speaking with Roger, I have connected with several of my other close matches, and they have all been happy to share their stories and knowledge of their ancestry with me. While none are connected to me in the past generation or two–most are in that same 300+ years category–it has been quite a neat experience to learn about what are without question my paternal biological roots. Pretty cool!