Popular weatherman’s search for birth parents leads to intriguing discoveries and a book
For weatherman Frank Billingsley, the journey to find his birth parents was an emotional experience that began with the swab of a Q-tip.
“In Hollywood, you grab Kleenex from the garbage and you have DNA,” he said. “But Family Tree DNA has a little tooth brush where you scrape your teeth. They want saliva and cells.”
Billingsley, chief meteorologist for KPRC-TV Channel 2, always wondered who his birth parents were. In 2013, he began digging for his roots and climbing up his family tree. His discoveries were so intriguing, he decided to write a book, “Swabbed & Found: An Adopted Man’s DNA Journey to Discover His Family Tree.”
“There were so many twists and turns and surprises,” said Billingsley, who owns a Galveston home. “I started putting it down and it really did become a pretty good book.”
Billingsley was born in Arkansas in 1960 and raised in Alabama by his adoptive parents, Jim and Pat Billingsley. They never attempted to conceal he was adopted, he said.
“I knew from the very beginning,” he said. “My parents were always very open about it and it was never a secret,” Billingsley said. “I never felt like I was not something in the family. That’s due to the people that embraced me, raised me and loved me.”
Billingsley ordered testing kits from Family Tree DNA, Ancestry.com and 23andMe.com, hoping to scientifically determine his biological family relationships, he said.
Billingsley also was sure to keep his expectations in check, he said.
“If you go searching for biological family, don’t go with any kind of judgmental attitude,” he said. “Just appreciate what you find.”
The results, comprised of 750,000 pieces of information, or snips, unveiled the mysteries of Billingsley’s MtDNA (mitochondrial DNA passed from mother to child), Y-DNA (passed from father to son) and autosomal DNA (designed to find relatives on any ancestral line within the past five generations).
After submitting numerous cheek swabs and saliva samples, Billingsley began discovering things about his biological family, he said.
“I found a biological father who was a hurricane hunter in the Air Force,” he said. “Even my aunt was a weather girl in the early ’70s.”
He also found his biological mother, Susan, who was 19 years old and unwed when she gave birth to Billingsley. When Billingsley found her, she was living in Arkansas and married, he said.
Billingsley reached out to Susan and his biological father, Phil, and the three were able to form a relationship, he said.
“It’s lucky I found these people when I found them because they have medical problems,” he said. “I get a chance to talk to them. We have a nice relationship and that’s lucky because not all adoptees who find their biological family have that.”
The experience has taught him family is about the connections and experiences, he said.
“It gave me a sense of closure and it answered all my questions,” he said. “We are all related and once we start to understand that — we really share 99.5 percent of our DNA — the more likely we are to get along. And in today’s world, that’s an important lesson that I learned.”
His self-discovery taught him to value his life and his place in the world, Billingsley said.
“What I discovered in this journey is where I came from,” he said. “I’m lucky I have life. To get the liberty to live that life is probably the most special way to live.”
Billingsley’s book is available at www.frankbillingsley.com/shop/swabbed-found