Greek-Born Adoptee’s 12-Year Odyssey Ends in Joyful Reunion with Biological Family

Greek-born adoptee Merrill Jenkins, of Cedar Hill, Missouri, wasn’t expecting much when the results of his latest DNA test were ready. After all, he’d gotten nothing closer than distant cousins with the other popular DNA tests he’d done over the past nine years, including uploading one of them to the MyHeritage platform. But he certainly wasn’t prepared to find a first cousin once removed — the child of his first cousin. 

“I was speechless,” Merrill recalls. “I just sat there and stared at the computer screen. I couldn’t believe it.”

It did seem almost too good to be true. Greek families had previously come forward on several occasions, including after his appearance on Fos Sto Tounel with Angeliki Nikolouli in 2018, several articles in Patras newspapers, and a plea by a priest at a Good Friday service at the Pantanassa church in Patras in 2019. But none of the DNA tests matched, and each time he was left with the only clues he already had: a report from the Patras police that he had been left on the Pantanassa church steps and a note that said his name was Mitsos. But this new DNA match was the closest yet and his best chance of finding the answers he had been seeking for over a decade.

Merrill Jenkins meets biological family for the first time - photo by The Eftychia Project

Merrill is just one of the thousands of Greek children adopted by Americans in the scandal-ridden Cold War decades of the 1950’s and 1960’s. These adoptions, while given the coating of legality by the Greek courts, were often done in a matter of few months with questionable procedures and with little or no oversight by either the Greek or American governments. Thus, these Greek children often arrived in America with very little documentation and little hope of ever finding their way back to their origins. Now these adoptees are finding their voices in ever-growing numbers to demand their birth and identity rights from the Greek state. And many, like Merrill, are feverishly searching for their roots. 

Merrill made contact with the DNA match, and it was determined that the father of the match was likely Merrill’s first cousin; however, he was deceased. For more than a year, the trail grew cold. Merrill, who as a board member and treasurer of the Eftychia Project had himself been helping other adoptees search for their roots, then asked his colleagues in the Eftychia Project for assistance. The non-profit organization assists and supports, free of charge, Greek-born adoptees searching for their roots and Greek families searching for their children lost to adoption.

“Eftychia is in Greece about six months out of the year and Toula lives there,” he said of the president (Linda Carol Trotter) and vice president (Panagiota Vrisiotis) of the organization. “So, I asked them to see what they might be able to do with what little information I had. Having boots on the ground in Greece is key in something like this.”

Merrill with first cousin Niki (far right) and her family - photo by The Eftychia Project

With little more to go on than the name of a village provided by the DNA match, the Eftychia Project visited the village and a related area in search of potential biological family who might be willing to do a DNA test. The Eftychia Project distributes DNA tests for free to Greek adoptees and families in collaboration with MyHeritage, which boasts the largest DNA database in Europe. Through a truly miraculous set of circumstances, they located two presumed first cousins, Niki and Efthymios, who agreed to do DNA and were excited about the prospect of a first cousin in America. 

The Eftychia Project arranged a meeting with the two in Patras, who were accompanied by other family members eager to learn Merrill’s story. DNA samples were collected using MyHeritage DNA kits, and Merrill and his potential cousins enjoyed a video chat. And as they chatted with a little translation help, Merrill and the family couldn’t contain their excitement. Niki and Efthymios repeatedly asked, “When are you coming to Greece?” And after the chat, Efthymios exclaimed that he had a photo of himself as a soldier in the Greek army that looked exactly like Merrill. Merrill was hopeful and thought it sounded promising, but he’d been disappointed before. 

“The proof is in the pudding,” Merrill says. “Or, in this case, in the DNA.”

Merrill with first cousin Efthimios and Efthimios' wife - photo by The Eftychia Project

A few short weeks later, the DNA results arrived and there was no doubt — Niki and Efthymios were Merrill’s first cousins. And they were just two of seven first cousins, to be exact. Merrill wasted no time in buying a ticket to Greece and was met by Eftychia at the Athens Airport on Halloween. After more than six decades of separation, he would be reunited at last with those with whom he shared the same blood. 

Eftychia (Linda Carol) meets Merrill at Athens Airport - photo by The Eftychia Project

The Eftychia Project coordinated communication with the family as they planned a grand celebration to welcome Merrill to their family. Tonight, at the Perivola Taverna in Patras, more than 40 family members gathered to welcome their prodigal son back to the homeland from which he was sent some 67 years ago. There were hugs and handshakes, smiles and tears, good food, good wine and the love in the room was palpable. It was an incredible night full of fun and, most important, family. 

Welcome party/dinner at the taverna - photo by The Eftychia Project

Merrill with the Panousis first cousins (l-r ____, ____, Merrill, ___, Annetta, Kostas) - photo by The Eftychia Project

“It was far more than I had ever hoped for,” Merrill said, emotion getting the better of him. “If it hadn’t been for the Eftychia Project’s presence in Greece, I might have floundered around for months without finding anything. My journey is proof that there is always hope, so adoptees should never give up, because miracles happen when you least expect it.”

Yes, indeed, miracles do happen. Welcome home, Mitsos. Welcome home to your beloved Greece.