After a Lifetime of Searching, A Mississippi Woman Found Her Father
"The chapter is closed now. I have a daddy."
For as long as she can remember Amanda Holdiness dreamt of meeting her father. And because her mother offered very little details about him, her young imagination ran wild. "She described him having dark brown hair and I was thinking about Elvis," Holdiness told ABC News.
Holdiness, 32, was raised by her mother, Vivian Thomas, her grandparents, and her godparents in Philadelphia, Mississippi. Holdiness was told at a young age that her birth father wasn't happy when he found out her mother was pregnant, which is why she moved from Cheyenne, Wyoming— where she had been living with her sister—back home to Mississippi to raise her.
"I was told I couldn't have any kids," Thomas told ABC. "It was a miracle. She was a miracle."
Holdiness says she wasn't truly bothered about not having a father until her wedding day. "I've always seen ladies walk down the aisle with their father, and I never got it," she said.
So when she and her husband stumbled across an episode of 20/20 featuring investigative genealogist Pam Slaton, Holdiness reached out to her for help.
"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 told ABC.
So Slaton went to work. But things got a bit more complicated after he hit a dead end with a potential match in Jupiter, Florida. That's when 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."
The next possibility, a man named Samuel Skinner, who lived just outside of New Orleans, showed promise. Hopeful, Holdiness reached out to him, and they spoke via phone a number of times before they ultimately met in person. But then bad news struck again: Skinner's and Holdiness' DNA was not a match.
"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 told ABC. "To give her this devastating news that it wasn't a match was not an easy job to do."
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Despite the setback, Holdiness was not deterred. So Slaton soldiered on, and turned to DNA to refine the search. Eventually another name turned up: Larry Herdt, a truck driver in Casper, Wyoming.
Holdiness looked Herdt up on Facebook and sent him a message asking if he knew her mother.
To her surprise, he responded. Herdt told her he knew her mother in the 1980s, but didn't know she had gotten pregnant. When Holdiness confirmed that her mother had been in the Army National Guard, Herdt replied, "Amanda, I'm probably your dad."
"I wanted to cry, I wanted to jump up and down," Holdiness told ABC.
After two and a half weeks the results of the DNA test finally arrived, and Holdiness had an answer: Herdt was her biological father.
"You know that gut feeling? I just had that gut feeling he was the one," she recalls.
Shortly after Holdiness traveled to Wyoming to meet her father for the first time. They embraced the moment they laid eyes on each other.
"The chapter is closed now," Holdiness said. "I have a daddy."