When Peter Streff of Port Washington answered a phone call from a California number he didn’t recognize, a young woman introduced herself by saying, 'This is Gabrielle and I'm your daughter'

PETER STREFF of Port Washington is pictured with his daughter Gabrielle when they first met in January 2016, just weeks after they received DNA confirmation of their relationship.
Ozaukee Press staff

On Christmas Eve 2015, a 31-year-old California woman received an email that contained DNA confirmation that Peter Streff of Port Washington was her biological father.

Or, as she calls him, “my bonus dad.”

The two never knew of each other’s existence until about two months before, and had only spoken on the phone since, but they already sensed what the results would be.

“I was finishing sentences for him; our brains just seemed to work the same way,” Gabrielle said.
She lives in Lemoore, Calif., with her two small sons and her husbnd, who is in the U.S. Navy. 

“When  the DNA results came in I already knew in my gut, but it was just proof,” she said.

It was Nov. 3, 2015, when Gabrielle first called Streff. When his cell phone rang, he didn’t answer it.

“I don’t know anybody in California,” he said. 

The phone rang a second time. And then a third time. 

“After the third ring my girlfriend says, ‘Answer it; someone is trying to get hold of you,’” he said. So he did.

“This girl is on the other end and she’s very nervous and she starts out saying, ‘This is Gabrielle and I’m your daughter.’”

“It’s a crazy story,” said Gabrielle, who asked that her married last name not be used for this story.

She told Streff her mother had dated him for a month or so in the 1980s after she broke up with another man.

When she found out she was pregnant, she thought the first man was the father, so she broke up with Streff and reunited with the first man and married him.

At first, Gabrielle lived in the Belgium area but they divorced when Gabrielle was in third grade.

After that they lived in West Bend. She graduated from West Bend West High School in 2002 and went to the University of Wisconsin-Madison and graduated. That’s where she met her husband, who is from Oshkosh.

Streff said he remembered her mother, but then became apprehensive. 

“I worried that maybe she was calling because she wanted money or would threaten to take me to court,” he said. “But she just wanted to meet her real dad. It was quite a shock and she told me quite a bit about her life.”

They talked for maybe 30 minutes that first night, Streff said. 

“Then a couple days later she started bombarding me with text messages,” he said. “She wanted to know everything.”

Gabrielle said she long felt she was not related to the man whom her mother said was her father.

“I didn’t look like anyone in my dad’s family and I don’t think like them. I used to tell my friends, ‘I don’t lnow how I’m related to these people.’”

In September 2015, she submitted a DNA sample through Ancestry.com, an online geneological web site. The results showed that she was the daughter of her mother, but was not related to her birth certificate father. The test showed she was related to  two women who shared the same DNA on the web site. One was Peter’s aunt; another was his cousin.

She contacted them and through comparing notes they figured out that Peter was a likely candidate.

And then the phone call.

After their DNA connection was confirmed, Peter and his other daughter, Jesse, flew to California and they met for the first time at the Las Vegas airport, where she greeted him as “Dad.”

She lived near Death Valley at the time and took Peter and Jesse on a one-day tour of the sites.

“When I planned it, I was afraid it might be super awkward,” she said. “So I planned all these things for us to do to keep us busy. But it wasn’t awkward at all,”

The following April, Gabrielle, who was pregnant, and her son visited Wisconsin and met  the extended Streff clan, her new “bonus family.”

“I met a boatload of bonus family. I’d say at least 25 or 30 aunts, uncles, first cousins and my grandma,” Janice Streff, who died recently.

Gabrielle was greeted warmly by everyone, she said.

“It was surreal. Everybody loved my little guy. I felt like I had found my people,” she said. “I was like, ‘Oh my God, they look like me, they think like me.’ I had never had that feeling before. I resemble maybe two people in my mom’s side of the family.”

A year later, when her husband was stationed overseas, she made a circle tour of the United States with her two sons and stopped in Wisconsin again for an extended visit.

  The initial shock of her findings on her mother’s and father’s families has since subsided, she said.

“It was a bombshell, for everyone,” she said. 

“I would say I had a lot of anger toward my mother in the beginning of finding out. But life is too short to be full of anger and I’m too busy. I got over it. There is no ill will.”

As for her birth certificate father?

“I still consider him my dad,” she said.

She said she feels connected to her new bonus family, but they lack a history together.

“It’s a little sad that I missed out on knowing my bonus family my whole life,” she said. “I just feel fortunate that I’m with this company.”

Streff’s feelings are similar.

“I still struggle with how do you catch up? How do you go back in the past and make it up?” he said. “All you can do is move forward. It’s a bitter sweet thing.”

The experience has motivated Gabrielle to investigate her mother’s geneology too, she said.

She discovered her mother’s grandmother was adopted and she has reconnected with her biological family.

“I’m having a blast with all this DNA Ancestory stuff. It’s a serious hobby for me. The puzzle pieces finally fit and I feel complete.” 

She also has connected with a private Facebook group of people like her, with more than 4,000 members who found their birth parents through DNA research.

“I’m one of the younger people. The vast majority of people are Baby Boomers. A lot of peoples’ parents took their secrets to the grave.”

After all her detective work and the struggles she’s been through, Streff said he’s as proud of Gabrielle as any father could be.

“She came out with flying colors,” he said.


Click Here to Send a Letter to the Editor

Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

125 E. Main St.
Port Washington, WI 53074
(262) 284-3494


User login