COVINGTON, Ga. — Ever since Covington resident Kaitlynn Johnson was a child, she had always wondered who her biological father was.
When her then-fiance and now husband, James Gerald Knight, gave her a 23andMe kit and a paternity test as Christmas gifts in 2019, she was finally able to discover a side of her family she had never known.
“Growing up, I thought I knew who my father was,” Johnson said, in reference to a man who had been married to her mother when she was a child. “But, my sister told me one day, ‘He’s not your father,’ and it really messed me up.
“He started acting differently and was eventually out of the picture.”
Johnson, 25, who works in health care, is originally from Moultrie in south Georgia. She turned to her mother, Tina Dickerson, for the information and Dickerson was unable to identify him for sure. It was either a high school sweetheart or another man whose name her mother could not remember, Johnson said.
The high school sweetheart reached out to Johnson in September 2018 and offered to take a paternity test. However, Johnson declined because she said she feared if it was not him she would never know who her real father was.
Her biological father turned out to be the man whose name her mother could not remember.
After her DNA results were uploaded to 23andMe’s system, Johnson said she initially only found connections to close cousins she knew.
However, in February 2020, a month and a half after she had gotten her initial results, she received a notification that she had a match with a woman a couple years older than her named Emerald Hendrix, who had decided to send in her DNA to 23&Me out of curiosity.
“She didn’t have to do the 23&Me test,” Johnson said. “If she wouldn’t have done it, I would have never known who he was.”
She said Emerald told her she knew who Johnson’s biological father was and contacted him to see if he would be willing to talk to her.
It turned out that her father, Jim Hendrix, lived in Travelers Rest, South Carolina, and was originally from Moultrie where Johnson’s mother also grew up.
Hendrix, who is married with a blended family of seven children, is engineering director for a Greenville, South Carolina, hotel.
He said that, at first, he was wary of Johnson’s claim to biological relation.
“My first reaction when I found out about Kaitlynn was, ‘Someone is messing with me,’” Hendrix wrote in an email. “I was very skeptical.”
However, he agreed to take a paternity test that came back with a 99.9% positive result.
After the biological tie was confirmed, he agreed to talk on the phone with Johnson.
“We seemed to get along really good,” Johnson said. “We have a lot in common, which is really weird ’cause I never knew him growing up. We’re both hard-headed ... and very humorous. I got a lot from him.”
Hendrix then invited Johnson to visit him while he was on vacation in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.
Johnson, who has one child and a second on the way, said that while she was nervous at first she was soon relaxed by the instant connection she felt with Hendrix.
“As soon as I see him and we hugged and talked, it just felt familiar, like someone I’ve always known,” Johnson said.
“I went from nerves to a really good warming feeling like we were right where we were supposed to be. It took all the feelings of I didn’t know that part of me or the sadness I’ve felt for many years. It feels like I’ve always had him.”
When Johnson’s mother contracted COVID-19 before Johnson’s wedding to Knight in September, she called Hendrix to see if he would walk her down the aisle.
Despite only having known each other for seven months, Johnson said Hendrix was happy to say yes.
“When Kaitlynn asked me to walk her down the aisle, it all seemed natural to me,” Hendrix wrote. “At that point, I felt like she had always been there and I loved her as much as my other children.”
On her wedding day, Hendrix picked Johnson up to take her to the ceremony.
“I walked out and it was so nice,” Johnson said. “He helped me get in the vehicle, helped me with my dress, my flowers. It was like a dream come true. It was everything I could ask for.”
Since meeting Johnson, Hendrix said that his life has changed for the better.
“I have gained another beautiful daughter, a great son-in-law, a grandson that my wife and I adore and one on the way,” Hendrix wrote. “It definitely has been a blessing.”
Johnson said that having Hendrix in her life has given her a greater sense of security she lacked as a child.
“I felt like not knowing that half of me or growing up with a dad that really was there for me affected me in a lot of ways,” Johnson said. “Now that I have him, it feels like a void that I had is no longer a problem; I feel complete.”