Local Authors, Local Books: Irvington Writer Unlocks the Mystery of Her Family

Robin Dellabough (Photo by Alhy Berry) 

When Irvington’s Robin Dellabough opened up her packet from 23andme, she was eager to learn more about her background and ancestry. What she saw challenged everything she knew about her family life as she soon found out she was not biologically related to the father who raised her. Dellabough began to explore this discovery through poetry as she unearthed new information about her parentage over the years, which she shares in her new book, “Double Helix.”  

Dellabough’s first surprise in her ancestry chart was learning she was half Ashkenazi Jewish, which excited her. She always felt a strong affinity to Jewish culture that she could never explain. “I literally shouted out loud,” she said. “I was just elated.” But her son pointed out that the results meant one of her parents was 100 percent Jewish, which didn’t track. One of her five younger siblings had also done a genetic ancestry test, and a comparison revealed that they were in fact half-sisters. “That was my first big clue,” she said. “I went from being euphoric to grief-stricken.”  

The rest of the family followed suit, and all had matched as full siblings, except for Dellabough. She knew from stories that her mother, Dorothy, was engaged before she met Grant, the father she knew, and that her mother was pregnant when they married. By a stroke of luck, she also knew the name of the man her mother never wed, Norman, so she did some digging.  

After finding Norman’s obituary, she tracked down his two children, who recognized Dorothy’s name from stories. One agreed to take a DNA test, which confirmed they were half-siblings, but Dellabough’s newly discovered family knew there was a connection from the start. “I had sent a picture of myself,” she said, “They said they didn’t even need a DNA test. When they saw the picture of me, they said it looked like I was a twin of their father. The resemblance was so strong, they had no doubt he was my father.” 

Robin’s biological parents Dorothy Dellabough and Norman Peterzell (Photo courtesy of Robin Dellabough).

With her mother, Grant, and Norman deceased, Dellabough was left with few clues to make sense of it all. She got to know her biological father through her siblings, and even found a eulogy he wrote when her mother passed away. But many questions lingered, including why her biological parents broke off their engagement. “That’s the killer question,” she said, “among many questions. It still haunts me that I can’t talk to them and find out what happened, who knew what.” 

She began writing her book as she went through the process of unpacking a lifetime of questions, like whether the lullaby her paternal grandmother wrote for her was still hers.  

“I started out writing about this feeling of falling off a family tree,” she said. “But in the end, I kind of came full circle, that I hadn’t lost a family. I gained a family. In the end, I just felt very lucky and grateful as opposed to bereft, or as though I lost something.” 

Cover art by Marlitt Dellabough

“Double Helix” will be published in May 2022 by Finishing Line Press. To preorder the book and learn more, visit finishinglinepress.com/product/double-helix-by-robin-dellabough.

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