Thanks to a DNA-matching app, Marianne Bornhoft can claim the gift of cousins this Christmas. The newfound relatives are closer than he could have imagined.
Two weeks after her mother’s death on Oct. 18, Bornhoft felt a tug to look on the 23andMe app, where she had previously submitted her DNA. After launching it, she noticed a new and familiar name – Lyndia Danielson – DNA-matched as her cousin. For 16 years, Bornhoft has employed Danielson as her housekeeper, and they became friends. Danielson had always felt like family, but both were unaware of their common ancestry until then.
A Spokane real estate agent, Bornhoft had a similar experience after her father, Ray Senn, died in June 2019, and she reached out to Jennifer Hultquist. A few months prior, another agent had casually mentioned that Hultquist and Bornhoft might be cousins, but Bornhoft shrugged it off.
By the end of July 2019, Bornhoft decided to text Hultquist, who confirmed a DNA link as cousins. They’ve since grown close and now are work associates.
“I told my mom that I needed to find my relatives, because I’m at the next level,” said Bornhoft, who had started working on family history with her mother, Belva Ann Yoss, but they stopped as her mom got sick.
“After she died, I had this overwhelming urge to look, and I saw Lyndia’s name and thought, there was no one else I knew with that name, so I emailed her on the app, ‘This is Marianne and if you know who I am am, please respond. I think we’re related.’ She didn’t respond, so I texted her, ‘Are you on 23andMe?’ She thought I meant the date to be clean.”
At her next visit, Danielson and Bornhoft looked up the app and confirmed their common ancestry. “I showed her how to get the app, download it and get the message, and sure enough, we hugged and cried in the kitchen.”
Bornhoft, 55, first met Danielson as a newly divorced mother of three young kids. She was impressed by Danielson’s touch at an open house and asked for her name to get once-a-month cleanings.
“Lyndia and I just bonded, and she became like part of the family,” Bornhoft said. “My kids loved her and she was like Alice in ‘The Brady Bunch.’ I needed that. I was by myself for over six years, worked full time and had three little kids. My mom helped my nanny then, but I was working full time, so it was hard to clean a house.”
Bornhoft eventually moved into a bigger home, and then in 2010 married Chris Bornhoft. Danielson continued each year helping the family, and by then, it was once a week.
“She and I talk a lot,” Bornhoft said. “It morphed into where she’s been to my kid’s wedding and to my mom’s funeral.”
Danielson said the ancestry news was a bit of a surprise, but really confirms what they’d always felt.
“We always feel like we’re family anyway,” Danielson said. “We’ve known each other a long time. I’ve been with the family, well, longer than Chris. I was pretty close to Marianne’s mom, and I’m close to Marianne’s kids. I’ve known them since her kids were in grade school.”
Bornhoft said it feels more like a sister relationship today with Hultquist, 39, and Danielson, 65.
“For Jennifer, her dad is related to my mom, and after I looked up ancestry information on Lyndia, I know the two of them are also related. We have mutual cousins. It’s direct lineage from my mother’s mother, so it’s great to have relatives in the family who are now so close to me here. Even though my parents are gone, they are still part of my life indirectly through the family.”
She and Hultquist became “pandemic buddies,” meeting at outdoor cafes or for long walks in a park. Hultquist through her independent company now serves as a transaction coordinator for Bornhoft.
Additionally, Bornhoft has been supportive of Hultquist’s search on ancestry sites to fill in missing family pieces. Hultquist hopes to learn more about her Korean-born mother and that side of her family. Her mom died when she was 5, and Hultquist has heard of other likely relatives, including a brother she’s never met who was adopted by an American family.
“I found Marianne in searching for my mom’s family,” Hultquist said. “I’m related to Marianne on her mom’s side and my dad’s side. My dad was in the Army, stationed in Korea, and met my mom.”
She hopes to travel one day to Korea to find any relatives there. Since second grade, she was raised in Deer Park. She’d moved there with her sister and dad to her grandmother’s home, where an aunt also lived. Hultquist’s father died in a car accident when she was 14, and she only got pieces of information about her parents from her grandmother and aunt, who both have since died.
Hultquist has held onto a package once sent to her mom. The return address in Korea is that of a man with the same last name as her mother, and she now knows it was from her mother’s father with a phone number and a request to call. Hultquist is getting help researching that package from another friend, a man who is also in the Army and has a Korean wife. The man’s niece is currently visiting them from Korea.
“This was just a few months ago, and the niece said that the address is just 10 minutes from where she lives,” Hultquist said. “She’s going back this January and is going to go to that address.”
Bornhoft has been supportive throughout, Hultquist said.
“She’s just been there, and then she had a lot going on this past year, so we’ve called each other a lot. It’s just life, and having some kind of family here is nice. I also have my sisters.
“I share with Marianne what I’ve found out, and I share with my husband and my kids. They sit with me and I can share what I know about my mom.”
Just before the pandemic, Bornhoft had discovered a third Spokane-based cousin, Renee Martin Hasler, who was connected through the ancestry of Bornhoft’s father. She was the first local relative that Bornhoft found through a DNA app, and she and Hasler have since spent time together in-person.
It’s a gift to have new-to-her relatives living in Spokane, Bornhoft said.
“What a blessing in my life to have them with me and to support me,” Bornhoft said. “I think life is so short you have to really keep your friends and family close. It’s so nice to have a new family since both my parents have died.
“What a great Christmas gift that God has given me. I believe it’s meant to be and that God put people in your life for a reason. I Lyn needed him back when I first met her, and she knew that; I was just trying to survive, and the time she has spent with me is an amazing gift. I don’t know of anyone who is working for someone that long, 16 years, and then to find out you’re related.
“It’s like a big hug or a Christmas bow.”